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Fuming residents flag Richmond Hill council’s ‘secret’ meeting

Development plan at Yonge and Bernard is ‘dirty politics’
April 30, 2020
Shelia Wang

Residents were left flabbergasted as Richmond Hill council unexpectedly closed off the discussion on one of the city’s most disputed development plans while live streaming an electronic meeting.

Councillors decided at the April 22 meeting to move the deliberations of a motion intended to defer a decision on the Yonge and Bernard key development area into a closed-door session.

“They silently trashed Coun. West’s motion,” resident John Li wrote in an email, slamming it as a deliberate move by several councillors to thwart the “reasonable” proposal made by Coun. David West.

The motion sought to request the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) to postpone a hearing on the key development area (KDA) plan to after October 30 so council could consider the plan at a time when proper public participation will be allowed.

Seventeen area residents wrote letters to council in support of the motion while hundreds more people tuned in to the meeting live.

Ten minutes into the meeting, however, Mayor Dave Barrow announced the motion would be moved into a closed session which seemed to have caught West off guard, who asked "Why would we want to do that?"

Barrow later clarified the discussion was closed to the public due to solicitor-client privilege because members of council, including himself, "had a number of questions for the solicitor."

When council came back to the open session, the clerk declared there was “nothing to report out or consider” on West’s motion to the public.

“It’s ironic,” West said on April 23. “The motion was supposed to provide clarity and certainty to residents, and in the end we have this.”

Council is currently slated to discuss a newly-revised draft plan for the Yonge and Bernard area on May 13, as it was rescheduled from April 22 as a result of strong pushback from area residents.
But a delay by three weeks would offer little help, several residents said, noting the public would still be unable to attend the meetings in-person and voice their concerns due to the distancing rules amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The new plan is full of fatal mistakes,” Li said. “They’re taking advantage of the crisis to pass it.”

Acting as a party at the LPAT hearings on the KDA plan, Li said he has received a memo of the draft plan -- which is currently unavailable to the public -- and found significant planning errors in terms of density and height.

West's motion was intended to potentially further delay a vote on the development plan on council to give the public more opportunities to participate in the discussions, the councillor said.

Calling the draft plan “completely out of whack,” resident Aldo Dolcetti said in a letter to council it would be “undemocratic” and “shamelessly disrespectful” to decide on important planning matters like this through a virtual meeting.

It remains unknown what decision was made on West’s proposal to defer the LPAT hearing -- if any -- in the closed session.

Resident Tim Tucci did not shy away from taking a guess.

“Carmine Perrelli, Joe DiPaola, Greg Beros, Tom Muench and Castro Liu vote to strike it down out of the public's view," he wrote to the Liberal.

The Yonge and Bernard development plan has been revised several times since the beginning of this term of council and was originally scheduled for a hearing at LPAT from June 22 to July 10.

The tribunal has suspended all hearings until the end of June due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

“With the absence of clear direction from LPAT,” Barrow said on April 28 in an email, “staff will continue to work toward and LPAT start date of July 2.”

He said “this additional time” will enable staff to complete all discussion with the various parties over the next week or two, adding video conferencing capability will be set up for the council meetings so that the public can speak.

“I can confirm that a new hearing date has not yet been scheduled,” said Sarah Copeland, communications co-ordinator for Tribunals Ontario, in an email to the Liberal on April 28.

If a vote takes place on council on May 13 as scheduled, Li said it’s most likely that council will approve the “problematic” draft plan when intensification and development is not in the forefront of the public’s attention.

The maximum height was previously set at 15 storeys in the area and was changed to 37 storeys last April, which was then reversed due to adamant public opposition.

While the new height limit in the most recent draft has yet to be released to the public, Li said it was going to be “crazier” than 37 storeys, according to the memo he received.

“Dirty politics! It’s so disgusting,” Li said.