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Vaughan postpones May public hearings after outcry on ‘hot potato’ applications

When Vaughan is dealing with COVID-19, ‘You cannot exercise that application. You can't humour it’
May 11, 2020
Dina Al-Shibeeb

Committee of the whole public hearings will not proceed on May 20, the City of Vaughan told York Region Media on May 8, adding that the meeting is "planned to resume in June."

Elvira Caria, the chair of the Vellore Woods Ratepayers Association, who initially called to freeze key “applications” that require thorough inputs from deputants for Vaughan’s May public, is pleased with the news, which she dubbed as the "first step."

"It shows how Vaughan is leading as it's the first City in York Region doing so," Caria said. However, she is calling all public hearings to be deferred to September and “anything less” than that is a “failure.”

Vaughan residents, who tend to be active and engaged with their local issues, aren’t only organized but are rarely shy when expressing their say on upcoming projects especially highrise ones.

Citizens could face up to $100K in fines under Vaughan's COVID-19 emergency bylaw
Caria, for instance, highlighted how a decision on whether to allow a 40-storey building on Weston Road, scheduled in the now cancelled May 20 public meeting, requires rigorous input.

“Any time there is community input, anything that may be deemed either controversial or potential dispute, it requires community engagement,” said Caria, who represents from 3,000 to 5,000 Vaughan residents.

However, in the time of COVID-19, “You cannot exercise that application. You can't humour it, because you're missing one element that is vital in the process and that is people.”

While Vaughan has already held digital Council meetings, this was the first public meeting in the time of COVID-19 pandemic, following a previously cancelled meeting on April 20.

Some residents have expressed concerns that people, especially older ones, might not be so technologically attuned.

Victor Lacaria, who also “asked the City of Vaughan to enact a moratorium on all public applications until the provincial emergency order has been lifted,” described how, “Many individuals who are affected by planning applications during these public hearings are seniors and residents who are technologically declined.”

Lacaria, who dubbed York Region as “the epicentre of this pandemic” with “Vaughan being the highest cases,” added, “They will not be able to participate in this virtual hearing.”

Lacaria is nuanced with two applications scheduled. They include four residential mixed-use highrise apartments 40 to 49 storeys high and ten residential mixed-use mid-to-highrise apartments ranging from 8 to 45 storeys high.

“In total 5,965 units are being proposed between both applications. 2003 for the first application, and 3962 for the second,” he said.

Citing how “there is not enough time and not enough public input for these applications to be taken seriously,” Lacaria also explained it’s “not fair to the people who don’t have the means to technology or are incapable of accessing the stream.”

For Caria too, the “Council may argue that teleconference abilities are available for those wishing to be on deputation, but that's not good enough.”

She further described how "phoning in" for people to express “arguments is just not acceptable, nor effective.”

“This is not the time. There is no urgency to rubber stamp an application or move forward with it,” she said, adding what her association deems as “urgent” is the “continuation of the (Vaughan) hospital and applications that have already had shovels in the ground.”

Caria, meanwhile, emphasized that she isn’t calling to stop Council from working or shutting the planning department.

Planning application deadlines suspended?

To further bolster the position on freezing these applications, Lacaria said the Planning Act application deadlines were suspended in Ontario by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing due to COVID-19, yet Vaughan is continuing "business as usual" by way of "virtual public hearings."

However, when approaching Marilyn Iafrate, the Ward 1 Councillor urged York Region media to check with Vaughan’s legal department to see if they are under pressure to process these development applications as deadlines set by the province loom, especially amid these uncertainties.

“Do we have to abide by the provincial deadlines, or did they suspend those deadlines? I heard recently that it did not include planning matters, but it included courts, everything,” she said, adding, that she also “heard this from other developers, and that a number (of people in) the development community were really pushing hard on the province. I can't substantiate this; this is hearsay from the developer.”

What does the City say?

However, when approaching the City of Vaughan - before making the decision on postponing the May meeting - to see if its legal department is under pressure for these provincial deadlines, it told York Region media, “The City of Vaughan throughout this state of emergency, Council continues to meet through electronic-participation Committee of the Whole and Council meetings to advance City business and priorities and to approve measures that support and protect citizens and businesses in response to COVID-19.”

It confirmed, “City-building initiatives -- including planning applications -- have and will continue to be considered at these meetings. As a result, provincial timelines are not a consideration.”

This is in line with Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua’s vision, when he signalled the City building to continue on his digital April 21 address.

In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, the gusto for city building hasn’t changed for Vaughan, Bevilacqua explained before the City’s second virtual council meeting.

The City also defended electronic participation as it’s “formally endorsed by the Province as a methodology to proceed with Committee and Council meetings, including public hearings.”

“The City of Vaughan is equipped to hold these meetings and receive feedback from citizens,” it added.

So far, Iafrate has no “hot potato” issues in her ward. She too agrees with Caria and Lacaria; these development issues may have a direct impact on the households of older adults who aren’t as technologically savvy and are a key demographic in these deputations.