BLOG #692: Between Saturday afternoon and Tuesday night, the revisionists on city council had wordsmithed the meaning of fast-tracking the $300 million FinCore development proposed for SoHo. Progress of the application will now proceed in a timely manner through the regulatory process which “will not miss any steps.”
Tuesday, June 13, 2012
How would you define the phrase ‘fast-tracked’? Would it be ‘undertaken in a timely manner’?
Probably not. Fast-tracked suggests considerably more urgency than in a timely manner. Nevertheless, that’s how the revisionists on city council have now wordsmithed Saturday’s motion that was a very direct order to City Hall planning staff to get the bloody lead out in dealing with the $300 million FinCore twin towers and medical centre for SoHo.
Despite what Joe Swan, the chairperson of the investment and economic prosperity committee, told city council Tuesday night – that all this fast-tracking nonsense was a media invention – no one who heard it stated clearly on Saturday failed to catch the drift. A lot of folks in the political process want this deal so badly they can, well, fudge the record for it.
Tuesday night, though, it was all about following proper planning procedures and provincial regulations and due process.
Tim Dobbie, the acting city manager who sometimes has a disconcerting habit of using the word ‘could’ where you’d expect to hear ‘will’, nevertheless promised “we are not going to be missing any steps along the way.”
And Councillor Swan, whose committee is now in charge of a process to find projects that will jump start London’s economy, explained all his committee really wanted to do was give FinCore “a warm, enthusiastic welcome.”
There continue to be some folks on council understandably and deservedly nervous about how warm is warm in regards to this project – one which appears, based on the evidence posted on its website, to be the biggest undertaking by a long shot for this London-based company.
What is being proposed are two 26-storey condo towers, one of which is for seniors, at either end of the block which begins on the southeast corner of Wellington and South Streets in SoHo. Between them would be a 12-storey medical centre, described as state of the art and to which patients from all across North American would flock for services not yet detailed.
All of that, though, is still some considerable piece down the planning process, one that could take at a minimum three months, if everything is in order, to as long as two years if it isn’t – discounting, of course, whatever lingering effects of the fast-tracking order remain.
Meantime, it’s not the process that will cause an immediate hiccup. It’s the land.
FinCore does not yet own what it needs to make this deal fly. Some land is owned by the city; some by the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority.
The city is prepared to put its parcels up for sale. But – and this could be a big one – city council has already decreed the land be sold on the basis of the best RFP – request for proposal. And the process must be fair and open to all.
Before the piece of UTRCA land can be transferred to anyone, the deal must first receive permission from the Ontario government.
“Property ownership is just one of the issues,” Mr. Dobbie acknowledged Tuesday night. “There are a lot of issues to overcome, a long way to go.”
That is of scant consolation to residents in SoHo somewhat dismayed this project has already achieved such wide support from some parts of city council despite the fact it appears to violate the spirit of the recently completed – and unanimously approved by council – SoHo Community Plan. For starters a significant rezoning is required.
“We need to ensure this development is complementary,” said Judy Bryant, the councillor for Ward 13 of which SoHo is part.
John Fleming, the city’s planner, said any proposal “should be in conformity. Provincial legislation requires that.”
FinCore applied last Friday for development approval, although Mr. Fleming said the application has not yet been accepted.
Always in big deals such as this one there is concern about how serious the developer is. Windsor faced a similar problem a few years ago that also involved the sale of city-owned land so their council included a clause that required a start of the development within two years or the land reverted to the city. This prevents land assembly aimed at speculation rather than construction.
Such a condition can only be applied during the actual sale of the land, not after the fact. London would be wise to do something similar.
For the record, council voted 13-0 to continue the process – back-tracked in a timely manner, to be sure.
And one other curious note to this story. Several weeks ago neighbours near the proposed development site were invited to a meeting with FinCore Canada’s principle, Loredana Onesan Bowler. First, though, they had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. It is understood the artist renderings neighbours were shown were considerable different than what was unveiled to the public on Saturday – shorter, squatter towers more in keeping with the medium-density zoning.