This week's Council meeting is dedicated to the City Budget. As my colleagues and I meet for the second time this month, I wanted to update you on some key items covered in last week's Council meeting.
Competitive and Affordable Internet Prices for Toronto
Canadians rank first worldwide on internet usage per capita, with penetration rates among the highest around the globe. High internet prices and lack of competition can threaten Canadians' access to this vital infrastructure and service. City Council voted to support competitive and affordable Internet prices for Toronto's residents with letter submissions to the Federal Government.
City Opposition to Application for 3237 Bayview Ave at the OMB
The developer proposed to amend the Zoning By-law to allow a 14-storey, 165 unit condo building across from Bayview Arena. City Planning staff, my office and the community previously expressed concerns with the application, including a height and footprint that would be inappropriate for the site and surrounding neighbourhood. The applicant appealed the matter to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).
At my request and with the advice of City Planning, City Council directed the City Solicitor along with Planning staff to attend the OMB hearing and oppose this application in its current form.
Changes to the Development Charges Act to Improve City Infrastructure
The Development Charges Act (DCA) provides the foundation for municipalities including Toronto to impose charges on new development based on a "growth pays for growth" principle. The funds collected are intended for necessary investments in public infrastructure and facilities, and to help offset the additional stress on services. However, the potential revenue to municipalities from development has been limited to this point by several provisions in the DCA.
In response to requests from City Council, the Province has approved key amendments to the legislation that will benefit the City. These include removing discounts for developers required to provide funding for public transit, using future service level demands (rather than historic) when calculating charges towards transit, and specifying the timing of payment for charges to the City.
At this past meeting, City Council authorized changes to the provision addressing timing of collections, so as to ensure that the City does not incur additional costs or lose out on potential revenue. The other amendments to the DCA will be coming down the road.
Calgary Injunction Decision regarding Unlicensed Ground Transportation Providers
In July 2015, the Superior Court denied an injunction request from the City to suspend Uber X's operations in Toronto. The City had argued Uber X was operating without the City-mandated taxi brokerage license. Uber had countered that UberX is a ride-sharing service distinct from taxis or limousines, as private car owners use their personal vehicles and are dispatched from an app and not by accepting calls.
Since the court ruling, taxi drivers and their supporters have pushed for a revised injunction request to stop UberX. The City Solicitor recommended against a renewed request, as a staff report to the Licensing and Standards Committee is due in April 2016, which will offer a potential framework to regulate all ground transportation providers including UberX.
Ultimately, City Council decided to invest authority in the City Solicitor to pursue legal recourse, but it will consider the Solicitor's advice to determine when the circumstances will yield effective results.
Electronic books (e-books) have become an important and growing component of the Toronto Public Library. Its wide selection and accessibility make it an attractive format for Toronto's most avid readers. To ensure continuing service, Toronto City Council requested the Federal Government to investigate restrictive pricing and high e-book prices charged by the "Big Five" multinational publishers and to create a national dialogue on the issue.
Redevelopment of St. Lawrence Market North - Status Update
You may recall reading about findings from the recent archaeological assessment at the St. Lawrence Market North building. The report revealed the property site had been home to a market and related activities since at least 1803! Though this exciting finding will result in a slight project delay, its significance will be preserved for future generations to enjoy. The entire project, including construction of the new multi-purpose development, is now projected to be complete by Q4 of 2018. More information about the redevelopment can be viewed here (link).
Union Station Proposed Building Enhancements
To fully re-imagine Union Station as a dynamic destination for commuters, visitors and residents, the City's head lessee (Osmington) has proposed new design enhancements to the commercial retail and event elements at the Station. Proposed changes include facilities for special events, and improved lighting and finishes. Osmington will pay the full costs of the enhancements, with any of the City's financial obligations recovered through the increased revenue generated from commercial leases.
City Hall Observation Deck
Did you know that City Hall has an observation deck overlooking Nathan Phillips Square and the Financial District? The deck has been closed to the public, except during the annual Doors Open Toronto event. City Council has requested staff to report back on allowing public access year round for the enjoyment of visitors and residents.