Night Music: Just The Way You Are

May 12, 2015

For my sweetheart.  Welcome home!

The Boffo Tower, Again

May 12, 2015

Last night was the regular monthly meeting of GWAC, and it was dedicated to a discussion of the massive Boffo/Kettle tower proposal for Commercial & Venables. There were so many people in the cramped space that, from the back, I couldn’t count the attendance; my guess is that there were more than fifty.

I have already written a lot about this proposal, and certainly my views were not changed by anything Daniel Boffo or the Kettle representative said last night. The pros and cons from both sides were well aired and while the proposal received some support, what was very clear was that after the years of what many last night called “emotional blackmail” and “emotional extortion” (using the popular Kettle to front a for-profit condo tower), the opposition by many in the community has hardened against this project.

The BIA, through its Executive Director, announced its support for the tower because it conforms to their desire to densify and heighten buildings throughout the Drive.

Petronella Vandervalk, a former GWAC director, made a number of important points in opposition to the project, noting in particular that while the proposal would greatly benefit Boffo and the Kettle, they are offering the general community absolutely nothing for the destruction of views and character and the increase in traffic that would follow this tower building. Nothing.

Daniel Boffo admitted that they are looking for a FSR “in the high 6s” which translates to extraordinary density.  The Adanac Towers, which Boffo et al point to as some sort of precedent, has a FSR of less than 2.5.  He was asked several times why, given the obvious community objection to the height, they didn’t consider a lower-rise alternative.  He simply dismissed this as uneconomic — “the project just wouldn’t happen.”

The Kettle rep (along with a couple of other supporters) claimed that there was no chance of getting government (tax-payer) funds into such a project and we should just hold our noses and go for it.  However, a great many people spoke to their opposition of leaving needed social services to the whims of private business, and there was much talk that the City and the Province should be shamed into providing such amenities for those in need in our communities. Penny Street, for example, noted quite correctly that the Kettle is not a community amenity; it is a health-care service and should be properly funded as such.

Garth Mullins explained, to general agreement, the vicious cycle of (a) needing social housing; (b) paying for the social housing by allowing market condos; (c) those market condos then drive up local housing prices; (d) thus causing a need for more social housing.

Other neighbours raised issues such as the destruction of trees, the need to protect the pedestrian nature of the lanes in that area, problems with crowds of smokers gathering, general safety.  Several others talked about alternative strategies such as land transfer taxes, increased property taxes, land trusts, using the tower for lower-income groups.

Almost at the end, Craig Ollenberger made the important point that the Kettle was staking all their accumulated social capital on an unpopular project and, if it goes ahead, they will forever be linked to an ugly community-damaging tower rather than to the good work they do.

As my views on this project are so well known, I tried to say as little as possible last night, to allow others to have their say.  However, I did note that, first, Boffo wouldn’t even try to build a tower on its own merits and needed the Kettle even to get into the game; and, second, that, just like any CAC based project, the developer should not get any credit because they would pay nothing for the social facility — their buyers would be paying the premium.

It was a tense meeting, with some tears, but, in the end, I suspect that no minds were changed on what someone called “the most agonizing land use decision we face.”  But the opposition to the tower is now firming up and the emotional blackmail is failing.