Toronto councillor pushes to stop construction-related closures on local roads, sidewalks

A lane of Avenue Road is closed. Matthew Bingley / Global News

A Toronto city councillor says he wants the rules around construction developments review so there is less freedom to impede City-owned right-of-way access.

Coun. Josh Matlow said that developments are given too much leniency to block sidewalks, bike paths, and roads while they are building.

He said the City has a tendency to sign off on permits in favour of the building industry. Matlow said that practice is putting citizens at risk and isn’t benefiting the city.

“It is the top reason we have congestion in the city. It is also unsafe, it blocks sidewalks, it forces pedestrians to either cross the street or often take risks by walking in the curb lane,” said Matlow.

READ MORE: Year-long construction to begin on Richmond Street in downtown Toronto

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Matlow said developers should be required to stick to their own property’s footprint for projects.

“When it’s necessary for a developer to go occupy some of the public space, then more funds from the developer to go into childcare, senior services, and affordable housing on that site,” he said.

The City’s solicitors, said Matlow, have favoured an approach of siding with the development industry over fears lawsuits or getting in the way of progress. He said the development industry is making money while the remainder of the city has their lives interrupted or their safety compromised.

But ahead of the meeting, a report from city staff said it wasn’t feasible or practical to eliminate the industry’s ability to occupy public right-of-ways.

READ MORE: ‘Confusing,’ ‘dangerous’ downtown Toronto street permanently closes to drivers

It said it’s not possible to achieve construction at already constrained sites. It also noted that it would cause development restrictions, impact construction costs, and result in longer development horizons.

Mayor John Tory said he can get behind the intent of Matlow’s motion. But Tory said he needed to look closer at the wording of it.

“I’m in favour of it, how you do it is something you have to be very careful about,” he said.

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Tory said the City needs to review the issue with a view of still allowing responsible growth in the city.

READ MORE: Temporary pedestrian walkway approved for closed sidewalk near La Salle Causeway

“I’ve been working at this since I got here,” he said.

“We dramatically increased the fees that are charged to developers in the hopes it would cause them to use less space for a shorter period of time.”

Tory said a new city report on congestion that is due in the coming months will cover this topic again. But he said every time he’s tried to fight developers impeding on public space, he’s told the way Toronto is set-up makes it difficult to say “no” to them.

READ MORE: Car seen on video driving along sidewalk to get around traffic in Toronto neighbourhood

Meanwhile, Matlow said other large cities around the world have figured out a way to build without blocking city spaces. He also noted if the mayor and city council were in favour of getting the city moving, it would make his motion a priority.

Tory said the motion that sidewalks aren’t closed for development in cities like New York isn’t correct.

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“There are things you try to learn and I think that’s what this congestion management report will do,” he said.

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