In today’s ‘how not to city council and still hold public office for over a decade’ news, I give you Ward 6 Lakeshore-Etobicoke councillor, Mark Grimes, first elected in 2003.
What am I looking at, you ask. Basically, Councillor Grimes putting forth a ‘technical amendment’ that states the builder of a condo development in the councillor’s ward will pony up $150,000 in Section 37 money to the community via the councillor. Section 37 money? A negotiated amount a developer agrees to pay in return for variances to their development. Variances? Essentially, aspects (usually increases) of the building that are not in accordance with city by-laws. More stories, higher density. Building by-law indulgences, let’s call them, in which money is offered up to compensate for any negative consequences the variances might have on nearby communities.
In a nutshell.
So, on the surface, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about what Councillor Grimes is doing in the above video. Except for the fact, as the CBC report points out, what the ‘technical amendment’ the councillor successfully pushed through did was reduce the amount of Section 37 money the developer would pay from $250,000 to $150,000. No, it didn’t, the councillor told the CBC in an email response. “There was never an agreement reached with the applicant for $250,000 in Section 37 cash contribution,” the councillor wrote. “I recommended the $250,000 to try and negotiate the maximum benefit for the community.”
Again, except the CBC flags a final staff report sent to the Etobicoke York Community Council a month before the councillor’s city council ‘technical amendment’ that states, right there in black and white (page 11), “It had been agreed by the owner that they will provide a cash contribution in the amount of $250,000 for local parks improvements as their Section 37 contribution.”
In essence, the local councillor (Mark Grimes in this case) has it in writing in a city staff report that the owner of a proposed development has agreed to pay $250,000 in Section 37 money but a month later introduces a ‘technical amendment’ reducing that contribution by $100,000.
Who does that?!
Let’s avoid going to the darkest corner of possibilities here. The potential shadiness of Section 37 transactions are always bubbling near the surface. “A shakedown”, then-mayor Rob Ford once called Section 37 money. While wildly off the mark (as Rob Ford tends to be about almost everything to do with governance), it’s difficult to fully justify the practice.
Follow the bouncing ball. Developer wants to build something not allowed by current city planning by-laws. If the city doesn’t agree, the prospect of an OMB appeal going against it, granting the developer free rein, always hangs over the proceedings. So negotiations begin to arrive at some solution that makes nobody entirely happy but is something most can live with. Part of the deal making involves money, a payment to, as I wrote earlier, compensate for any negative consequences of the development might inflict on the community. Assuaging bitter feelings.
A far from perfect way of doing business, obviously, with plenty of open space for behind closed door unsavoriness. Moreover, it’s probably the least efficient or productive way to maximize the community benefits from such projects. Section 37 never provides enough money to ultimately offset the infrastructure stress these kinds of developments impose on communities like public transit. Instead, the city has to be content with building parks and green space, occasionally a library.
But it’s something. An unsatisfying solution to a highly problematic dynamic in terms of city building. The best councillors make the best of a bad situation. If there’s been any genuine claim of any sort of impropriety from a Toronto city councillor in terms of misusing Section 37, I don’t know of one. There’s no reason to think anything different with Councillor Grimes and this case of the disappearing $100,000.
The only conclusion I can arrive at, however, is hardly more heartening. “Councillor Grimes purpose at City Hall,” Luca De Franco tweeted in reaction to the CBC story, “as he sees it — aiding developers, even against the interests of Ward 6 residents.” That’s not corruption. It’s just willful disregard of the people who voted for you.
– sadly submitted by Cityslikr