Angry residents yell in attacks on Parker
The tone of the SmartCentre public meeting on June 11 was set when the first panel speaker, former East York mayor Alan Redway, called Councillor John Parker a mugrump.
By the end of the meeting many of the 300 people in the audience were complaining loudly that Parker was insulting them and they were yelling at him.
In his day, said Redway, a mugrump was a fence sitter, with his mug on one side and his rump on the other.
“We need you, John, to lead the charge against this proposal” by SmartCentre for 147,000 square feet of retail shopping on Wicksteed at Laird, he said.
That was the common call throughout the three-hour meeting, organized by the Leaside Property Owners’ Association and Leaside Unite.
“We don’t need him to tell us to let the planning process unfold as it naturally should,” said Redway.
But Parker refused to agree with an attack approach.
“You’ve got to focus on what exactly is in the application. We are bound by the Official Plan that applies to this site,” he said.
The plan permits retail based on the affect on other businesses and traffic problems in nearby areas.
Emotions ran high when Parker refused to answer a question on density.
Steve Kanellakis, a Leaside Unite member, took the microphone out of his hands and asked, “Are you prepared to fight 51 percent density (on the site), yes or no? And, please, please don’t insult our intelligence.” Shouting to be heard over the raucous crowd, Parker said, “Density is not part of the tests, density has nothing to do with it.”
When asked whether density affects traffic, city traffic planning manager Pascoal D’Souza said yes. Parker said he would be happy to tell council how people feel, but he asked, “Is that relevant?”
Dag Enhorning, president of Leaside Business Park Association, said, “I don’t think John Parker has presented himself as well as he should have tonight. We’ve worked with John for many years and he has been very instrumental in reducing the size of other developments, most notably 85 Laird or what we refer to as the Longo’s site.
“I know that John is working hard to get this site smaller. I’m not sure why he won’t say so.”
Parker’s first comments to the angry crowd, after he was asked if he had the political courage to the fight the SmartCentre plans, were, “I’ll tell you what takes courage in politics— what takes courage in politics is to stand up in front of people who have had their worst apprehensions raised by people with credentials that are sufficient that give a level of concern.
“I am not about to get on a soapbox and pontifiate on things I cannot deliver given the system we have to work with.”
During opening remarks, Graham Shirley, co-founder of Leaside Unite, said the overwhelming concern about this development is the “safety of our children and seniors. …the proposed development will have a detrimental effect on our community.”
Former Leaside councillor Jane Pitfield said, “Do not be lulled by comments that this is early in the process.” She aimed a further attack at Parker by saying, “Do not be impressed by a traffic median that is going to take care of our traffic problems.”
Asked if he would support a Walmart at the site, Parker, said, “I did my homework. The Walmart on Eglinton is 210,000 square feet. What’s proposed here is 80,000 square feet.”
Leaside Unite member Wilmar Kortleever, of North Leaside, said he also did homework and in Kitchener there is a 54,000 square foot Walmart and in Tillsonburg one of 79,597 square feet.
Parker cautioned against taking SmartCentre to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). “We are dealing here with an applicant who is not the least bit afraid of a trip to the OMB. I wouldn’t encourage us to take that particular strategy.”
Speakers from the audience said they would be willing to go to the OMB and win.
The meeting moderator, LPOA Vice-President Carol Fripp, opened the meeting outlining the features of the SmartCentre project: on 6.6 acres with 130 foot frontage on Laird and a depth of 1,150 feet, the first floor will have eight stores. Above that will be a two-level 83,400 square foot anchor store. The density will be 51 percent, compared to 29.6 percent at the Rio-Can Centre at Laird and Eglinton and 33 percent at the existing SmartCentre across the road. The new Leaside Village on Laird has a density of 31 percent.
Leaside Unite, the LPOA, the Leaside Business Park and some Bayview merchants have formed a working committee. They plan to hire a traffic consultant and a lawyer.
Story contributed by Andrea Villiers.