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LETTER: Aurora mayor put his energies into kneecapping shelter

'Who should we trust to do the right thing, especially when a mayoral position is spurred on by angry NIMBY-motivated neighbours?' questions letter writer regarding rejected shelter, transitional housing
Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas at the Feb. 14 meeting.

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Re: Aurora council rejects controversial shelter proposal by 4-3 vote, Feb. 14, 2024 and Flip flop or not? Aurora mayor scrutinized over shelter rejection , Feb. 17, 2024. 

Aurora councillors Gaertner, Gilliland and Weese showed strength of character by voting in favour of the York men’s transitional housing proposal on Feb. 13.

The mayor’s response, that he wouldn’t be pressured by politicians wanting to “check a box, pat themselves on the back,” was a petty political statement from someone with a website dedicated to patting himself on the back.

Our mayor said the issue had created division, but to me, he’s the one that has drawn a line while putting his energy into kneecapping this project. While he has previously green-lit gated communities and low-density, car-induced sprawl, he labels the shelter as “poor planning.” I argue that as planning applications go, York Housing’s proposal is exemplary and that no building would be more suitable on the Oak Ridges Moraine than this. Logic should prevail.

Nit-picking through policy is an obvious intent to derail, especially when the mayor argues that the region promised a parking lot and has thus reneged on the site plan to build housing instead. What? He prioritized a parking lot over housing the unhoused?

Didn’t the town just purchase a 16-acre adjacent parcel? Is there any flexibility to put parking and trail access there?

It amazes me that the mayor can argue against a fully funded, sustainable project on a transit corridor, 500 metres from commercial development, deeming it inappropriate because it will temporarily house 55 people. That is not 55 units of housing, as argued, but 55 people in one facility. The mayor’s position being the Oak Ridges Moraine limits two houses per acre, eight homes on this parcel.

Current OPA 34 allows single-family homes along stretches of road into small clusters. Arguably, this is not a sustainable model in 2024 as it is car-centric and although perhaps quaint, it results in the most inefficient built form accessed by long stretches of road and service infrastructure on moraine land. Also, units of housing do not speak to occupancy numbers.

In fact, just south of this parcel, Delmanor has a higher density per acre of permanent residents. Its built form does not conform seamlessly to the urban fabric as argued by Councillor Thompson, nor should it. The belief that multi-unit density is undesirable is often used to argue against forms of housing necessary to provide a mix of affordability and tenure.

Regarding transitional housing, it is a ludicrous expectation that a LEED-certified, passive house building resemble existing homes in the neighbourhood. Let’s be real; this is an interpretation of official plan policies based on sentimentalism and past practices that should be abandoned as they are exclusionary and dismissive of progressive ideas in favour of personal tastes. The materials and form are what make it financially and environmentally sustainable while utilizing less land for higher performance. We live in the 21st century with solvable problems, and a public housing provider with a greater responsibility need not bend to such outdated ideas and opinions.

The greater question is why York Region council thwarted York Housing Inc. from pursuing an appeal at the land tribunal upon rejection of the application. Interesting that the move followed a letter from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) to our mayor and council warning of “people zoning.” The comments at the 2023 public planning meeting were so egregious against the future residents of this site that the OHRC took notice. The subsequent motion at the regional level and its timing are curious — either politically smart or systemically unfair, depending on where you stand.

Contempt for the municipal board and the subsequent land tribunal have helped elevate political careers. Protecting ‘small-town feeling,’ a term that has never been canonized in a policy document, is taken as gospel locally but not at tribunal hearings. When council members describe seamless integration into the existing residential fabric, it is just opinion and not a viable argument at the tribunal, for obvious reasons stated.

The necessity of an institutional building on a wooded site accessible from Yonge Street to conform to the clusters of McMansions in the distance would likely not stand at the Ontario Land Tribunal. Perhaps realizing this, our mayor’s resulting victorious tone at the time makes sense: “I am pleased to say that on a majority vote, York Region council … passed a motion to refrain from taking the Town of Aurora to the Ontario Land Tribunal.”

Perhaps the mayor can explain why he was so happy to change the process, afforded to every land developer in the province, mid-process for this critical project.

The mayor has been part of this process, he holds extraordinary mayoral powers, and he sits on the housing board while he seemingly went out of his way to alter this process. Who should we trust to do the right thing, especially when a mayoral position is spurred on by angry NIMBY-motivated neighbours who have opposed the application from the outset — and especially when those neighbours, who once presented themselves as victims, now claim to care about the unhoused? Their motivation remained unchanged as they distorted planning policy to exclude the most vulnerable.

When will our mayor and his colleagues, who chose to disagree with industry professionals, public-sector institutional knowledge, frontline providers, and advocates for this project, understand that the delays they are causing are putting people at risk while they pat themselves on the back?

Neil Asselin