Sizing up Rob Ford’s land grab

Parks head Richard Ubbens says it wasn’t his idea to lease parkland to the mayor. So who at City Hall came up with it? Photo by Enzo di Matteo

If you ever thought parkland in and around Toronto was in some way “protected” or “sacrosanct” you are about to be taught a lesson – Rob Ford style.
This is a fascinating read into how things go down at City Hall when nobody is looking.
Sizing up Rob Ford’s land grab
By Enzo Di Matteo

The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) executive voted June 1 to oppose selling Mayor Rob Ford a piece of parkland adjacent to his home, following the mayor’s highly publicized encounter with Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale.

But questions remain. Here are five that haven’t been answered.

1. Who at the TRCA determined that the proposed purchase was so unimportant that the normal rules of public notice didn’t have to be followed? 

Not a simple one to answer. The land in question is 250 metres square (about 2,700 square feet). For the spatially challenged, that’s roughly the size of the space currently occupied by the Fords’ ranch-style bungalow next door. Hardly the “sliver” referred to in most press reports. Under a TRCA policy adopted in 1991, the sale of land of any significance must be “duly publicized… at least one public open house information session held (and) the general public be invited to make submissions.” That should have happened in advance of the Authority’s decision, especially when the interested party is a very powerful public figure.

2. Who at City Hall had the idea that the TRCA could make the land available to the Fords under a “short-term lease” after the shit hit the fan and the proposed sale became public?

On this there’s little clarity. The park is designated as parks and open space (POS) in the Official Plan, which means its sale is strictly prohibited.

But there’s a loophole. The TRCA is only “discouraged” rather than prohibited from selling land designated POS. The city’s report to the TRCA said it would “not object” to TRCA making the parkland available for a short-term lease if it was returned to the city in the same condition once the lease expires.

The identity of the person behind that idea is a mystery. Wynna Brown, manager of corporate relations for the city, isn’t naming names. But apparently that advice came without input from forestry division head Richard Ubbens. He tells NOW the parkland sale was not something he dealt with.

3. Who spilled the beans on Ford?

The mayor would no doubt like to know. Had the Star not broken the story, who knows if his offer might have been approved under the radar? More than a few members of the TRCA executive were caught off guard by the proposed sale when a letter from the mayor was added late to the agenda. But the publicity generated by the mayor’s over-the-top freak-out on Dale changed everything.

All of a sudden, a TRCA meeting scheduled to take place on the northern fringes of the city, far from the prying eyes of the City Hall press corps, became a matter of extreme public interest. The media spotlight was so intense that even Ford ally Frances Nunziata’s appointee to the TRCA board, Mike Mattos, who was reportedly intensely lobbied to support the sale, ended up voting against it.

4. Can the mayor be believed when he says his reason for the purchase is to erect a fence so his two young kids have “a secure place to play”? 

Not totally. In the past, the mayor has talked about tearing his house down and expanding it, but more to the point, the land is zoned R1, which would permit construction of a single-family dwelling.

5. How did a former real estate agent with an online limo reservation biz end up representing the mayor on this file at the TRCA?

Ross Vaughan hasn’t been a realtor since 2008. He says he was only doing the mayor “a favour.” But it also looks like Ross may be angling to be the mayor’s candidate in Ward 3 in the next municipal election. He was on the ticket in 2010 against Ford’s buddy and current deputy, Doug Holyday, when he said Holyday “was giving every indication he was going to hang it up” but decided at the last minute to run.

The matter of the sale of the parkland may not be over just yet. Ross says he hasn’t received direction from the mayor on whether to make representation at the meeting of the TRCA’s full board in the coming weeks.

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