Opinion | Community divided on council's commercial development at Toronto

On April 23 Lake Macquarie City Council resolved, with only one councillor voting against the motion, to proceed with a multi-million dollar development adjacent to Toronto's foreshore. The mayor endorsed the decision.

The decision is dividing a community.

Council's resolution was to build a commercial, residential and tourist development of up to six storeys on council-owned foreshore land designated as “operational land”. The property is between Bath Street and the disused, but heritage listed, railway line and extends to the foreshore.

At the same time, council is working on strategies and plans to refurbish the Toronto waterfront, revise parking and promote Lake Macquarie as a tourist destination. Council's decision will compromise this work.

Council has acknowledged, yet seems blind to, the daily parking congestion in Toronto. Congestion is particularly problematic in the narrow streets in the northern part of the town. Apart from private residences, this area houses McDonald’s, Toronto Public School and the historic Royal Motor Yacht Club. It is also the site of a $35 million commercial and 127-unit residential development on Cary Street (awaiting approval) and now council's planned multimillion-dollar development.

Although the new developments will provide substantial parking, inevitably there will be an overflow. Where will these cars park? Council's proposal will eliminate the last remaining opportunity to provide off-street public parking in the area.

Council's actions suggest that within a very few years there will be little need for parking because we will all be riding bikes, driving electric scooters or dialing up autonomous electric taxis. The reality is that hybrid or electric cars will become commonplace, and they too will need to park somewhere.

The Royal Motor Yacht Club has provided community services in the form of boating and social opportunities for the past 90 years. Its heritage listed property is alongside these proposed developments. Without access to adequate parking, its future will become uncertain.

The community's access to foreshore events will become more difficult if access from the north is impeded by the council's commercial venture.  Despite its rhetoric and being a self-proclaimed champion of environmental protection and sustainability, the council is showing little concern for community interests.

The decision to proceed with the Bath Street development is being foisted on the community without public consultation. Little detail has been made available. Despite there being potential for significant costs for the community and substantial financial benefits for the council and developers, the benefit-cost analysis remains confidential.

Council's decision to prepare the DA for its commercial enterprise and, in doing so, spend $1 million of council money without consulting the community, is also unusual. Council has said the community will be consulted once the DA has been drafted, but for what purpose?

As a result, few within the community are aware of the local, lake-wide and long-term implications of council's decision.

If common sense is to prevail, the disparate interests within the community must come together and, ultimately, convince the council of its folly. Otherwise, the old adage, “together we win, divided we fall” might well come to be prophetic.

Frank Downing is a retired government executive and consultant in environmental policy, planning, impact assessment and management and Fellow of the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand. He lives in Lake Macquarie.