John-Adelaide POPS update

My office has been working with City staff for a number of months now to restore public access to the POPS (privately owned publicly-accessible space) on the west side of John Street just south of Adelaide Street. As local residents know, earlier this spring the POPS was fenced off by an adjacent restaurant for use as a private patio. They did not have permission from the City to do this.

Recent media coverage has drawn wider attention to the problem at this specific location as well as the larger challenge of providing adequate parks and open spaces in dense, rapidly growing downtown neighbourhoods. While the fence and patio have now been removed, I would like to provide some background and an update for everyone who has contacted my office to express an interest in this issue.

Background

On the west side of John Street just south of Adelaide Street, there is a publicly-accessible privately owned space (POPS) with seating, a water feature, and public art.

The POPS was constructed by the developer of the adjacent condo tower at 295 Adelaide Street West. Approval of that tower, issued by City Council in 2010, was conditional on the provision of this POPS as a public benefit.

Public access to the POPS was secured in the zoning by-law and an easement was placed on the property title as well, which means that the legal obligation is automatically transferred to any future owner of the space. The easement requires permission from the City Planning division for any café or patio use in the space.

Timeline

My office saw that a fence was installed in April 2016 and at the same time I started hearing concerns from nearby neighbours, including reports that members of the public were being told to leave the POPS if they were not paying customers. I immediately contacted Planning and Legal staff to look into the matter.

City staff confirmed that neither the property owner nor the adjacent tenants had been given any permission to turn the POPS into a private patio.

Legal and Planning staff communicated to the property owner and tenants that the use of the space was not acceptable and did not have all the necessary City permissions.

City staff are now in ongoing discussions with the restaurant La Carnita to take down the fence and ensure open access for the public.

Permits and Licences

The question of whether permits have been issued to La Carnita for a patio in the POPS deserves additional clarity.

The key point is that permission was not sought or granted by City Planning prior to the installation of the fence and private patio, and this is an unavoidable requirement due to the easement placed on the property title.

Other permits, such as a liquor licence from the provincial AGCO or a City building permit, are also necessary but on their own they are not sufficient. The burden is on the applicant to ensure they have all the permits they need before starting any work.

What is a POPS?

POPS stands for "privately owned publicly-accessible space." They come in many shapes and sizes but what they all have in common is that while they are owned and maintained privately, the public has a right to use and enjoy these spaces.

Some examples of POPS in Toronto that you might be familiar with include the parkette on the north-west corner of Front Street and John Street, the plaza and public art under the Gardiner Expressway west of Dan Leckie Way, and the landscaped pedestrian walkway on the east side of the Ritz Carlton Hotel connecting Simcoe Park to Wellington Street.

POPS are never a replacement for public parkland and every developer is always required to pay into a fund for the acquisition of new parkland. I have been working hard to use these funds for a brand new park to serve the King-Spadina neighbourhood, which already has the least amount of parkland per person in Toronto and the population is continuing to grow quickly. You can read more about this effort on my website: http://www.joecressy.com/next_steps_on_park_acquisition_in_king_spadina.

POPS are supplemental spaces that help to bolster and tie together our existing public realm, including parks, plazas, and sidewalks. They can provide additional mid-block connections for pedestrians, small moments of refuge from crowded and busy sidewalks, or places to sit and enjoy people-watching and public art. One of the major benefits of a POPS is that it can be located right at the base of a new tower, where the density of new people and activities is most concentrated.

Next Steps

Today, La Carnita has removed the patio. This is a positive step and I am pleased to have public access returned to the space.        

As set out in the easement agreement registered on title, if La Carnita would like to apply to use a portion of the space for a patio, City Planning staff will review the request. The original design of the POPS anticipated a small patio to help bring activity to the space and ensure there are "eyes" on the space for safety, but it would have to be very modest and sensitively located so that everyone feels welcome in the space, regardless of purchase. A few tables and chairs at the back of the space, for example, would have a different impact compared to a fenced-off area at the front.

I have discussed this matter at length with City Planning staff and they share my perspective that the first and most important principle here is public access and enjoyment of the POPS. Any small patio area must be designed specifically to make the POPS more interesting and safe without compromising public access. There is no shortage of outdoor patio space in the King-Spadina area, let alone on this one block, but we do have a severe shortage of public spaces and parkland. It is vitally important for the liveability of the neighbourhood that we defend public access to every POPS and work hard to expand the public realm and build new parks for the growing population.

Now that the fence and patio have been removed, I will be reviewing the experience closely with City staff to determine what can be done differently in the future to strengthen our POPS and avoid repeating these problems.