Land deal for new school in northwest London barely clears first political hurdle

An innovative land deal intended to bring a new school to northwest London years sooner than scheduled became the latest flashpoint for city council.

Built in 2017 for 500 students, Sir Arthur Currie Public School currently has an enrollment of almost 1,000 pupils — half relegated to 22 portables.

Auburn Developments has offered to sell a property on the south side of Sunningdale Road to the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) if city hall permits the townhouses intended for the site to instead be constructed on a lot north of Sunningdale.

The TVDSB believes that could accelerate construction of a new school in northwest London by years.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, however, several councillors argued the proposal guts the London Plan’s underlying principal of reducing urban sprawl.

“The faster option, in my view, the school board should initiate a zoning amendment on the lands they want, and they should expropriate those lands,” argued Councillor Jesse Helmer.

“They’re choosing not to because perhaps (expropriation may take) some time, and because of cost,” added Councillor Stephen Turner. “We don’t change our policies to save other people and agencies money.”

But other council members argued the proposal addresses most of the concerns raised by city planners when Auburn Developments failed to get permission to develop the same property north of Sunningdale in May.

“There will be additional steps in this process,” asserted Councillor Shawn Lewis. “That’s when we will get the high level reports back on things like (sewer & water) servicing. That’s when we’ll hold a public participation meeting. That’s when the environmental review will take place.”

Council voted 7-6 to direct staff to prepare the necessary reports for future consideration.

The close vote highlighting the vacant Ward 13 seat once held by MP-elect Arielle Kayabaga— a political ally of Helmer.

If the necessary amendment to The London Plan go forward, Helmer warned it could face appeals from concerned Londoners.

“They’re not just going to sit there and let Official Plan amendments go through that are contrary to the Official Plan. They’re going to appeal, and that process is very slow (and) expensive.

Civic administration will work with the school board and Auburn developments to prepare the necessary documents for consideration at a future meeting of the Planning and Environment Committee.