Land deal to ease school crowding in northwest London backed by planning committee

Municipal politicians don’t like to be in the business of deal-making.

Facing massive overcrowding at a northwest school, however, the planning committee was left with few options.

“In a perfect world a school would have been planned and would be being built right now,” lamented Councillor Steve Lehman. “But we have a serious issue in front of us right now that requires a bit of give.”

In 2017, Sir Arthur Currie Public School in northwest London was built to accommodate 533 students, however, the school now has about 1,000 pupils with almost half relegated to 22 portable classrooms.

The Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) notified city hall of an agreement-in-principle with landowner Auburn Developments that would accelerate construction of a new school in the area.

Auburn would sell a portion of its Foxhollow North subdivision on the south side of Sunningdale Road, east of Hyde Park Road, to the TVDSB, if city hall permits the townhouses intended for the site to instead be constructed on the north side of Sunningdale.

The deal could expedite construction of a new school by years.

“What’s being asked is not to make a final decision today, but to bring forward some zoning changes for a public participation meeting at this committee.” explained Deputy Mayor Josh Morgan, whose ward includes the properties.

Councillor Jesse Helmer opposes the deal because it would start the process of developing lands on the north side of Sunningdale Road earlier than originally planned.

Helmer suggested Auburn simply negotiate to sell the property to the school board without the condition of relocating a planned townhouse development across the road.

“I guess the great news is there’s another option, which is the school board can expropriate the lands.” Councillor Jesse Helmer told the committee. “School boards in our area have done that because they can’t find the lands available for sale.”

But Councillor Shawn Lewis responded, “To say they [TVDSB] can expropriate is not an answer. That’s actually going to extend the timeframe [to build a school] out further than it is right now.”

Several councillors expressed frustration that the Thames Valley District School Board did not send administrative staff to answer questions at the meeting.

“I think it would be really prudent for us to take a pause, have the [school] board come before us and make the request before we take any forward action on this,” suggested Councillor Stephen Turner.

“An Official Plan amendment is not something you should do lightly, I agree with that, but this isn’t a situation anyone is taking lightly. I think we have a serious [school overcrowding] problem here,” concluded Lewis.

Concerns about the proposed land deal extending urban sprawl into farmland were addressed by civic administration.

“The proposal in front of you does not change the urban growth boundary,” explained George Kotsifas, Deputy City Manager of Planning and Economic Development.

Kotsifas also relayed what civic administration had been told.

“They [TVDSB] believe it is the only relief that would assist in the current overcrowding in the area,” he told the committee.

Kotsifas added that the board estimates the 500 students currently exceeding the existing school’s building’s capacity in the area will eventually grow to 1,000.

The Planning and Environment Committee voted 4-1 to recommend staff prepare the necessary amendments and by-laws for consideration at a future meeting.

“The piece of property north of Sunningdale Road will have to meet all of the various approvals in place at city hall before development can take place,” adds Chair of the Planning and Environment Committee Phil Squire. “We didn’t give approval to develop. We gave approval to an opportunity to develop.”

The recommendation from the planning committee will go before city council for a final decision Oct. 5.