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Waterfront Toronto chairman has doubts about Sidewalk Labs ambitions

The chairman of the agency that is overseeing redevelopment of Toronto’s eastern waterfront says Sidewalk Labs’ masterplan for the area goes well beyond the scope of the original request for proposals and in some cases requires guarantees that fall outside his agency’s mandate.In an interview with the Financial Post on Tuesday, Stephen Diamond, a veteran Toronto real estate developer and chairman of Waterfront Toronto, expressed doubts about a number of aspects of the project, including Sidewalk Labs’ insistence that they need a guarantee that light-rail transit will be built through the new district.“What does one do after going through a public negotiation, and (assuming) other deals, other issues are resolved, how do you enter into an appropriate arrangement with a private company that is conditional on something beyond your control?” he said. Did Sidewalk Labs overstep with their masterplan? It certainly raised concerns at Waterfront Toronto Five potential sticking points in Sidewalk Labs’ masterplan for the Toronto waterfront Sidewalk Labs’ decision to offload tough decisions on privacy to third party is wrong, says its former consultant Diamond noted that Sidewalk’s long-awaited development plan, released Monday, was more ambitious in scope and contained significant departures from earlier plans.Sidewalk is a sister-company to Google, both owned by Alphabet Inc., and when the company responded to a Waterfront Toronto request for proposals, they were primarily being asked for a development plan for Quayside, a 12-acre plot of land on the waterfront.As part of their winning pitch, Diamond said they promised to move Google’s Canadian headquarters to Quayside, which would create jobs and economic activity in the new neighbourhood from the beginning. The new location for the Google headquarters would be on port lands which will only be open to development because of a $1.2 billion government project to re-route the Don River to prevent flooding, and Sidewalk Labs is now talking about developing the whole area as part of a broader IDEA district.Sidewalk CEO Dan Doctoroff said in an interview that in order to meet revitalization, environmental and affordable housing objectives set by Waterfront Toronto, they needed the greater scale of the port lands for their plan.Diamond flatly disagreed.“We do not believe that they have presented strong arguments that that scale is needed,” he said.“Certainly, there was an indication from the beginning, that it was something that they wanted, but it was also something that was clearly indicated in the agreements, that it wasn’t something we were obligated to accept.”An early suggestion of what the proposed Sidewalk Labs project might entail along the city’s waterfront. Diamond was also hesitant about Sidewalk’s request for government to create a new public entity, or vest Waterfront Toronto with additional powers, to shepherd the whole development through regulatory processes over the next decade or more.“How would that realistically get administered? And is it plausible and is it realistic that it could even occur, when there is no regulatory framework in place for it?” he asked.Waterfront Toronto will hold a public consultation meeting in July to canvas public input on the 1,524-page Sidewalk Labs draft plan, and then after negotiation and revision, Waterfront Toronto’s board will vote on whether to proceed with the project.Already, strong reactions to the project are surfacing from the organizations and people who have been keeping a close eye on the long plan-development process that has been underway since October of 2017.We do not believe that they have presented strong arguments that that scale is neededWaterfront Toronto chair Stephen Diamond Sidewalk Labs “They’ve now come along and said no, we’re no longer going to put the headquarters on Quayside, but we’re going to put it on a different piece of land that we want,” Diamond said.“And by the way, (they) don’t want to have to go through a procurement for that particular piece of land, because (they) want to build the Google headquarters there.”They’ve now come along and said no, we’re no longer going to put the headquarters on Quayside, but we’re going to put it on a different piece of land that we wantWaterfront Toronto chair Stephen Diamond Brian Kelcey, vice-president of public affairs for the Toronto Regional Board of Trade, welcomed the plan because it gives the public something meaty to discuss.The Board of Trade has been broadly supportive of the Sidewalk Labs development for a while, but Kelcey said the public debate around the project has often suffered from a lack of information before the plan was released.“Frankly, it was a lot of shadow boxing and talk about worst-case scenarios,” he said.Sunil Sharma, director of Techstars Toronto, said he believes the Sidewalk development would be a testbed for urban innovation, and that it would mean Toronto will become a magnet for those sorts of startups.“I believe that with Sidewalk many of those companies are going to look at moving to Toronto, at least for a while, and they may stay here,” he said.“The net benefit will be landing a whole lot of global tech companies.”But for Bianca Wylie, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, and one of the project’s persistent critics, the expansive scope of the plan was part of the problem.Wylie said by going beyond their original remit, Sidewalk Labs is trying to do an end-run around the process set up by Waterfront Toronto to handle these issues.She attributed that approach to Sidewalk Labs’ DNA as a sister company to Google.“There is a lawlessness to the style, and to the power moves that the tech industry does. They just kind of do stuff and then they say, ‘Oh, regulate us!’” she said.“You see that happening here on a micro level with this project. They’ve gone way over what they were asked for.”• Email: [email protected] | Twitter: read more