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Seeking sports facility, TDSB argues for exemption to zoning regulations

Toronto’s Central Technical School. The Toronto District School Board is looking to set up a domed sports field at the school, built and managed by a private company.

Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Toronto District School Board says it should be exempt from zoning regulations or the need to seek the approval of local residents when building new sports facilities on land it owns.

The argument was put forward on Tuesday in a Superior Court hearing to determine if the board can go ahead with its plan to have a private company build and operate a $6-million domed sports field at Central Technical School.

"This business transaction should not be a zoning issue," TDSB lawyer Gordon Petch told the court.

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The TDSB is asking Superior Court Justice David Corbett to overturn a decision by the city's chief building official that the planned facility at Central Tech did not qualify for an exemption to a local zoning bylaw. The bylaw, enacted in 1986, says that new construction on TDSB owned lands does not have to comply with the regulations if it is "only for teaching or instructional purposes or purposes accessory thereto."

The deal between the TDSB and Razor Management Inc. (RMI), calls for the company to build a track, artificial turf field and inflatable dome that would be in place over the winter at Central Tech. RMI would pay all costs during the 21-year lease and provide the school free access to the facility about 30 per cent of the available hours in a year. The rest of the time, the company could rent it out to private sports groups and receive all of the revenue. The Central Tech proposal is the second of six similar domed facilities the TDSB wants to construct.

In having to determine whether the city has acted correctly, Judge Corbett told the TDSB lawyer the decision could set a precedent.

"If I rule in your favour, any school board can build these facilities without any approval from the city and without any community involvement," he said.

"Exactly," Mr. Petch replied. He stressed that renting out facilities to sports groups fits within the teaching or instructional purpose exemptions and is no different from when the board issues permits for fields or gymnasiums that it owns. If the city's decision is allowed to stand, "all permitting activities are at risk" at the 175 schools in the TDSB, Mr. Petch warned.

"This is frustrating for the school board. What are the boundaries [of the bylaw]? What is the test," he asked.

Kirsten Franz, lawyer for the city, urged the judge to look at the "totality" of the proposal for Central Tech. "This is a private recreational facility," and should not be exempt from zoning regulations, she said.

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Central Tech's field and track have been closed since last November after soil tests. The company retained by the TDSB said exposure to the field carries a "minimal" risk that could be eliminated with a new artificial surface or new topsoil.

If RMI is not permitted to go ahead with construction "within a matter of weeks" the Central Tech field will be closed for another school year, Mr. Petch said.

Judge Corbett promised to issue a decision quickly.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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