Sidewalk Toronto has an approved plan for Quayside, but not without controversy

Quayside site

Waterfront Toronto, the organization responsible for administering revitalization projects along the city’s waterfront, has unanimously approved an agreement with Google’s parent company Alphabet to design Quayside.

Last week, Waterfront Toronto’s board of directors released a 58-page Plan Development Agreement (PDA) signed by both Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs, Alphabet’s smart city subsidiary responsible for the project.

Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto first confirmed their partnership in October 2017, and since then, the project has faced criticism and concerns related to the privacy of citizens.

The PDA outlines the plans to develop the 12-acre Quayside community along Toronto’s waterfront, and replaces an original framework agreement from last fall that was initially kept out of the public eye.

“The Plan Development Agreement was crafted to reflect the aspirational goals and ambitions we set out for Quayside.”
 

During a January fireside chat with RBC SVP John Stackhouse when details were still scarce, Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff outlined his vision for the project, which he claimed could reduce the cost of living for citizens and make the area autonomous vehicle-only. The company also planned to collect data on citizens with the stated purpose of improving services, and at the time, Doctoroff said they would not seek monetization opportunities for the data.

A rendering of Sidewalk Labs' Quayside neighborhood in Toronto

A rendering of Sidewalk Labs’ Quayside neighborhood in Toronto.

The PDA sets out the planning and funding relationship between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs, including a budget of $50 million USD committed by Sidewalk Labs. The PDA is the legal agreement outlining the scope and budget governing the creation of a finalized Master Innovation and Development Plan that meets the objectives of the original RFP.

As the Toronto Star reports, Waterfront Toronto will retain ownership of public land and is not obligated to invest money at this stage. Sidewalk Labs has now been designated as an innovation and funding partner rather than the former co-master-developer title, and Waterfront Toronto is being referred to as the revitalization lead. The committed money will go towards research and costs associated with reaching the MIDP.

“We are excited to take this next step with Sidewalk Labs to set the stage for delivering a truly transformational project on the waterfront that addresses many critical urban issues faced by our City and other cities,” said Helen Burstyn, the chair of Waterfront Toronto’s board of directors.

Waterfront Toronto’s agency chair Helen Burstyn said Di Lorenzo was “uncomfortable with the nature of the agreement to begin with.”
 
 

“The Plan Development Agreement was crafted to reflect the aspirational goals and ambitions we set out for Quayside when Waterfront Toronto issued its RFP last year,” said Michael Nobrega, acting CEO of Waterfront Toronto. “A central goal was to serve the public interest and to lay the groundwork to achieve these goals in the Master Innovation and Development Plan. Our board and management team took the time necessary to ensure that the agreement reflects both Waterfront Toronto’s enduring vision and mandate, and the aspirations we share with Sidewalk Labs for the transformational nature of the project.”

The unanimous approval for the plan comes with caveats. The vote took place just a day after Julie Di Lorenzo resigned from her role as the chair of the investment and real estate committee of Waterfront Toronto’s board. “I’m looking forward to working as a citizen city-builder outside the board to advocate for the interests of the city, the country, and its residents,” Di Lorenzo said in a statement.

Di Lorenzo’s resignation was not the only one to impact the project this summer, coming a few days after just days after The Logic reported the resignation of John Ruffolo from Waterfront Toronto’s advisory panel amidst concerns over NDA signing requirements. According to the Globe and Mail, Waterfront Toronto’s CEO Will Fleissig departed suddenly in early July.

The Logic reported that Di Lorenzo abstained from the unanimous vote to approve the Quayside development partnership between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs. Sources told The Logic that Di Lorenzo wasn’t happy with how Waterfront Toronto’s leadership was handling the process with Sidewalk Labs.

Waterfront Toronto’s agency chair Helen Burstyn said Di Lorenzo was “uncomfortable with the nature of the agreement to begin with.”

The final MIDP is expected to be approved by September 30, 2019.

With files from Amira Zubairi.

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang is BetaKit's News Editor. Follow her on Twitter @jessicagalangg or send her pitches to jessica.galang@betakit.com.