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Toronto wants to quiet its construction boom

Toronto voters want to slow down the city's construction boom. There is a real prospect of a freeze on real estate development in Toronto following this week's municipal election. Nine aldermen of the 17-member city council are so-called reformers; the last council was pro-development, this one will be against new building.

The new councilors are members of the New Democratic Party, the Canadian equivalent of Britain's Labour Party. The party is against unbridled development. Although the NDP does poorly at the federal level, only 30 percent of the population votes in city elections.

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``We don't want this city to be a moneymaking machine for the developers, we want it to be a good place for people to live,'' said Jack Layton, who has called for a three- to six-month freeze on development projects. He represents the downtown ward where most of the development is taking place.

Mr. Layton has already taken aim at a specific project, the $500 million (Canadian; US$405 million) Bay-Adelaide project, which includes a 57-story office building and another three-block office building. He wants the project scaled down.

The concern expressed by the reformers and their supporters is that Toronto is becoming overcrowded with skyscrapers, too much like other North American cities. The city is a place where many people actually live downtown. Its streets are not deserted at night and are considered safe.

The reformers and their supporters are worried about high-rise apartment buildings being built along the lake and the downtown core being overcrowded with office towers. Toronto's economic boom - there is no unemployment to speak of - has the sky breaking out in construction cranes.

There was also a concern that developers were corrupting municipal politicians. At one stage in a recent council meeting, a lawyer representing developers was said to be in the gallery signaling an alderman on how he should vote.

The Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper carried an exhaustive series on municipal corruption and urged its readers to vote against pro-development candidates.

Many celebrities, such as novelist Margaret Atwood, successfully campaigned for the anti-development side. She said she wanted Toronto to be a ``people city.''

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The mayor of Toronto, Arthur Eggleton, is in favor of development and was reelected. Although he has administrative power, his vote is only equal to that of one alderman.

There was a similar wave of anti-development politics in Toronto in the 1970s. Buildings were restricted to a height of four stories while the city rethought its ``official plan,'' which sets the rules for developers.

The Canadian Institute of Public Real Estate Companies represents many of the largest property owners in Canada and held an urgent meeting shortly after the election. One developer said, ``The prospect of a building freeze scares the pants off me.''

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