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City election puts Church-Gloucester 25-storey development on hold

Kyle Rae opposed original proposal; BIA hasn't committed

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The rezoning application for a proposed condo development at Church and Gloucester is on hold until after the municipal election, but that hasn’t slowed discussion around the project. Major players in the Village aren’t exactly lining up to support Church 18 Holdings, the developers whose 25-storey tower would replace a cluster of heritage and rental buildings.

The newly minted Gloucester Residents’ Association will hold a public meeting at The 519 on July 29 at 8pm. Organizers say that Lisa McCann, one of the owners, has promised to attend.

In the meantime, a planned meeting between the developers and the board of the Church Wellesley Village BIA has been rescheduled, and according to manager David Wootton, the BIA has not yet taken a position on the development, or indeed decided whether it will take a position at all.

Ward 27 candidate Kristyn Wong-Tam, who is working with the Residents’ Association, is critical of both the project and the City’s handling of it. Her opponent Ken Chan has apparently met with the developers himself and released an open letter encouraging them to meet with local residents, tenants and businesses ahead of the City’s official consultations. Reached for comment, outgoing councillor Kyle Rae seemed eager to distance himself from the project.

“I had been in meetings with the applicant about a year ago, and I made it clear to them that I didn’t think the project was suitable,” he says, outlining concerns with rental housing, scale and heritage properties. Rae won’t comment on the revised plans in the rezoning application, saying that he isn’t familiar with them.

Connie Langille of the Residents’ Association, who recently met with the developers, suggests that Church 18 Holdings is out of touch with the community.

“Elliot [Sud, the other owner] described north of us here as ‘scary,’ and I challenged him on that,” she says. “I raised my three children here; it’s a beautiful community. He’s in North York, so I think he has a different perception.”

In a preliminary report on the rezoning application in late May, city planners highlighted 23 issues to be resolved.

“We have concerns with the height, with the density, with the heritage treatment and with the rental demolition and conversion,” says Willie Macrae, the planner on the file. Macrae notes in particular that city policies and bylaws are designed to discourage the destruction of rental property by making it expensive.

“We have strict policies within our official plan that speak to rental replacement, which means that you have to provide the same amount of housing, the same unit type, the same rental cost,” says Macrae. At the city’s discretion, developers can also be on the hook for tenants’ moving costs and more.

For most local residents, news that their homes could be torn down came as a shock. Some were upset to learn that the developers had been meeting privately with planning staff over the last year. Macrae says that preliminary meetings are common practice.

“We’re trying to get an application to come in more refined,” he says. “We don’t want to waste the public’s time with something that isn’t approvable.”

Now that an application has been filed, the next step is to hold public consultations or more detailed public working group meetings. Macrae says that he needs council direction to do that.

“The councillor [Kyle Rae] has indicated that he doesn’t want this application to be an election issue, so he doesn’t want to hold a formal consultation until after the election. That’s not my decision, that’s council’s decision, but I have to abide by that,” says Macrae.

Rae characterizes the decision to delay consultations somewhat differently.

“The staff at the community council told people that there is a protocol that when a councillor is not running again, they tend to wait until after” the election to schedule consultations, he says. The idea, presumably, is to make sure that the same councillor is at both consultations and council discussions. Rae couldn’t recall the name of the staff person who had told him that this delay was standard practice.

But Alan Slobodsky, a consultant working with Church 18 Holdings, makes it sound like the delay was the developers’ initiative.

“We don’t want to become a political football, right?” he says. Slobodsky defended the project, but repeatedly emphasized that substantial changes can be made to the plans.

“This is a year, 18-months, two-year process,” he says. “We’re looking forward to community consultations.”

In the meantime, Macrae encourages residents to contact him directly with questions or concerns. He can be reached at 416-392-7572.