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City planner to recommend against Church St condo plan

Wong-Tam demonstrates new approach to development

Ward 27 city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says new development ought to be "smart, sustainable and affordable." Credit: Marcus Mccann

Toronto city planner Willie Macrae announced at a Dec 6 community consultation meeting at the 519 Church Street Community Centre that city staff will recommend that city council reject a proposed condo development on Church St between Gloucester and Dundonald streets.

Church 18 Holdings, which owns the properties, wants to build a 25-storey, 79-metre condo tower along the block. But Macrae noted at the meeting that city regulations limit buildings along that stretch of Church St to no more than 12 metres tall. The city’s official plan also emphasizes that towers should be set back from the street and transition down to neighbourhood-scaled buildings, he added.

The project would also gut a number of Victorian buildings, leaving only their facades, and force more than 100 residents to relocate, at least until new rental units are built in the condo’s six-storey podium.

None of the affected buildings is protected by heritage designation, although some of them are or were formerly listed on the city’s inventory of heritage properties. There is a proposal before the city’s Preservation Board that the entire block be designated a Heritage Conservation District.

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Kristyn Wong-Tam is the new city councillor for Ward 27, the area in which the site lies, and was recently appointed to the Preservation Board.

“When the Heritage Conservation District comes to the board, I will support it,” she says. “But it’s a long process. It takes two years and can cost $20,000. So I’ll help find funds and engage planning students to help carry out the studies.”

Wong-Tam’s opposition to the development plan was a key part of her election campaign. Wong-Tam says the neighbourhood needs a secondary plan, crafted by residents, to inform developers and the city what is needed and wanted in the neighbourhood.

“Once those documents are public, you can put the city on notice: this is what’s in place for the neighbourhood,” says Wong-Tam.

Wong-Tam’s opposition to the project sets a markedly different approach to the development process from that of her predecessor. During Kyle Rae’s 19 years as Ward 27 councillor, more than 12.5 million square metres of residential space was built in the ward, Wong-Tam says. And in June it was revealed that the redevelopment plan was well underway before area residents even knew about it.

About 100 people attended the Dec 6 meeting at The 519.

“Heritage isn’t about keeping facades,” area resident Brad Nolan told the crowd. “It’s about 12-foot ceilings, wainscoting; my unit has an old-fashioned dumbwaiter.”

Other residents complained that the proposed development would do away with the backyards and gardens and suggested that several empty parking lots on Church St and Wellesley St were more suitable sites for a 25-storey condo tower and would do less damage to the neighbourhood’s character.

Non-residents were more supportive of the development proposal, citing hopes that the new project would give them an opportunity to move into the neighbourhood.

“The attitude is selfish,” says David Louis, who lives near Bay and Bloor streets. “I’ve never felt there was a place in this community that speaks to me, that has what I need like this [proposed] building does. It takes the best part of heritage and maintains it.”

Some non-residents said they appreciate that the proposed tower might allow gay and lesbian parents to have family-sized homes near the gay village, allowing more people to enjoy the community’s history and services.

Representatives for the developer said they will take the community’s input into consideration when revising the plan and resubmitting it to the city.

Whatever the outcome of this tower proposal, Wong-Tam says she has a tough fight ahead of her.

“I campaigned on reforming the planning process,” she says. “We have over 100 open files on the books right now and six Ontario Municipal Board hearings [challenging council decisions] scheduled before Feb 2, which speaks to tremendous conflict in the ward.”