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Controversial 30-storey Church Street condo gets go-ahead

OMB decision 'could've been written by the developer': Wong-Tam

Credit: Xtra file photo
A controversial 30-storey condo tower that was rejected by the city has won approval from the Ontario Municipal Board, which overruled the city’s decision in a judgment handed down Oct 12. The developer, Menkes, now has the go-ahead to build the 100-metre-tall building on land that is currently a parking lot on the east side of Church Street between McGill and Granby.

The decision could set a precedent to eliminate the city’s prohibition on tall buildings in the Church-Wellesley Village. 

The OMB decision, delivered by Reid Rossi, rejects every single argument the city had put forward against the project. It also denies the city Section 37 community benefit funds that are typically negotiated from a developer in exchange for the city’s allowing new buildings to exceed designated height and density maximums set out in the city’s official plan.
The city and members of the McGill Granby Village Residents’ Association had argued that the building was out of proportion with the adjacent low-rise McGill-Granby neighbourhood, that it would cast shadows on houses and park areas, and that balconies overlooking the low-rise houses would infringe on neighbours’ privacy. 
There was initially some fear that the new condo residents would create conflict with The Barn nightclub across the street, but since the club closed in August that concern has disappeared.
The OMB decision says the city erred by considering the neighbourhood context to be just the predominantly low-rise area bound by Carlton, Gerrard, Yonge and Jarvis.
“One must consider the broader downtown context of tall buildings and similar development as well as the existence of tall buildings to the north and south along Church Street if a full and fair understanding of the application is to be achieved,” the decision reads.
The decision also asserts that because the proposed building doesn’t physically remove any of the adjacent low-rise houses, it meets the city’s stated goal of maintaining the integrity of the low-rise neighbourhood.
The ruling does not sit well with Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who had fought hard to have the developer make concessions on the building’s height.
“This is the worst OMB ruling I have read in my two years as a city councillor,” Wong-Tam says. “He essentially said the neighbourhood was downtown, already grossly impacted by all these tall buildings, so what’s another one?”
The greater worry is the precedent the ruling sets for future development proposals in Church-Wellesley Village, she says.
“I think in some ways Mr Rossi has given developers a carte blanche into this neighbourhood. Build whatever you like; if the city doesn’t give you what you want, bring it here — we’ll approve it for you,” she says.
Wong-Tam says that the language used in the decision betrays bias on the part of the adjudicator toward the developer. In one section, the decision states that evidence given by the city planner was “overkill.”
In another section, the decision seems to confirm that the adjudicator was not interested in hearing evidence against the proposal: “If anything, [the proposal] appears to contribute to [the neighbourhood’s] dynamic growth and revitalization and no opposing opinion or submission could or did counter this assumption.”
“The language he used against our planner and solicitor was so outrageous that even third parties were shocked,” Wong-Tam says. “I think there was a lot of bias on behalf of the OMB member Reid Rossi. As I read his ruling I thought it could have been written by the developer for the developer.”
Wong-Tam says she is investigating the options the city has to appeal this ruling and seeking legal advice on whether the city would win on an appeal to the courts. If the city loses an appeal, it would also be liable for the developer’s legal costs.
“I wouldn’t want to subject the city to that unless I know we can win,” she says. “In no way is this ruling sitting well with the city staff.”
The new building will house 358 residential units with 161 underground parking spots, plus 177 square metres of ground-level retail space. It will be set back from Church Street, allowing a 4.5-metre-wide sidewalk.
There is also a proposal to replace the Family Service Toronto building on the southeast corner of Church and McGill streets with a 34-storey building.