Despite the fact that a condo deal has been confirmed for the derelict lot at 11 Wellesley St, Ward 27’s councillor says the fight for a public park in the space is far from over.
Kristyn Wong-Tam says the province closed a deal with Lanterra Developments on March 1. Lanterra, which was one of 12 companies to bid on the land, did not respond to Xtra‘s request for comment.
“We are most likely going to see a multi-tower plan for about 1,000 units, which doesn’t leave a lot of land for the park,” Wong-Tam says, noting she’s still working to acquire some public green space. “The discussions are still preliminary, but I’m hopeful we can secure the best results for the community.”
The 2.1-acre lot just west of Yonge Street was owned by the province and has been vacant for two decades after several failed attempts to develop it.
The tall hoarding that surrounds 11 Wellesley has been painted over with colourful murals of what some local residents hope a park might look like. Others have painted messages, including, “We want a public park.”
Kathryn Holden is the spokesperson for the Community Committee for the Procurement of 11 Wellesley Street West for a Public Park, which is actively fighting for a park.
“As a community we will not stop working towards the maximum amount of green space for the site,” Holden says. “We never give up hope.”
A deal with the developer is still a possibility, she says. “Let’s just say the file is not closed. There is still a lot of negotiating to be done. There are possibilities that have not been explored yet.”
Ward 27, an area with some of the highest population density in Toronto, rates low on the city’s scale of green-space sufficiency, a need that will increase as more condos are built.
Wong-Tam says the province has failed to come to the table to work with the community. Instead, she says, the province sent the message that the city should compete in the bidding process in the open market.
“The province has not been helpful, unfortunately, despite many attempts by the community to get the province to work with the city,” she says.
MPP Glen Murray did not respond to Xtra‘s repeated requests for comment.
In November, Toronto city council voted in favour of using parkland reserve funds to negotiate with a condo developer to carve out a park. But, Wong-Tam says, the city is not in the business of land purchasing, nor is it a condominium developer.
“We would come to the table with a fraction of the money,” she says. “I know how much was paid for this piece of land by the developer, and we would not have been able to compete . . . It’s ludicrous to expect the city to compete with private developers.”
Wong-Tam, who confirms that the land sold for $65 million, asked the province to halt the sale, which, she says, legislators could have done. “So, it’s rather disingenuous for the province to say that the city did not make an offer.”
The province also had the power to stipulate that the successful developer must work with the city to provide park space, she says.
“We were promised that by Minister Murray,” she says. “So if there’s any green space we end up securing with the developer, it will be solely because the developer was willing to cooperate.”
Wong-Tam plans to begin a negotiating process with Lanterra as soon as possible.
“This is a developer that I have a good working relationship with, and one which already has several projects in the neighbourhood,” she says. “The discussions are encouraging.”
Meanwhile, the community is continuing to press for a green space. Holden says there are 800 names on the electronic petition, which adds to the 3,000 names on the hard-copy petition that has already been delivered to Queen’s Park.
“It reminds our councillors, our MPP, our mayor and our premier,” she says. “Every person who signs that petition gets their name sent to those people. We have to keep reminding everyone that we still need that park. If the development has to be there, we want it to be as small as possible and the park to be as big as possible.”
Toronto is growing rapidly, she says, and more condos are being built in Ward 27 than in most other neighbourhoods in the city. “The communities that are being intensified have to be complete communities. There has to be green space designated. All the elements of community infrastructure need to be there . . . All we see happening is developments.”
Wong-Tam says the residents of Ward 27 have been patient. She thinks that even a small park would help overcome the area’s deficit of green space.