Provincial demolition of Toronto heritage buildings for affordable housing development raises community ire

WATCH: Community members angry over Provincial demolition of Toronto heritage buildings

Heritage and community advocates are calling for a halt of the demolition of buildings at a parcel of land in Toronto‘s West Don Lands neighbourhood to make way for a new development that the provincial government says will contain hundreds of affordable housing units.

A demolition crew showed up at the Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company property located at 153-185 Eastern Ave., nestled between the Don River and Cherry Street, on Monday and began tearing into one of the buildings on the site.

Suze Morrison, the NDP MPP for Toronto Centre, slammed the move, saying there hasn’t been proper consultation or communication about the development. She and others called for a halt to the demolition.

“I think not listening to the community and the direction that they would like to see taken for this important piece of our history is incredibly short-sighted and it can’t be undone,” she told Global News Monday afternoon, noting there has been a push to create a performing arts centre with affordable housing.

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“There’s no reason heritage and affordable housing can’t go hand in hand.”

The company, which made railway equipment, first established operations on the property in 1914 and the buildings were built between 1917 and 1929, according to a City of Toronto report. City staff recommended adding the property to the municipal inventory of heritage properties, calling the buildings “architecturally significant as a good example of an industrial enclave in the area.”

Tim Hurson, who said he moved to the neighbourhood three years ago, said he and others saw opportunities to build a community centre or another community-oriented development.

“There’s a lot of potential here and there’s a lot of people interested in doing good things,” he said.

“Once it’s down, there’s no remedy … there’s no way to recover that.”

As of Monday afternoon, there were almost 7,000 signatures on an online petition calling for officials to “save the foundry.”

The demolition of the property is proceeding under the Ontario municipal affairs and housing minister’s zoning order (MZO) process under the province’s Planning Act, which involves a permit being issued by the minister that supersedes municipal planning and consultation processes. Three MZOs were issued in 2020.

Stephanie Bellotto, a spokesperson for Minister Steve Clark, said the MZOs are all for vacant, provincially owned properties and will “accelerate” the building of almost 1,000 new affordable housing units.

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“The specific site in question has sat vacant in a state of bad repair since the 1980s, and the government is committed to leveraging this underutilized provincial property to build new affordable housing and community space,” she wrote in a statement Monday afternoon.

“The province has received all necessary permits and conducted all required studies to conduct this work, and on Oct. 22, 2020, the MZO was posted publicly on the Environmental Registry of Ontario.”

Under the Ontario government’s COVID-19 shutdown regulations, demolition is allowed to continue in accordance with public health regulations.

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The provincial government hasn’t released a specific plan and design for the site.

Meanwhile, Hurson questioned the Ontario government’s intentions for the property and said he too is among those who are upset with the development.

“Why would you put up a 45-storey highrise when there are no services in this area at all yet? You’re just compounding a problem that already exists,” he said, noting there isn’t a school in the immediate area and there is a lack of daycare.

“I’m not opposed to development. I’m opposed to stupid development and stupid development is just throw it up and see what happens. Let’s think about it.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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