Ontario government launching public consultation on Toronto foundry site amid court battle

WATCH ABOVE: Lawyers for the City of Toronto and others interested in saving heritage buildings from the wrecking ball were in a virtual court hearing on Wednesday. While the judge deliberates whether they have legal grounds to stop the demolition, lawyers for the Ontario government say the City is delaying affordable housing it says it will build. Matthew Bingley reports.

After a temporary court order stopping the demolition of four downtown Toronto heritage buildings as part of a plan to build new affordable and market housing nearly two weeks ago and ongoing pleas for meetings to discuss the site’s future, the Ontario government will be launching a public consultation for the site.

Adam Wilson, a spokesperson for Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark, told Global News the new public consultation will be posted on the government’s website on Friday, adding area neighbourhood associations will also be contacted for “individual” meetings.

He said the focus will be on “how some elements of the existing structures could inform development following environmental remediation.” However, it wasn’t clear which specific buildings or elements might be included in any potential plans or in what form those would be included.

A specific plan and design for the site as well as a definitive breakdown of affordable and market housing units haven’t been released as of Thursday.

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“We have been clear that we intend to create new affordable and market housing and community space at the site in response to numerous requests from the City of Toronto for increased affordable housing,” Wilson said in a statement.

The decision to launch consultations came after an Ontario divisional court judge ordered the provincial government’s sudden demolition at the Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company property, located on Eastern Avenue near Cherry Street in Toronto’s West Don Lands, stopped.

“I am satisfied that it would be to flout the law to carry on with the demolition of these buildings until the matter is laid before a panel of my colleagues in late February,” Justice David Corbett wrote on Jan. 29 in response to an application filed by the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association along with the City of Toronto.

He said based on what was submitted to him at a Jan. 27 hearing and the events that happened before it was likely a “mistake” versus “deliberately flouting” provincial law.

“Someone responsible for the process leading to a decision to demolish the buildings simply forgot or overlooked the requirements that must be followed for heritage buildings. The record before me did not make it clear how this mistake was made,” he said.

The case is set to be heard in front of a panel of three divisional court judges on Feb. 26.

When asked about the announcement Thursday evening, Toronto Centre MPP Suze Morrison said the public consultation should have happened before demolition of the buildings began at the historic site.

“We still don’t know who the developer is, there still is no development proposal for the site, there is absolutely no guarantee in writing we see a single unit of affordable housing on that land, and to me it sounds like this consultation is how to maintain some sort of aesthetic homage to the previous building and not what the community wants to see it used for,” she told Global News.

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Province temporarily halts demolition of Toronto heritage buildings for affordable, market housing

“The community has been crying out for community use space and deeply affordable housing and this sounds like a consultation on how to maintain the heritage aspects and not the land-use planning.”

Morrison said there have been plans in the works for years with the ultimate goal of seeing it turned into an arts complex consisting of a performing arts centre, co-working space and deeply affordable housing for arts community members. She added a feasibility study was about to be conducted to determine the viability of the proposal envisioned.

As for the timing of the consultation, Morrison said the move is an attempt to backtrack and “save some face here.”

“I think that the minister needs to come sit down and actually talk to the community,” she said, adding many question the extent of affordable housing that will ultimately be provided.

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Court challenge to halt provincial demolition of Toronto heritage site faces uphill legal battle

After Corbett’s decision, the group Friends of the Foundry released a statement saying members were “very relieved.”

“The Province needs to come to the table now and start consulting with the City and the community about how this property can be redeveloped without destroying these heritage buildings,” the statement said on Jan. 29.

“The essential issue before the court next month will be whether the Province was in violation of the Ontario Heritage Act as well as a 2010 subdivision agreement between the City and the Province when it started demolition of the heritage Foundry buildings.”

A demolition crew showed up at the site on Jan. 18 and began tearing into one of the buildings. The demolition of the property began under the 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.

The Dominion Wheel and Foundries 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.”

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

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