Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam remembers how she agonized over authorizing a new development in the Church-Wellesley area. But in the end, she voted yes when the developers gave the assurance that the area's rich heritage would be protected.
The shiny 47-storey, mixed use development at 68 Charles St. E will have ground level retail, more than 400 condo units and 20 rental units reserved for the current tenants at that location. The developer will use the heritage buildings that sit on the site now as the the podium for the project.
The developer, Aspen Ridge, has been buying up buildings and lots in the area, causing disruption for renters and businesses. On Monday, Lola's Kitchen — a popular brunch spot on Church Street — abruptly closed its doors without notice to employees or customers.
"I'm never happy when you see development come through a neighbourhood like the Village," Wong-Tam told CBC Toronto.
"I think it's important for us to advocate for sustainable development that actually make sense in the neighbourhood."
The project, just one of several planned for the area, sits three blocks north of Church and Wellesley on the northwest side of the intersection of Church and Charles, and is actually closer to Bloor Street East.
Wong-Tam says it got approved because it was considered part of the Bloor-Yorkville area, not the Village.
"If it was on the other side of the street, even on the southeast corner of Charles and Church then it would not have been approved, but it was actually treated as a Yorkville building."
A heritage context
Wong-Tam says that as the only member of council who has served on the Toronto Preservation Board for eight years, and spent a good amount of time advocating for heritage protection, she was adamant that the area's rich history be preserved.
"The application was supported by the Toronto Preservation Board as well as preservation staff," she told CBC Toronto.
"They were working really hard with the applicant to make sure that it was going to be reasonably protected and the Toronto staff end up being very pleased with the way the application had treated the heritage properties,' she said.
The city did the very best that it could to defend their planning rationale but also to make sure that the heritage treatment for those beautiful assets onsite was going to be protected."
But Wong-Tam said the people behind the project felt the city was taking too long so they appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board.
"The property owners and the architects appealed the application to the Ontario Municipal Board under the old rule and so the city did the very best that they could to defend their planning rationale, but also to make sure that the heritage treatment for those beautiful assets on site were going to be protected," she said.
"And it was only after careful consideration under the watchful eye of the Ontario Municipal Board, was the city able to find a resolution.
"I think that if it was not before the municipal board, perhaps we could have had even a different outcome, perhaps the height of the building could have come down. But once it actually leaves the city . . . the decision-making no longer rests at city hall. The decision-making then goes to the Ontario Municipal Board and that's where it's ultimately approved."
Mixed reaction from residents
The project has brought mixed reaction from residents.
"It brings new business and new life to the neighbourhood and I mean a lot of these buildings are pretty rundown anyways," Marcio Santos told CBC Toronto.
"A park would be nice. My son is two-and-a-half now and finding a green space is really hard around here."
Another resident, Lilit Makaryan, agrees with the development, but she stresses that the developers should save heritage buildings.
Bassam Khoury says while there is a need for housing, he is worried that "the regular guy" might not be able to afford one of the new condos.
"They need regular prices for people, and I'm very annoyed about it. Every time they build one of these things they don't do it for the regular guy."
Wong-Tam says she too pressed for affordable housing in the new development.
"What we would have wanted, to be quite honest is . . .to see affordable housing in there and I did ask the developer on how we could actually build more affordable housing into the building but there was no legislation to compel them to do it," she said.
"So the only thing I could do is to negotiate on how we can get affordable housing there. There is no forceful way for me to do it.