NEWS

'Fantastic' St. Clair Avenue lot also a longtime 'eyesore'

09/11/2013 07:34 EDT | Updated 11/11/2013 05:12 EST
Look up the northwest corner of St. Clair Avenue West and Parkwood Avenue on Google Street View and you'll see a derelict building.

That image, taken two years ago, is a reminder of just how long the multimillion-dollar property has been left in limbo.

The trouble is, there is disagreement about exactly what to do with the prime lot across the street from Sir Winston Churchill Park, where a partially built project now stands and where weeds grow with abandon.

Coun. Josh Matlow calls it an "eyesore," which dates back to before he was elected as the St. Paul's councillor in 2010.

A few years ago, there was a plan to build an addition to an existing seniors' building on the property at 282 St. Clair Ave. W.

Part of that project got built, but it didn't get finished. If you walk by the property, you can see the part of the building that stood there originally, as well as the part that was never completed.

Parts of the unfinished addition have walls, but some sections don't. The exterior of this section is a patchwork of plastic wrap, some windows and steel frame.

Last year, the property was sold to a company known as Lifetime Developments, which has a sister company called BLVD Developments.

The value of that sale was $7.75 million, according to land-transfer records.

"We think it's a fantastic condo site," Brian Brown, a principal at BLVD Developments told CBC News in a telephone interview this week.

So fantastic in fact, that the company initially wanted to build an 11-storey building at the site.

But that wasn't what neighbourhood residents wanted.

At a community meeting a year ago, they raised concerns about the shadows that such a tall building would cast on nearby structures, the loss of privacy to neighbourhood residents and the impact on traffic when scores of new residents would eventually move in.

The development company ended up revising its original plans, instead putting forth a vision of a nine-storey, 118-unit building there.

Company sought to win support

Brown said his company "worked quite hard" to come up with a plan that they believed would have complete support.

But some residents still weren’t on board with the reworked proposal, believing that at nine storeys, it was still too tall.

Mark Leung wrote to the city in June to say that he believed that the nine-storey development would leave his backyard in "perpetual shadow," which he believes could end up killing a number of trees on his property.

"I do support development on the property, but not to the detriment of its neighbours," Leung said in an email sent to the administrator of the Toronto and East York Community Council.

Ron Factor, a resident of nearby Shorncliffe Avenue, also wrote to the city to say he and his wife both believed the proposed project, if built, would stick like a "sore thumb" in the neighbourhood.

But city planning staff reviewed that nine-storey proposal and deemed it to be a "suitable development for the subject site" and recommended that it be approved — along with a related bylaw zoning amendment — in a report that was delivered in May.

In June, the Toronto and East York Community Council moved to amend the proposal to an eight-storey building, a move Matlow said was hoped would bridge the gap between the nine storeys the developer wanted and the lower structure the residents had sought.

But within days, BLVD Developments served notice that it would appeal council's failure to adopt the staff recommendations with the Ontario Municipal Board.

Lawyers representing BLVD Developments in the matter have filed papers arguing that the community council's "arbitrary" trimming of the project from nine storeys to eight is unjustified and not something that city staff had requested.

A month later, Toronto City Council voted to adopt the amended eight-storey plan, and authorized the city solicitor to attend the forthcoming OMB hearing.

A pre-hearing is scheduled to take place at the OMB's Bay Street offices in Toronto on Thursday morning.

"The whole argument is over one storey," Matlow said, noting that whatever happens at the OMB, the "derelict eyesore" on the property will be dealt with when the project gets going.

And when demolition of the existing structure is finally set to go forward, Matlow said he'll be "very happy to sign off on that request."

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