RioCan likely to appeal at Ontario Municipal Board
By Richard Frankel
Business Improvement Area (BIA) and residents’ association representatives, along with some vocal residents, exclaimed their relief with vigorous applause at City Hall on May 30.
A motion to refuse was read aloud by committee of adjustment staff to turn down a large retail development calling the application “excessive.”
As part of their application, RioCan, a retail real estate developer, intended to demolish three buildings to construct a new 139,000 square foot, three-storey commercial building with a three-level, below ground parking garage. Potential tenants for the site remain unknown.
“There are mixed-use areas, main streets throughout the city that have lots of three-storey buildings on them,” said Mark Noskiewicz, a representative for the developer to the committee. “The official plan says that mixed use areas are to absorb much of the anticipated increase in employment, retail, and residential. This isn’t the first three- or four- or five-storey building on Bathurst Street. There’s an existing four and five-storey building at the corner of Bathurst and College.”
RioCan purchased the properties between 410 and 444 Bathurst Street in spring 2011 for $8 million Canadian, but their plans have been met with vocal opposition from neighbourhood BIAs, residents associations, and outspoken local residents – some who are for and against the company’s project plans.
Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) said residents are worried about the potential impact of traffic on Bathurst around the Toronto Western Hospital, particularly on the 511 Bathurst streetcar and increased traffic on nearby streets if the RioCan development is built.
“Residents and businesses are also worried about the impact on our main streets,” he said. “We know that larger format retail can impact smaller scale stores that bring diversity to our streets.”
Andrew Overholt, a local resident living on Markham Street said he supports development in the area, but not development that “harms the character of the neighbourhood.”
Overholt said height variances that block sunlight and the difficulty of navigating large delivery trucks is also a concern. “My garage is directly where these trucks will unload,” he said. “How am I supposed to access my garage when a large truck is basically touching it as it negotiates its way to the incredibly tight loading dock space?”
Ian McArthur, a Markham Street resident told the committee he is for the proposed redevelopment citing an increase in property values and greater employment.
“There will be more HST collected and I believe a development like this can enhance the property values,” he said. “You have buildings now there and they’re not derelict but they’re very tired and I think a [re-development] would be a great addition to the neighbourhood.”
Shamez Amlani, local resident a representative from the Kensington Market BIA, said his BIA feels the development will have a “huge negative effect on business in Kensington Market as well as Little Italy, Dundas, all the way down to Queen Street.”
Amlani told the committee that RioCan are asking for a variance to build two, 50,000 square foot spaces that may be occupied by a single large two-level general merchandiser or other large tenant.
He also said, in regards to zoning requirements, the applicant must ensure that the function and amenity of the area for business and residents, and the economic health of nearby shopping districts are not adversely affected.
“When we look at the scale of what’s going on here, the so called minor variance takes it into something that could be much bigger,” he said. “Something that could fit a Walmart and we know what that brings. Walmart currently has 41.7 per cent of its sales as food sales. This allows them to have more floor space than all the greengrocers, fishmongers, and butchers in Kensington market put together. It’s massive.”
Noskiewicz said he understands the neighbourhood’s concerns and that these concerns have been extensively reviewed by the planning department.
“Kensington Market is an important and unique neighbourhood in this city,” he said. “It is not an island. It is surrounded by mixed use areas. The BIA doesn’t have a marketing plan today, and with the greatest respect it should have one and hopefully will continue to prosper as it has for many, many years.”
RioCan is expected to file an appeal of the decision to the Ontario Municipal Board later this year.