Site recommended for heritage list—impact on development unclear
By Annemarie Brissenden
City Planning announced its intention to designate 698 Spadina Avenue under the Ontario Heritage Act and list the property on the City of Toronto’s Heritage Register last month. The announcement came four days before a community consultation meeting on the University of Toronto’s application to build a residence at the corner of Spadina and Sussex avenues, an area that includes the site.
It’s still not clear what, if any, impact the listing will have on the university’s plans. The report dated Jan. 12, 2017, still needs to be reviewed by Toronto and East York Community Council (TEYCC) on Feb. 22. If approved, the report will go to Toronto City Council on March 9.
“This is a residence, not a fraternity”—Matthew Thomas, U of T students’ union
“If council adopts the designation,” said Tamara Anson-Cartwright, a program manager with Heritage Preservation Services (HPS), “then I would say there is another chapter in this project.”
The site has been home to the Ten Editions Bookstore, which since 1984 has been a much-loved fixture of the area.
The report dates to Aug. 12, 2014, when TEYCC directed HPS to assess the heritage value of 698, 700, and 704 Spadina Ave., as well as 54 Sussex Ave. Of the four properties, only 698 was deemed appropriate for a heritage designation.
Built in 1885, the three-storey Victorian block was originally a grocery store topped by residential units. The report highlights it as “an example of a late-Victorian-style, neighbourhood corner store with commercial use at grade and residential units above, featuring decorative brick and wood detailing and a diagonal corner entrance which are characteristic of the type”.
Characterizing the building as a 130-year-old neighbourhood landmark, HPS argues that it is associated with the late nineteenth-century origins of the South Annex and Harbord Village.
Wendy Duff, a member of the family that owns Ten Editions, spoke at the community meeting on Jan. 16.
“There has been a bookstore there for close to 40 years. We should continue to have a bookstore there; it might even be good for the undergraduates,” said Duff. Her mother, Christine, had taken over the store from Atticus Books in 1984, renaming it in honour of her ten children.
But city planner Michelle Knieri cautioned that while a heritage designation would support keeping the building’s nineteenth-century storefront intact, it has little to say about the use of the building itself.
While the university’s representatives admitted they were still digesting the intended heritage designation, they went to great lengths to demonstrate the changes they have made to the application resulting from community feedback.
Anne Macdonald, the university’s director of ancillary services, said the application now features a mix of undergraduate, post-graduate, and faculty housing, a lower student to adviser ratio, mixed room types, and areas that will be accessible to the community.
But what hasn’t changed is the density. “Five hundred and forty beds is the number that we need to make the residence affordable and viable in the first place,” said Scott Mabury, vice president of university operations.
Many in the audience were unconvinced.
Robert Street resident Edward Goudreau argued that profit — both for U of T and the Daniels Corporation — was the motivating factor.
“We’ve only heard what your needs are. How does [this proposal] fit in this place and balance the interests of the community,” asked another audience member, while a third said, “We were never asked if this was a good idea for our historic neighbourhood. It will destroy the eastern entrance to this neighbourhood.”
Matthew Thomas of the U of T students’ union spoke in favour of the proposed residence. Stressing the vibrancy and cultural enrichment he believes the university brings to the area, he acknowledged that “there will be gatherings”, but that “most of the time students will be working.
“This is a residence, not a fraternity.”
“I find it difficult to accept that this is a destruction of our neighbourhood,” said Catherine Bragg, a Harbord Village resident. “This is on a wide avenue on the fringe of our neighbourhood. We’re forgetting about why we are downtown in the first place, and all we can derive from it.”
Conceding that “some important changes have been made over the course of the years,” Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) said the height was still not appropriate.
But, he pointed out, “we’re three years into this process, and we’re not at the Ontario Municipal Board. While what’s here doesn’t have our support, Daniels and the university are still here.”
CHATTER: Two new rezoning applications submitted to city (September 2016)
NEWS: Tall tower before OMB, as city battles back with block study (August 2016)
NEWS: Planning for the future (May 2016)
DEVELOPINGS: Annual review reflects tension between community activism and OMB (March 2016)