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NEWS: Height-ened fears (Dec. 2017)

December 15th, 2017 · 2 Comments

Residents still concerned about BSUC proposal

COURTESY KPMB ARCHITECTS An artist’s rendering of the proposed redevelopment of Bloor Street United Church. The heritage aspects of the church will be restored, and a 38-storey mixed-use tower added to the church grounds.

By Geremy Bordonaro

Many community members remain unhappy with the proposed redevelopment of the Bloor Street United Church, even after the third — and final — community consultation in late November.

“It’s a beautiful design but it’s just in the wrong place” —David Harrison, chair, Annex Residents’ Association

The plan calls for a 38-storey mixed-use building that will occupy the west end of the church’s grounds and retain most of the heritage elements on the east.

Although the developers have not yet submitted their application to the city, they hope to do so sometime in the new year.

“What we’ve said is that in any consideration of this site certain core principles need to guide the thinking. One of those principles is heritage retention. Another is appropriate height,” said Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina).

“We have two studies, both endorsed by the city, which make it pretty clear the type of height which would be expected. And what the city’s plan would speak on is probably something closer to the teens.”

Cressy has dealt with a very similar proposal process like this. The developers have tried to engage the community from the outset, as Westbank Projects Corp. did for its redevelopment of Mirvish Village, but as with Westbank, there has been a lot of pushback.

“While what has been proposed is not something that is supportable at this time the process that they are taking, before they put in an application, to engage and work with the community is the right one,” Cressy said.

One major player is the Annex Residents’ Association (ARA), which opposes the plan in its current form.

“You can’t fault them on trying to embrace the community. They’ve tried, we’ve had several meetings, but they still haven’t reduced the size of what they have on offer,” said David Harrison, ARA chair. “It’s a beautiful design but it’s just in the wrong place.”

The church has given its land to the developers, Collecdev, Northrop Development Incorporated, and Strategy Corp., to pay for the building’s revitalization. Reverend Martha ter Kuile said that she wasn’t surprised by the negative reaction, but has urged the developers to work with community.

“Generally I’d say these meetings have gone very well but the major issue has been the height of the building,” said Marianne McKenna of KPMB Architects, which is designing the development. “I think everybody has initially embraced the idea that the church was important to retain. It’s a benefit to retain the church in its entirety. The stickler has been the height and the fear of the residents.”

Reverend Kuile said that the community’s opinion matters highly to the church and they’re trying to do everything in their power to accommodate local residents. But, it’s easier to get an agreement for a plan like this in the crowded, tower-filled streets of the downtown core, but the Annex is still grappling with the impact such developments could have on the future of the area.

“It sets a precedent in the city. And we try to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of people who will come to Toronto in the next decade. Maybe millions,” McKenna said. “We’re going to have to build. We’re going to have to build perhaps taller than people anticipate. And it should be on the main streets, like Bloor Street.”

McKenna says her concern is about “younger people who want to live in the city” and who would want to take up residence in a bustling area like the Annex. And though the pushback from the community has been vocal, she still hears from people who support the design.

“There were a lot of people at that community meeting who were quite positive. Who spoke up, not in the public forum, but afterwards said look, my tomato plants will be shadowed for half an hour. I get it. I’m in favour of this,” McKenna said “But they’re not the people who speak.”

Meanwhile, the ARA hopes to set up a group to continue the discussions between the architect, community, and developer before the plan finds its way into the application phase.

“They’ve sort of agreed, I wouldn’t say they have agreed, but they have heard the idea that they shouldn’t submit until they’ve met with a working group,” Harrison said. “But all developers at the moment are very focused on the fact the new rules from the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) will be done soon and they’ll all have to put in application appeals before that happens.”

There are still fears from an untrusting community that if talks turn sour the developers would turn to the OMB, which some residents believe hasn’t ruled in their favour in the past.

Yet Cressy is still hopeful about the process.

“What we need to see ultimately, though we’re still early in the process, is some shifts in the response to the proposal. Often the process that takes place is a developer comes in, throws in an application, and then you talk afterwards,” Cressy said. “I think the process here of talking first is important. What we need to see are some changes to what’s in there though.”

READ MORE:

NEWS: New vision for Bloor Street United (JULY 2017)

Tags: Annex · News

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Christopher King // Dec 15, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    Frankly speaking, you can try to please the local community and the ARA as much as you want, but it ultimately boils down to this. Save the church with a condo attached, or destroy the church and erect the condo on the site, where a precedent for a building height that high on Bloor West has already been established.

  • 2 Reva Landau // Dec 19, 2017 at 8:49 pm

    The author of this article must have been at a different meeting. At the meeting I was at, it was clear the development was not on Bloor, as the article said, but on Huron, a narrow residential street. Even on Bloor the development would be much higher than allowed by the recently revised by-law, the Downtown Tall Buildings Guideline, and the Bloor Vision Study, but on the narrow side street of Huron, it is unprecedented.
    It was also very clear that while the church claims they want to work with the community, their actions do not match their words. Several people at the meeting, including someone who lives very close to the church, said they were not informed about this proposed 38 storey tower development from church material, but from posters concerned residents put up near the church property. The church did not even have a sign on its own property giving the date, time, and purpose of the meeting. It was also clear the church has not budged one foot on the height in spite of repeated protests from the community. So much for working with the community.
    It was not clear from the article that only one person, a church member, supported the proposal during the limited open discussion period.
    It was also clear from the meeting that it was not that Annex members have some strange fear of “heights” but that they have legitimate concerns. For example, concerns about Huron traffic; the entrance for vehicles and parking will be on Huron. Vehicle traffic for the 250 residential units, four floors of United Church of Canada office space, visitors, etc., will all be from Huron. Plus the impact of this additional density on already overcrowded subway stations and streetcars and other local amenities Plus the impact of, according to the church’s own studies, 1 to 3 additional hours of shadow on nearby gardens and green space. Would anybody who read the article know this?