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NEWS: Honouring the past in future planning (Jan. 2022)

February 4th, 2022 · No Comments

Declaring the Annex a heritage district vetted by community

An HCD would apply a broad definition of heritage that could include any building that contributes to the neighbourhood’s character, such as the mid-century modern apartments on St. George Street. NICOLE STOFFMAN/GLEANER NEWS

By Nicole Stoffman

If the West Annex Heritage Project follows in the footsteps of the East Annex, the area between Bedford Road and Bathurst Street could become a Heritage Conservation District (HCD) as early as 2024. In September and October, consultants connected with local residents at two virtual meetings to discuss the project and the changes it might bring. While few questions brought forth solid answers, participating residents had plenty of thoughts on what makes the Annex special.

A community member at a Sept. 23 meeting wanted to know if a heritage designation would mean increased renovation costs that could be passed on to tenants. Annie Veilleux of Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI) did not provide a direct answer, instead she offered that the historical report her team will write will include reference to the high number of renters in the area. 

Paul Rezler wanted to know how an owner could go about demolishing a designated property if more rental housing is needed in the future. Rebecca Sciarra of ASI replied,

“Ultimately, as part of a conservation district, the study and plan phase would go through a process of understanding which buildings contribute to this place, identify them, and put in place policies and guidelines to best retain those buildings to the fullest extent possible.”

Tamara Anson-Cartwright from Heritage Planning at the City of Toronto was in attendance at the Sept. 23 meeting, yet moderator Josh Fullan did not call on her to answer any questions pertaining to the city’s heritage planning policies. 

As noted in the Gleaner’s July article on the project, any demolition proposal for a building that is designated as a heritage building would see a representative from the city’s heritage planning department at the table from the application stage. Appropriate massing, materials and scale would need to be incorporated in any redesign of a heritage property within the HCD.

Should the West Annex become an HCD, the HCD bylaw will be registered on the title of each property. However, not all buildings will be treated equally, Sciarra clarified in a follow up email to the Gleaner. A building that is considered to contribute to the character of the district will have greater restrictions on it, than one that isn’t. Owners should understand that in an HCD, a demo permit application for any building would have to go through a heritage permit system.

Daniel Bain, a participant at the Oct. 14 focus group expressed concern about the invasion of high rises on St. George Street, and asked how an HCD will preserve the neighbourhood. Instead of answering his question, consultant Eleanore Rae asked him to elaborate on his concerns.

The project consists of taking an inventory of every building within the West Annex, and compiling a history of the area that will seek to define what makes it unique. 

ASI is looking for the public’s help in defining the West Annex from the 1990s to the present. Moderator Josh Fullan asked the 16 focus group participants how they’d describe the Annex in a single word, and the answers were; friends, bohemian-cosmopolitan, diversity, established, quirky, diverse, liveable, lively, and historic.

Adaptive reuse of housing stock emerged from the group discussion as a defining feature of the Annex’s heritage. The majority of late 19th century single family homes were converted to rooming houses after the war as a response to increased demand for housing. Rooming houses have also been converted to public housing, group homes and shelters, which are remarkably well-integrated into the community. 

“How that has worked is worth looking at,” noted Annex resident Catherine Oliver. Sciarra replied that focus group discussion has brought this theme to light, and ASI will report back on it at the next focus group in March.  

Many rooming houses were renovated back into single family dwellings starting in the 1970s. Marjorie Harris, celebrity gardening author, recalled how resented they were as the first renovators on Albany in 1967. She now describes her neighbours as, “a safety net.”

To this day, 75% of residents are renters, noted Tim Hadwen, a retired public servant. Renters tend to be quite active in the arts, he noted, and contribute to the neighbourhood’s artistic flare, past and present. Hadwen also noted that proximity to cultural institutions like the Tranzac club, Koerner hall, and Tafelmusik enhance the pedestrian experience in the West Annex.

“The sacred core of the Annex is beautiful people who care about others,” said Elliott Shulman, from the Avenue Road Food Bank, commonly known as “The Avenue.” To illustrate, he shared a story about how artist Lynne Dagliesh donated “thousands of dollars,” to the food bank, the proceeds from the sale of her pandemic mural posters. 

Parks and gardens emerged as another defining feature of the Annex. “The Vessel,” by Ilan Sandler at Taddle Creek Park, has made an impression on Maxine, a resident of five years. “There’s this immense beauty, with the flowers cascading around it,” she noted. Shulman admitted “I never really noticed flowers until the pandemic. They really stood out as symbols of hope.”

Bain, CEO of Thornmark Asset Management and a 20-year resident, noted that the Annex is diverse, liveable, central, and relatively well-preserved. “These are all the things that make the Annex an attractive place, and a place worth fighting for.” he said.

The West Annex Heritage Project’s final report will be submitted to city council by August 2022. 

A third focus group will involve a walk through the neighbourhood. A focus group in March will delve even deeper into the issues. Email with “West Annex Heritage project,” in the subject line, to have your say.


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