‘A street we all identify with’: Downtown Yonge gets heritage status

Click to play video: 'Yonge Street to become Heritage Conservation District'
Yonge Street to become Heritage Conservation District
WATCH: The designation will protect the area from unrestricted condo development. Peter Kim reports – Mar 10, 2016

TORONTO — City council has approved a heritage designation for a key stretch of a busy downtown corridor. Yonge Street between College and Bloor will become a Heritage Conservation District similar to the St. Lawrence Market and Queen West neighbourhoods.

The move could see a revitalization of the area, but some property owners and developers are not happy.

The vote passed by 35 to 1, with the lone dissenting voice being deputy mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

“There’s a balance between protecting the city’s interests and protecting heritage properties, but this place is horrible for creating red tape,” he said.

The motion, brought forward by area councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, mandates guidelines for developers who want to build condos, ensuring their buildings respect downtown Yonge’s distinct cultural and architectural significance and appearance.

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It also requires property owners to preserve the historical features of existing buildings.

“Yonge Street is a very important historical street in Toronto, we all recognize the value where we know it to be a place of significance,” said Wong-Tam.

“It’s a street that’s a place of congregation; it’s a street that we all identify with as Torontonians.”

Some property owners find the regulations needlessly onerous and the Building Industry and Land Development Association has sent a letter to council objecting to the proposal.

The move would guide how developers design their buildings and could increase construction costs. The objections were dismissed by Toronto’s Chief City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat as “typical bluster” from the development community.

She said property owners in the area overwhelmingly supportive of the idea, and Wong-Tam said it has the backing of neighbourhood associations as well.

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The city will now ask property owners along this stretch of Yonge to “re-think how they are promoting their businesses,” meaning the large signs and often unsightly advertising displayed prominently on the front of businesses. Financial aid is also available for owners looking to revitalize their properties.

The decision is expected to be appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board.

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