An Ontario divisional court judge has ordered a temporary stop of the provincial government’s demolition of four downtown Toronto heritage buildings in order for new affordable and market housing.
Justice David Corbett issued his decision on Friday, two days after an emergency hearing was held at the request of the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association along with the City of Toronto.
“I am satisfied that it would be to flout the law to carry on with the demolition of these buildings until the matter is laid before a panel of my colleagues in late February.”
Corbett wrote based on what was submitted to him at Wednesday’s hearing and the events that happened before it was likely a “mistake” versus “deliberately flouting” provincial law.
“Someone responsible for the process leading to a decision to demolish the buildings simply forgot or overlooked the requirements that must be followed for heritage buildings. The record before me did not make it clear how this mistake was made,” he said.
The news marks the latest development in the Ontario government’s bid to clear the Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company property, located on Eastern Avenue near Cherry Street, in Toronto’s West Don Lands. A demolition crew showed up at the site on Jan. 18 and began tearing into one of the buildings.
The demolition of the property began under the Ontario municipal affairs and housing minister’s zoning order (MZO) process under the province’s Planning Act, which involves a permit being issued by the minister that supersedes municipal planning and consultation processes. Three MZOs were issued in 2020.
A spokesperson for Minister Steve Clark previously said the MZOs are all for vacant, provincially owned properties and will “accelerate” the building of almost 1,000 new affordable housing units. However, the provincial government has yet to release a specific plan and design for the site or a definitive breakdown of affordable and market housing units.
The group Friends of the Foundry released a statement Friday evening, saying members were “very relieved.”
“The Province needs to come to the table now and start consulting with the City and the community about how this property can be redeveloped without destroying these heritage buildings,” the statement said.
“The essential issue before the court next month will be whether the Province was in violation of the Ontario Heritage Act as well as a 2010 subdivision agreement between the City and the Province when it started demolition of the heritage Foundry buildings.”
Adam Wilson, the director of communications for Clark, called Friday’s decision “disappointing.”
“It is disappointing that the City of Toronto is slowing down environmental remediation and the construction of new, much-needed affordable housing and community space in the West Don Lands,” he said in a statement Friday afternoon.
“The government has been clear that it intends on leveraging the vacant provincial property at 153-185 Eastern Ave. to build new affordable housing and community space with heritage elements.”
He said a heritage impact assessment determined “the buildings require demolition to facility full remediation of the site.”
Provincial officials also put a temporary stop on demolition days before Wednesday’s hearing, calling the move a “good-faith gesture.”
Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam said the demolition began without consultation with neighbourhood residents.
“To date, the Province has demonstrated no interest in working with the City or local residents on the responsible redevelopment of this site. This issue is bigger than just the Foundry demolition,” she said in a post on Twitter Friday evening.
“We need to send a clear message to Doug Ford that he can’t override local planning processes and bulldoze over proper community consultation. The community has invested time and proposals into a holistic approach to this site. Local voices help build complete communities.”
Mayor John Tory issued a statement and said he hopes a solution can be found in the coming weeks.
“I believe a path forward can be found that gets more affordable housing built and at the same time addresses community concerns around heritage and public consultation,” he said Friday evening.
The Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company, which made railway equipment, first established operations on the property in 1914 and the buildings were built between 1917 and 1929, according to a City of Toronto report. City staff recommended adding the property to the municipal inventory of heritage properties, calling the buildings “architecturally significant as a good example of an industrial enclave in the area.”
The case will head to a panel of three divisional court judges on Feb. 26.