As the Ontario government prepares to meet with community groups ahead of a prescheduled court appearance on the historic foundry site in downtown Toronto, officials have repeatedly refused to answer questions surrounding the potential development of the highly coveted lands.
“There is no final sale on this property and that’s the most important point I can make to you. Regardless of conversations, we do not have an arrangement regarding the Eastern Avenue property,” Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark told reporters Monday afternoon after multiple inquires.
“We made decisions early on based on … the heritage impact assessment.”
It wasn’t clear what early decisions Clark was referencing.
The latest rebuffs of information come ahead of a pending court hearing, public consultations, and meetings with multiple community groups and residents who have been fighting for weeks to save the Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company property, located on Eastern Avenue near Cherry Street in Toronto’s West Don Lands.
A report published by CBC News on Monday highlighted an undisclosed Ontario Treasury Board report that showed there was approval in September for entering into an agreement of sale with an unnamed proponent. Global News has not seen a copy of this document.
In January, an Ontario divisional court judge ordered a temporary stop of the provincial government’s sudden move to demolish the property earlier in the year. The government, citing the findings of the heritage impact assessment, said demolition needed to occur. After the initial court decision stopping demolition, the government launched the public consultation, which is set to close on March 4, on how to save “some elements of the existing structures could inform development following environmental remediation.”
The demolition of the property occurred as part of 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.
The decisions stem from the government’s plan to build new affordable and market housing at the site. A specific plan and design for the site as well as a definitive breakdown of affordable and market housing units haven’t been released publicly despite requests from the community that were made over several weeks. There hasn’t been a public bid process for developers and proponents to develop the site.
Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents the area, previously echoed comments that there has been no consultation before the demolition and immediately after it too.
“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 on Jan. 29.
Global News asked Clark’s office for details about the potential developers and individuals who have expressed an interest in the site, negotiations about the property, plans for disposing of the site, and if there was an intention to release information on the process to date. A spokesperson for Clark didn’t specifically answer many of those questions.
“In response to numerous requests from the City of Toronto for increased affordable housing, we have been clear that we will leverage surplus provincial lands to create new affordable units, including at the Eastern Avenue site,” Adam Wilson said in a statement Monday afternoon.
“The government approved a negotiating mandate that would facilitate the future sale of the site, however, the site has not been sold. The government has paused any negotiations pending the feedback received through the ongoing public consultations.”
During an unrelated news conference Monday afternoon, Ford was asked why there wasn’t a public call for proposals on the site. He reiterated the land is still in provincial control.
“I know the deal has not been signed 100 per cent yet, so it’s not done until people sign on the dotted line. Our goal is to make sure that we have a thousand affordable units there for the people of Toronto who are in desperate need of affordable housing, but that process is still moving forward,” Ford told reporters.
“I can’t disclose all the details of this deal. Once the deal is signed, we’d be more than happy to be transparent — a hundred per cent transparent — but until that deal is signed, it will be confidential.”
Ford said affordable housing, 17,000 square feet of community space “produced here” and working in collaboration with municipalities have been guiding principles for disposing of public lands.
Suze Morrison, the NDP MPP for Toronto Centre and the provincial representative for the site, said the community has long-standing questions about who might be developing the site.
“I think it’s incredibly concerning we have an agreement of purchase going back to September and we still don’t know who the prospective buyer is, we have no clarity on what the developer’s plans for the site really are or why the province proceeded with this deal without an open and transparent bidding process,” she told Global News.
“The community has had its suspicions from the beginning. I mean why else would the province come in out of nowhere, under the cover of a pandemic, and try to secretly knockdown a building?
“I think people are reading clearly between the lines of the minister’s well-managed messaging that because the deal isn’t finalized doesn’t mean there wasn’t a conditional deal on the table and I suspect a condition on the deal is that the land is handed over as a clean slate.”
This is a developing story that will be updated.