Meetings on Toronto foundry site held with local groups, next steps after consultation process unclear

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WATCH ABOVE: The Ontario government has temporarily stopped the demolition of buildings at the Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company property in Toronto’s West Don Lands following an outcry from heritage and community advocates. Erica Vella reports – Jan 23, 2021

Representatives of multiple community groups fighting to save the historic foundry site in Toronto’s West Don Lands met one-on-one with Ontario government staff on Wednesday, but it’s still not clear what the next steps are after the consultation period closes in March.

Suzanne Kavanagh, a spokesperson for the group Friends of the Foundry, said she was among the presenters from West Don Lands Committee, the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association and the Corktown Residents and Business Association who met virtually with senior officials with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing Wednesday afternoon.

She said she and others spent a large amount of time talking about community consultations on other projects and put forth an alternate vision for the site put together by KPMB Architects.

“They said, ‘All we’re doing is listening’ … they said they weren’t going to ask questions,” Kavanagh told Global News Wednesday afternoon.

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Read more: Toronto foundry site meetings set to occur as questions linger over scope of development

“It’s too bad because I think we made the point we’re not just talking about nostalgia and reminiscing, but the fact that we’re serious about adaptive reuse of heritage and it’s been done before with the Distillery (District) and 51 Division (station) and nobody bit. We did what we could.”

Adam Wilson, a spokesperson for Minister Steve Clark, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon the meetings were organized for the groups to “present their visions for the future of the site to the government.”

“We’re pleased to have received two competing visions from the West Don Lands Committee/St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association and the Corktown Residents and Business Association, and we look forward to analyzing both proposals,” he said.

After the initial court decision in January pausing demolition at the Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company property, located on Eastern Avenue near Cherry Street, the government launched the public consultation. It is set to close on March 4. Wilson previously said the consultation is focused on how saving “some elements of the existing structures could inform development following environmental remediation.”

Read more: Ontario government refusing to disclose details on negotiations for Toronto foundry site

Kavanagh said the KPMB Architects vision presented on Wednesday showed the heritage structure serving as the base for a three-tower development consisting of 870 residential units, of which 30 per cent would be considered affordable housing.

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“Building on the success of the Distillery District, West Don Lands has integrated heritage into new development, maintained midrise density, and restricted higher density to the periphery,” the document said.

“[The West Don Lands] has developed its own identity and a distinct sense of place. Our demonstration concept for the foundry site is inspired by the unique characteristics of the neighbourhood. In studying the 2.3-acre site, we concluded that it’s possible to construct a robust housing program, retain and reuse the two historic buildings of greatest value, provide significant grade-related space for retail and community uses, and provide generous pedestrian pathways through the site, as well as public spaces of gathering.”

The proposal differs from what appears to be a competing vision contemplated during private negotiations between the Ontario government and an unnamed developer.

Read more: Ontario government launching public consultation on Toronto foundry site amid court battle

In an October heritage impact assessment obtained by Global News, provincial officials referenced lengthy negotiations with an entity.

“On Sept. 22, 2020, Treasury Board approved entering into an agreement of purchase and sale with the purchaser, negotiated over the last several months by Infrastructure Ontario and the Provincial Land and Development Facilitator, an office of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing,” the document said.

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To date, the purchaser cited remains unknown and a definitive plan for the site hasn’t been released publicly despite multiple requests for information from members of the community and reporters. However, the heritage impact assessment seems to provide some indication as to what could happen.

The document said two condominiums (one at 34 storeys and one at 43 storeys) have been proposed for the site. Government officials have been adamant that there will be both affordable and market housing.

Read more: Court orders temporary stop to provincial demolition of downtown Toronto heritage buildings

The document also said an 18-storey rental building consisting of “affordable” rentals would be built along with 6,867 square feet of indoor community space and 5,512 square feet of outdoor community space. It said the affordable housing part of the development falls under the government’s More Homes, More Choice programs.

In total, the document said it’s anticipated there would be 1,045 residential units and of those, only 25 per cent (264 units) would be deemed affordable rentals for a period of 40 years. A majority of those units are expected to be family-sized (between two and four bedrooms).

As for the monthly rental cost of the affordable units and the form of payment (e.g. rent-geared-to-income, a discounted monthly rental price etc.), it’s not specified in the document.

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It’s also not clear what the features are of the community space and what amenities could be included.

Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark reiterated multiple times on Monday that the foundry site, which saw a demolition crew begin work at the site in mid-January before activities were temporarily ordered to stop, is still under provincial control and a “final sale” hasn’t occurred.

After Clark spoke, Ontario Premier Doug Ford was asked about why the coveted downtown property wasn’t put on the open market for proposals. He said a “deal has not been signed 100 per cent yet” and that affordable housing and community space are a part of any sale of surplus lands.

It was on Jan. 18 when demolition crews began, without public notice from the Ontario government, tearing into the four provincially-owned buildings at the site (the report said the machine shop was built in 1917, the office structure building was built in 1930, the warehouse was built in 1935 and the foundry was built in 1950).

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The demolition of the property occurred after an Ontario municipal affairs and housing minister’s zoning order was granted under the province’s Planning Act, which involves a permit being issued by the minister that supersedes municipal planning and consultation processes.

Ontario government officials said the decision to demolish the buildings, which were added to Toronto’s municipal heritage register in 2004 and have been identified as a partial example of a historical and architectural industrial enclave, was based on the findings of the heritage impact assessment.

Read more: Court challenge to halt provincial demolition of Toronto heritage site faces uphill legal battle

According to the Infrastructure Ontario report, it said the “government vision does not consider retaining” the buildings and that portions of the foundry and the machine shop could potentially be replicated and may form the base for two of the new buildings “as a permanent reminder of the site’s local history.” However, advocates have called for the buildings to be protected and reused through renovation.

The report said the demolition is needed to “access and remediate” contaminated soil and groundwater as a result of the past industrial operations. It also said alternatives were ruled out based on a review by Core Architects.

“There have been minimal maintenance routines in the recent past and significant repair and renewal of the exterior and interior spaces would be required to bring them back into adaptive reuse,” the document said.

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“Adaptive reuse consideration, based on on-site review and assessment of built form to determine structure conditions, materials, permanent all-season suitability or adaptability, and building code standards and requirements, determined that reuse of the structures was not deemed viable based on several limitations and deficiencies associated with the above.”

Read more: Province temporarily halts demolition of Toronto heritage buildings for affordable, market housing

Even though the buildings were reported to be between fair and poor condition with issues such as moisture, rust, degraded finishes and friable asbestos, the report noted the structures still have most of the original integrity and “do not appear to have significant load-bearing issues.”

As for what formally comes next after the consultation closes in March, it isn’t certain. It’s something Kavanagh said she and others were left wondering about.

“We said, ‘Where do we go from here and what are the next steps?’ and all they could say was ‘we’re continuing our consultation and this closes March 4,'” she said.

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