Ontario government and City of Toronto officials have announced an agreement that will see two historic buildings on the downtown foundry site largely saved and reused.
Months after a public consultation was held by the provincial government in response to a groundswell of opposition to the demolition of the buildings on the Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company property, located on Eastern Avenue near Cherry Street in Toronto’s West Don Lands, officials said they received more than 430 submissions that showed “strong interest” in the heritage of the site, support for affordable housing, and a desire for community space.
A message posted on the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing Friday afternoon said that feedback was shared with an unnamed heritage expert. It was ultimately decided the entire building envelope and the southern facade of the 1939 machine shop on Palace Street as well as much of the interior of the so-called cleaning room (referred to as the foundry) as that expert called those features the “most significant.”
As part of the agreement contained in a heritage impact assessment, the province will secure the property and halt most demolition-related activities until it’s sold off. Renderings contained in the document show high-rises coming out of the two properties set to be saved.
The sale of the property has largely been shrouded in secrecy and it’s unclear who exactly Ontario government officials have been in negotiations with. Also, the final plan for the site hasn’t been revealed. However, an Ontario government website said there will be 264 “affordable” units for families.
Global News has repeatedly asked for additional information on the sale of the property for months after documents in October said there were lengthy negotiations with an unnamed entity.
Questions were posed to Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark’s office about the current status of the sale, which company has been involved in the negotiations, what the next steps are as well as details surrounding the affordability of those 264 units.
In an update provided Saturday morning, officials said a deal has yet to be approved and Infrastructure Ontario will maintain the property. Ministry staff didn’t have particulars yet on the affordable units or on the community space.
“As a final deal with a new property owner or developer has not been reached, we cannot comment on the size or further details of any future residential units. The Ministry encourages a mix of single and family units that are comparable with other affordable residential projects in the area,” the statement said.
“The Ministry expects that any future affordable units on this site are consistent with the City’s official plan and housing facilities by-law, which define affordable housing units as new units where monthly shelter costs are at or below the average market rent by unit type.”
The 2020 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 City of Toronto, staff will look at designating the property under the Heritage Act after it is sold and will work with whomever gets the property to ensure details agreed to under the heritage impact assessment are respected.
Suzanne Kavanagh, a spokesperson for the group Friends of the Foundry, a grassroots organization aimed at saving the buildings, told Global News while she can’t discuss the final settlement because it is confidential, she and others are happy to see the two buildings saved.
“They stopped the demolition and they’re going to save the heritage buildings, so we’re fine for now. The next piece is to make sure that the sooner we can find out who the developer is … we want to sit down with the developer like we would with any other application and start talking to them about the details,” she said.
“I think the province is starting to sort of really pay attention and be mindful of what they’re doing, but also to know that we’re really reasonable people as far as looking at development in the future.”
Toronto Centre NDP MPP Suze Morrison echoed Kavanaugh’s desire to hear from whomever might end up with the site. She added that there should have been a stronger process and improved public consultation right from the beginning.
“It could have saved the community, and the Province, and the City a lot of time and a lot of money and a lot of effort on everyone’s part if there had been a good process in the beginning and if the Province hadn’t come in in such a heavy-handed way with bulldozers and no consultation with the community,” Morrison said while pointing to the preservation of the two buildings.
“It speaks to the power of the community in how they organized.”
It was in mid-January when a demolition crew began work at the site before activities were temporarily ordered to stop. After the initial court decision pausing demolition, the government launched the public consultation.