Home

Dates & Agendas | Newspaper Articles | Letters | York Row | Mt. Sinai | History | Goals | Music History | Photo Gallery | Bulletins | Contact Us | Map | Disputed tower wins approval
Yorkville
National Post

Lament for our favourite village

Diane Francis

 

National Post

Saturday, October 04, 2003

 

The wrecking ball has finally struck Yorkville, the most distinctive, charming and famous of all Toronto's villages. The Ontario Municipal Board this week overruled the wishes of Toronto city council, Toronto residents and many Toronto business people by granting final approval to a hotel and condo tower that will replace the row of shops in Victorian townhouses that stretch from Hazelton Lanes east to Hazelton Avenue.

These lovely old buildings were not considered heritage structures because of a technicality: Their fašades were not original because the buildings were refaced in the 1960s. So rather than require the developer to restore the buildings as part of his redevelopment, they will be torn down.

The character of the street will suffer a total change. The project, York Row, will be a cookie-cutter version of the atrocious retail catastrophe at Prince Arthur and Avenue Road, complete with mock-chateau affectations and street-level retail that is about as inviting as the exterior of the SkyDome.

What happened? The York Row project simply slipped through the OMB cracks in 1991. But the OMB is not the only culprit.

Over the years, the 1991 nod to build there -- though within the existing zoning limitations -- was allowed to morph into a development that will be in open defiance of the zoning. As time passed, the developer was allowed, even encouraged, by city-hall types, to propose dramatically more ambitious plans. The result is this week's approval to construct a hotel/condo complex that will be higher and denser than the zoning permits. But the OMB was merely blessing a decade of defiance by the developer and indifference by the city planning department.

Clearly, the planning process has fallen victim to developers who paid excessively for the site and who face enormous costs on the debt, and are now preparing to foist a self-inflicted problem on to the public -- and more directly on to local residents, of which I am one -- by demanding that they be granted audacious increases in square-footage densities and building heights.

This week's decision bodes ill for those who are appealing to the OMB to stop another unacceptable redevelopment along Yorkville, midway between Hazelton Avenue and Bay Street.

Known as 100 Yorkville, this project involves 191 condos in two towers -- one eight storeys, the other 18. It will include six townhouses, 30,000 square feet of retail, laneways connecting Yorkville and Scollard, plus underground parking for 355 cars (135 public parking spaces).

Currently, the site has one vacant building (it's the original site of the Mt. Sinai Hospital) and a parking lot that holds 120 cars.

City officials say there will be little impact on traffic. The only way this would have no impact on traffic would be if no one uses the 355 parking spaces, if no one shops in the retail stores and no one lives in the condos. Add to that the fact that upscale grocer Pusateri's is opening a huge store on the ground floor of an 18-storey apartment building at the southwest corner of Bay Street and Yorkville. Add to that the massive congestion soon to be created with the completion of another condo tower at Bloor Street West and Bellair. Yorkville, Cumberland and Bellair will become virtually impossible to navigate.

Councillor Kyle Rae says he is backing 100 Yorkville because a 1993 OMB decision gave permission for an ugly eight-storey slab, plus shopping mall. Once the board approves higher densities, the developer can go ahead with the project or be compensated by taxpayers. Rae says that's why he negotiated a more acceptable project.

All well and good, but city council increased the densities approved by the OMB in 1993 without any justification whatsoever.

The height of the project has gone from eight storeys to 18 storeys -- from 94 feet to 185 feet, from a density equivalent of twice the size of the land to four times, from gross area of 206,157 square feet to 267,352 square feet.

Council has yet to understand what New York City has long known: To make successful cities it is necessary to restrict high densities and traffic to the main city streets so the smaller streets can be preserved as human-scale village environments.

Jane Jacobs made this point when she waded into the controversy. "I continue to oppose high rises for the Yorkville-Cumberland area," she said in a letter to city council in February. The charm of this tony neighbourhood is its "people scale," which is inviting "even when they are not the original Victorian homes."

City Hall recently granted the area a special tourist designation, which means upgraded services. But it has yet to impose a three-storey height limit on Yorkville, Cumberland and Bellair to prevent further high-density lapses in Yorkville. Without such controls, this world-class tourist attraction is gradually becoming nothing more than a canyon of high rises and cars. dfrancis@nationalpost.com

 ****************************************************************************************

Diane Francis. "The Threat Facing Yorkville." The National Post 1 March 2003.

The wrecking ball threatens Yorkville, the most distinctive, charming and famous of all Toronto's villages. The chief culprit is greedy Toronto City Council, which this week approved the construction of two condominium towers on Yorkville's north side. Why would it do such a thing? The city wants to extract as much revenue as it can from property taxes, and sees the erection of 191 new units as a fine way to do so. This project will spawn developments like it, and destroy the character of Yorkville, Bellair and Cumberland avenues -- and with it the shops, restaurants, galleries and nightclubs that draw tourists from around the world. 
       The city has buckled under to developers who paid excessively for the sites and face enormous costs on the debt. They are foisting their self-inflicted problem on to the public -- and more directly on to local residents, of which I am one -- by demanding that the city grant audacious increases in square-footage densities and building heights.
Let me tell you about the two projects that represent an immediate threat to Yorkville. The first is the one approved this week, midway between Hazelton Avenue and Bay Street. The second is also on the north side, and would see a hotel and condo tower replace the row of lovely shops in the Victorian townhouses that stretch from the Hazelton Lane retail concourse to Hazelton Avenue to the east.
      Clearly, Toronto City Council does not understand what New York City has understood: To make successful, highly populated cities that are livable, it is necessary to restrict high densities and traffic to the main city streets, while non-arterials, the smaller streets, must be preserved as human-scale village environments.
     The project that was approved on Monday is known as 100 Yorkville and involves 191 condos in two towers -- one that would be eight storeys and the other 18 storeys. In addition, it would include six townhouses, 30,000 square feet of retail on two levels, two laneways connecting Yorkville and Scollard Street, plus underground parking for 355 cars (including 135 public parking spaces). Currently, the site has one vacant building (it's the original site of the Mt. Sinai Hospital) and a parking lot that holds 120 cars. And yet Kyle Rae, the councillor for the area, says "there will be very little impact on traffic."
     This is irrational. The only way this would have no impact on traffic would be if no one uses the 355 parking spaces, if no one shops in the retail stores and no one lives in the condos. Add to that the fact that upscale grocer Pusateri's is opening a huge store on the ground floor of an 18-storey apartment building at the southwest corner of Bay Street and Yorkville. Add to that the massive congestion soon to be created with the completion of another condo tower at Bloor Street West and Bellair. Yorkville, Cumberland and Bellair will become virtually impossible to navigate.
     Councillor Rae says he backed 100 Yorkville because a 1993 Ontario Municipal Board decision gave permission for an ugly eight-storey slab, plus shopping mall. Once the OMB approves higher densities, the developer is entitled to go ahead with the project or be compensated by the taxpayers. That's why Rae says he negotiated a more acceptable project. "This development is charming and fits with the character of the area," he says. All well and good, but City Council worsened the densities approved by the OMB in 1993 without any justification whatsoever. The height of the project has gone from eight storeys to 18 storeys -- from 94 feet to 185 feet, from a density equivalent to twice the size of the land to four times, from gross area of 206,157 square feet to 267,352 square feet. John Tory, a mayoral hopeful, said in a telephone interview this week that the original building was hideous. This one is better. "But if you ask me am I in favour of 18-storey buildings in Yorkville? Absolutely not."
     Stacey Ball, a local lawyer, is going to fight the development with others. "We're not happy. We're going to take it to the OMB," says Ball, whose law firm, Ball & Alexander, is on Scollard Street. "Hopefully, a rational solution can be reached before then. The density is problematic, but more importantly this development will destroy the character of Yorkville. Here you have these developers marketing a piece of Yorkville but they're destroying what these people think they will be buying. Besides, Yorkville is a civic tourist attraction that the city should protect."
     100 Yorkville will require the levelling of the building which once housed The Riverboat, Yorkville's linchpin during the hippy '60s: Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Cockburn, Neil Young, Murray McLaughlin and others all got their start at the coffeehouse. Preservationists might tut-tut at the idea of such a new building getting historical protection -- but Liverpool's Cavern Club, where the Beatles got their start, is today a protected heritage site. Why can't Toronto do the same? The battle lines -- given this week's awful precedent -- are being drawn for another fierce and costly fight involving the second project I mentioned on the north side of Yorkville. This one is so appalling that it sparked an angry protest at a public meeting in September. Even Rae opposes it.
     It is known as York Row, and will involve demolishing the Victorian streetscape on the north side. The plan is to replace them with a cookie-cutter version of the atrocious retail catastrophe at Prince Arthur and Avenue Road, complete with mock-chateau affectations and street-level retail that is about as inviting as the exterior of the SkyDome. This project slipped through the OMB cracks in 1991. As with 100 Yorkville, the developer involved with York Row is pushing another audacious plan -- the construction of a hotel (though the site is not zoned for a hotel) and condos on an already overcrowded street.
     Again, the developer wants dramatically more than was approved. It has gone from eight storeys to as high as 12 storeys, from an approved height of 82.35 to 113.85 feet, from 3.89 times land surface density to 5.86 times, and from 109,903 to 164,973 square feet. "Community organizations have all said no, and so did I," says Rae. "I'm still unhappy, but the developer is appealing to the OMB saying that city council is not responding to the application in a timely fashion. But my sense is that this project is not going to be approved by city council if it goes there."
     All these unnecessary battles are expensive -- and give an incentive to others to do the same. This worries Jane Jacobs, the urban-planning visionary. "I continue to oppose high rises for the Yorkville-Cumberland area," she said in a letter to city council on Feb. 18. "The proposed 18 and 8 storey buildings will destroy the current atmosphere and appeal of this area." The charm of this tony neighbourhood is its "people scale," which is inviting "even when they are not the original Victorian homes." Rae says he isn't aware of any other redevelopment applications or land assemblies underway in the area. But that could change.
     The last word must go to Budd Sugarman, a long-time designer who is known as Yorkville's unofficial mayor. He reminded council this week that this marks Yorkville's 150th anniversary of being annexed to Toronto. "I have freely given 51 years of service to preserve the Village of Yorkville within the city of Toronto. It is an integral part of the heritage of Toronto -- a charming, low-rise community filled with art galleries, hotels, restaurants and shops. You can help save Yorkville, since you are the city council, by creating a special heritage designation that will keep its buildings low-rise. A simple message: City council must immediately impose a special designation and institute a three-storey height limit on Yorkville, Cumberland and Bellair. Simple.

 

 

Newspaper Articles