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Toronto Sun

Sue-Ann Levy. "Develop This Yorkville Residents Battle to Save Area Charm and Tourist Dollars." Toronto Sun, April 20, 2003.

In a drive to beef up the tax assessment rolls in this city, it appears our city planners and politicians are trying to foist their edifice complex on the charming village of Yorkville.

Despite an 11th-hour plea from a long list of residents, renowned actors, authors and entrepreneurs on the Save Yorkville Committee, council gave final approval last week to an ambitious development that will plunk an 18-storey tower right in the heart of Yorkville's historic shops and three-storey Victorian homes.

Only six councillors (Peter Milczyn, Rob Ford, David Miller, Howard Moscoe, Jane Pitfield and Laura Jones) voted against the bylaw that gives the go-ahead to the development located on a parcel of land between Hazelton Ave. and Bay St. which contains the old Mount Sinai Hospital facade at 100 Yorkville Ave.

Yorkville 2001 Ltd. (otherwise known as Barclay Grayson developers) purchased the parcel for $17 million, says Linda Chu, a real estate agent who has researched the deal.

The development calls for the 18-storey building at Bellair St. and Yorkville Ave. (with 152 condo units and retail shops); an eight-storey building that will incorporate the Mount Sinai facade (containing 39 condo units); six three-storey townhouses on Scollard St. and a three-level underground garage with parking for 355 cars.

As a resident of Yorkville myself, I'm all for ensuring the area "shows well" while maintaining its unique charms - although, contrary to what our astute councillors may think, it's not just a local issue. Yorkville's tony restaurants and shops bring in millions of tourist dollars each year.

Like most of those opposed to the development, I believe an 18-storey building will stick out like a sore thumb and will set a dangerous precedent for developers just itching to get their hands on other parts of Yorkville for more tall condos.

"The '70s was so different ... now anything goes," says former TD bank president Robin Kothals, a Yorkville resident.

"We're feeling frustrated because Coun. (Kyle) Rae bulldozed this through," says York professor Sheila Latham, another Yorkville dweller. "We're fighting a losing battle ... if this one goes up, the lovely oasis of Yorkville is gone."

For his part, Rae says he did not ram anything through and that Yorkville is in desperate need of a facelift.

"What was built in the '60s and '70s is appalling architecture," Rae said. "Yorkville is in trouble and what we're trying to do is create more retail opportunities to pull people back into Yorkville from Bloor (St.)."

He says he would have preferred a 14- or 16-storey building instead of the 18-storey one but he couldn't make it happen.

The city's own planning report notes that the Official Plan designates Yorkville a low density mixed commercial residential area and one of four of "special identity" in the city. That means developments should be compatible with the area's existing character - especially low-scale buildings.

Specific parameters for the site in question - established in a 1993 zoning bylaw - set maximum density at 3.23 times the area of the lot and maximum heights

Yet the city planners - and council's politicians - approved a density for this development of four times the lot's area and at 55.6 metres (for the 18-storey building) a height double that permitted in the 1993 bylaw.

So much for an Official Plan.

The planning report justifies the 18-storey highrise because it is "in close proximity" to other condo developments on Bay St. The report also says traffic patterns won't change much, with only five to 10 cars using the surrounding streets daily as a result of the development.

Fat chance. The area is already gridlocked during rush hour and on weekends.

"I don't know where they get five to 10 cars per day with nearly 400 parking spots," says Charlotte Janssen, a lawyer whose Scollard St. office is adjacent to the development. She is planning an Ontario Municipal Board appeal based on her concerns related to noise, traffic and the depreciation of property values.

Milczyn has asked that the June meetings of the planning and economic development committees examine a future planning framework for Yorkville.

"I want to make sure this doesn't happen again," he says. "It's very disheartening for residents to see the zoning code and the Official Plan not adhered to.

"In this case it's not just a local issue ... it does have an impact citywide if we mishandle planning in Yorkville."

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