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Disputed tower wins approval

 May 1, 2004

OMB, city support 18-storey project on Yorkville Ave.

Residents group miffed at decision but will not appeal




A controversial 18-storey condo tower in Toronto's historic Yorkville has been approved by the Ontario Municipal Board.

"The evidence was not convincing that a tall building ... will impact the character of the area or create a negative impact visually," reads OMB vice-chairperson Jan de P. Seaborn's decision, released yesterday. Unlike many developments the board has approved, the city is actually in favour of this one.

Planning staff, local councillor Kyle Rae and the business improvement association argued the development will be good for Yorkville because it will create a greater mass of residents to support local businesses, which have fallen on hard times.

It's a coalition of residents and notables, including urban guru Jane Jacobs and author Margaret Atwood, who are against it.

The group raised $40,000 to fight developer Barclay Grayson and the city at the board, saying the project will destroy Yorkville's village charm.

The nine-day hearing was held in February.

"We got heard but we didn't get agreed with," said Karl Jaffray, who represented the residents.

Jaffray said his clients were disappointed with the decision but accepted there was little they could do, other than "grit their teeth and curse city council." They plan to appeal, he added.

The development, on Yorkville Ave. at Bellair St., also includes an eight-storey condo and six townhouses. It will add 200 homes and several new shops.

At 18 storeys, the tower is much higher than what zoning allows for the site, currently a parking lot. City council approved amending the zoning, deciding the plan presented an acceptable balance between "intensification" of the site and respect for the local context.

In her decision, Seaborn said the height of a building could not be viewed in isolation.

The proposal represents "good planning" because it revitalizes the area, incorporates heritage features, and improves the pedestrian environment with new sidewalks and street-level retail.

City planning staff say residents shouldn't fear this tower leading to many others.

The development site on Yorkville Ave. is designated in the city's new official plan as part of a "mixed-use area," targeted for growth.

A tower going in there doesn't mean that one could go in a block away in another part of Yorkville that is officially designated as a residential neighbourhood, planning staff clarified.

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