City votes to delay construction of controversial tower next to elementary school

The North York Community Council voted unanimously Tuesday to defer construction of a controversial 35-storey apartment tower next to a midtown elementary school, which both the local councillor and parents have vowed to fight.

City planners opposed it, but 35-storey tower could still be built next to John Fisher school

Hundreds of parents and children staged a protest outside John Fisher school after hearing about the 35-storey building's approval. (Linda Ward/CBC)

The North York Community Council voted unanimously Tuesday to defer granting a demolition permit for a controversial development that would see a 35-storey apartment tower built next to a midtown elementary school.

The local councillor and the school's parents have vowed to fight the development — which has already been approved by the Ontario Municipal Board to be built next to the John Fisher Junior Public School near Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue

"I think it speaks volumes that every single city councillor voted to defer this item," said Coun. Jaye Robinson, who represents the area. "They understand fully the need to address this monstrosity beside a public school."

Jayne Robinson, the councillor who represents the area, has been fighting the development of the tower. She says it's a clear example of why Toronto shouldn't be under the OMB's jurisdiction. (CBC)

City planners opposed the project, and newly released documents show that their preferred option was having a mid-rise development be built next to the school.

But the developer, KG Group, won the Ontario Municipal Board's approval to go ahead with its plans, angering both parents and city council.

"If there was no OMB — if it didn't exist — we wouldn't be dealing with this," said Robinson.

She said she wants to see Toronto removed from the board's jurisdiction.

TDSB assessing safety

The developer had been seeking a permit Tuesday to demolish the building that currently stands on the Erskine Avenue property. 

But the community council vote means there can be no movement on the project for the next 30 days.

Part of the new building is set to go up next to the school's playground, something that's prompted concerns from the Toronto District School Board.

The TDSB is currently assessing whether or not students can safely stay at the school while the construction is taking place.

Parents at John Fisher Junior Public School have been fighting the development of the 35-storey apartment tower. Mary Mowbray (centre) says the current design is 'the poster child of bad urban planning.' (CBC)

'Bellwether moment' for Toronto: parent

Mary Mowbray, whose daughter attends the school, said she's glad the city will defer the decision until there are plans in place to make sure the construction won't harm students.

She said she's fighting the development not just for her own child, but for the good of the city.

"I see it as a community issue, a sort of bellwether moment for Toronto," she said. 

"That school's been there for the last 130 years. And if this tower is built that playground is going to be shadowed. That school is going to be shadowed. And that's not something that's just about my child. That's about Toronto."

Developer defends its plans

Michael Stewart, who acts for KG Group, said the firm was disappointed by the vote to defer.

"Our client, KG group, their first priority is safety," he said.

Stewart said the project has approval from the OMB and so it "will get built."

He said KG Group is working on a safety plan that would addresses everybody's concerns.

Michael Stewart, who acts for KG Group, says safety is a priority for the developer. (CBC)

On a website about the project, the developer touts its 40-year history of building in north Toronto, including some buildings that have gone up next to subway stations and other schools.

A spokesperson for KG Group also confirmed the building will be rental apartments, not condominiums.

However, the developer's background isn't swaying some parents.

Mowbray, who also lives in the area, blasted the current design, calling it "the poster child of bad urban planning."

"If the thing goes ahead, I find it inconceivable that the school could really function there," she told CBC Toronto.

Documents show city planners fought for shorter building

At the last city council meeting, Robinson won approval to release previously confidential documents that shed light on the city's negotiations with the developer.

City planners accepted a 32-storey tower even though the original zoning deemed a mid-rise building would be more appropriate, the documents show. They also had issues with the developer's parking plan, which includes an above-ground parking garage.

The Toronto District School Board is waiting to learn whether it's safe for students to stay in the school during construction next door. (CBC)

Planners also wanted a so-called "stepped design" to cut down on shadows that could be cast on neighbouring homes.

The developer is set to pay some $1.1 million to the city for the increased density.

"Nobody wanted the money, people didn't want the building," Robinson said.

Mayor John Tory, meanwhile, vowed last month to do everything in his power to protect the health and safety of students while construction was ongoing.

John Fisher Junior Public School, which has classes from kindergarten to Grade 6 and also offers French immersion, is one of the TDSB's oldest facilities.

With files from Martin Trainor