Residents fight proposed meat packing plant as city sells 'eyesore' site near the Junction
Long-empty 200 Rockcliffe Court deemed surplus city land several years ago
After a years-long battle over a chunk of city land north of the Junction, residents are trying to stop the impending arrival of a meat packing plant due to concerns about potential smells, environmental concerns, and heavy traffic.
But with the sale of the land from the city to a meat packing company closing soon, others are hoping the future plant will bring a financial boost to the gentrifying west-end neighbourhood.
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Vacant for four decades, the plot at 200 Rockcliffe Court was deemed surplus city land several years ago — and after that, local family-owned business St. Helen's Meat Packers Limited put in a bid in hopes of building a new facility.
"The neighbourhood is not designed for that," said Tanya Connors, co-founder of the Black Creek Alliance community group.
Connors, alongside nearly 20 other community members, gathered at the eight-acre site just south of the Black Creek on Thursday to discuss their concerns. For several years, they have raised issues from the potential smell, to the loss of what many hoped could become parkland.
Dharsha Kesavanathan, who lives on Terry Drive across from the plot of land, is worried about an increase in the already "overwhelming" amount of truck traffic in the area.
"One of my neighbour's cats was run over," she said. "This is a very serious problem."
Connors is concerned about future construction tearing up contaminated soil in the area. She, and many others, also feel the proposed facility harkens back to the area's industrial roots and could threaten the neighbourhood's growth as a residential community featuring new businesses like craft breweries and the nearby 5,600 square-foot event venue, the Symes.
"Something like a meat packing facility is only going to drive other businesses away," she said.
Site a 'swamp' for 40 years, councillor says
But the area's councillor, Frances Nunziata, said the site has always been zoned as industrial land, similar to a nearby stretch that's home to several other meat packing facilities, including one for St. Helen's.
"For 40 years, all it was was swamp. It was just all open space, and sort of an eyesore, really," she added.
Nunziata said the city has been listening to residents' concerns, including a recent consultation session featuring city officials and St. Helen's staff, but said their hands are tied when it comes to stopping the deal that's set to close within the coming weeks.
Nunziata wants to put restrictions on it instead, including a stipulation that trucks can't go down the residential streets and an agreement that the site can only be used for packaging and refrigeration, not meat processing.
"We have to make it work," she said. "There's opportunities for the community to give input on what design they want, how they want the fencing, how they want the landscaping, to beautify it."
A spokesperson for St. Helen's said the project will also boost local employment opportunities by creating an estimated 100 new jobs.
"We have invested a tremendous amount of time and effort to take into account all the concerns associated with this site," added Marco Maturi, the company's director of marketing.
CreateTO — the city's new real estate agency — held off on closing the deal with St. Helen's to hear from residents and mitigate their concerns, echoed Joe Casali, the agency's director of strategic initiatives.
Many of those concerns, from providing screening measures to ensuring the site isn't used for a "slaughterhouse," will be in the agreement, he confirmed.
"It's a packing and freezing centre... and we're saying to St. Helen's, you can't use this as a slaughterhouse," he added.
Despite the city's efforts, some community members say it's not enough: They want the site to be used for something else entirely.
"I'm sure it doesn't take an urban planner to find out this is not a good idea," said Connors. "There's so much more potential here than slapping a freezer down."