St. Clair businesses want to sue city for $100M

Some of the businesses affected by the construction delays during the St. Clair streetcar project are suing the city for $100-million.

Construction delays blamed

A judge is now considering whether to allow business — and former business - owners along St. Clair West to sue the City of Toronto for $100-million. 

Many people say their businesses were badly hurt - sometimes ruined - by the city's mismanagement of the St. Clair streetcar project and the lawsuit is seeking damages from the city, the province and the Toronto Transit Commission.

AnnaMaria Buttinelli has had a small business on St. Clair West for three decades but says there's little money in running her beauty shop now.

Most of her customers, she says, stopped coming when the area was virtually shut down for years while the city rebuilt the streetcar lines.

"For the last five years I'm not [earning a] paycheque," she said "I don't have no more money."

While Buttinelli managed to hang on, Tony Merante closed his restaurant, he says, because the never-ending construction work killed his business. 

"I'm distraught about it. I think the city owes us some compensation," he said.

The class-action suit alleges that about 200 businesses failed during the construction period, while others faced dire financial circumstances. 

The St. Clair streetcar project was initially pegged at $48-miilion for about 7 kilometres of track improvements between Yonge Street and Gunn's Loop.  It eventually cost $106-million and took more than five years to compete.

Merante and Buttinelli and about 100 other merchants are part of the group pushing for the class-action lawsuit.

They claim the city not only mismanaged the project causing undue delays but they also allege the city wanted the small businesses along St. Clair to go under.

"At some point of the delays and mismanagement that certain people at City Hall turned a blind eye on what was going on so that they could revitalize St. Clair by driving the poorer business out," said lawyer Stephen Edell, who is representing the business owners.

For its part the city says the disruptions were inevitable and the class-action suit shouldn't be allowed because it is authorized to do the work.

The allegations of abuse of authority "should be struck as they are scandalous, frivolous and vexatious," the city said in its submission to the court.

But Buttinelli says she just wants to be able to cover the debts she incurred because of the five years it took to complete the streetcar right-of-way.

"It's not fair to us. We are hardworking people. Why do we have to suffer for that.  Why we have to pay the consequences?"

Judge Paul Berell has reserved his decision.