Swath of buildings in west downtown about to be named heritage sites

City council is poised to add almost 100 west downtown buildings to its heritage list - a move that's angering at least one of the property owners.

Not all property owners are on board with the city's plan for a King-Spadina heritage area

Coun. Joe Cressy, Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina, says the King-Spadina heritage district plan has been years in the making, and property owners who object have had plenty of opportunity to make their feelings known. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

City council is poised to add almost 100 west downtown buildings to its heritage list - a move that's angering at least one of the  property owners.

City staff have come up with a list of 94 properties in the King-Spadina area — among the city's fastest growing neighbourhoods — that they believe should be named heritage buildings, a move that would protect them from demolition.

A handful of these structures, on Camden Street, are nondescript buildings dating from the 1950s.
And the owner of one of them is calling the city's decision "patently unfair," because neighbouring properties have already been approved for re-development.

In a letter to the board, Mark Cowan describes his own two-storey property as "utterly unremarkable.

The owner of this building, at 38 Camden St., told the preservation board his 'utterly unremarkable' building should not be on the heritage list. (City of Toronto)

"It is a simple box of a commercial building and not worthy of historical preservation," he wrote.

Owners of about 20 other buildings on the proposed new heritage list have also appealed for exemptions, according to letters filed with the Toronto preservation board.

But Coun. Joe Cressy, who represents the neighbourhood on council, told CBC Toronto the list has been in the works for four years now, and owners have had ample opportunity to object.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam chairs the city's preservation board. The board voted Thursday to ask council to add 94 properties to the list of heritage buildings in the King-Spadina neighbourhood. Council tackles the issue next week. (Mike Smee/CBC News)

"We have a final plan," he said. "There are some property owners who are still not satisfied, and we agree to disagree on that."

The King-Spadina neighbourhood was designated a heritage district last month, and the individual properties deemed worthy of the heritage list were presented to the heritage board at its meeting Thursday.

Councillors will vote on whether to approve all 94 properties as heritage sites at their monthly meeting, beginning on Monday.

This 1950s-era building, also on Camden Street, should be protected with a spot on the city's heritage list, according to staff. (City of Toronto)

But Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, who chairs the preservation board, said she's not convinced by owners' arguments that a place on the heritage list limits their ability to make money on the property.

"That someone would say, 'My property is not worthy of designation, I'm scared that you're going to freeze my property in time,' I would say hogwash," she told CBC Toronto Thursday. "There are many, many properties — thousands across the city — that are worthy of heritage designation and many property owners have actually been able to make it work."

This building at 340 Richmond St. W. is among 94 city staff believe should be given protective heritage status.

She and Cressy said inclusion on the heritage list means the city needs to be consulted before major changes are made. But Wong-Tam said owners still have some freedom to alter their properties.

"If you want to replace the roof, you can replace the roof. If you need to replace a downspout, you just do so," she said. "Usually the mechanical pieces of the physical real estate, you just need to let the city know you're doing it."

What can't the owner of a heritage-listed property do?

"You can't  dramatically alter the face of the building, or any actual feature of the building that the city has deemed to be worthy of protection," she said.

She also said property owners need to understand that heritage districts are necessary to preserve the city's cultural past.

"[Cowan's] property is one of 94. If every single property owner decided to raise their hand to object and say, 'My property is not worthy,' it actually unravels the entire work of the heritage conservation district."