Toronto

Josh Matlow wonders why city hasn't dealt with his 2-year-old motion on heritage buildings

Toronto city council recently passed three separate motions that could protect heritage properties. But councillor Josh Matlow wants to know why city staff still hasn't dealt with a similar motion of his that passed two years ago.

'You would think in 2 years staff could get back to council with a reply,' Matlow says

Coun. Josh Matlow is wondering why his motion to have staff report on creating a list of heritage properties, which was approved by council back in 2015, still hasn't been addressed. (CBC)

Coun. Josh Matlow did a double take when he saw there were three motions dealing with the city's heritage properties at the most recent council meeting, and he's wondering why staff still haven't acted on a similar initiative of his own from two years ago.

Matlow, who represents Ward 22, St. Paul's, said he put forward a motion in 2015, which — like the motions that passed last month — also included a request for an inventory of heritage properties.

His motion was passed by council and Historic Preservation Services staff were supposed to come back with a feasibility report.

"You would think in two years staff could get back to council with a reply," Matlow said.

Delayed heritage decision

His pitch came just after the Stollerys building, a century-old landmark at Yonge and Bloor Streets with stone carvings on its facade — was suddenly torn down.

Despite those stone carvings, the building didn't have heritage designation under the city bylaws and the owner was granted a demolition permit.

Matlow placed a hold on the three motions last month — a method open to councillors to delay discussions on items before council — so he could get answers about what happened with his own request before councillors voted. 

That motion from 2015 asked the city planning department to report to the planning and growth management committee "on the feasibility of amending Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act to include a new, pre-listed classification to the City of Toronto's Inventory of Heritage Properties."

The intent was to list properties with "potential heritage value and qualify those properties for a 60-day demolition permit delay in order that Historic [sic] Preservation Services staff can further evaluate the property and explore options."

The stone facade of the Stollerys building featured stone carvings. Matlow raised the issue after the building was demolished in 2015. (CBC)

It's a process that might have prevented the demolition of 2444 Yonge Street, a beaux arts-style Bank of Montreal building earlier this year.

In that case, the developer was able to get a demolition permit before the building could be assessed for its heritage value.

Matlow said the issue comes up repeatedly but nothing gets done.

"Every time we lose another important building with a story in the city it gets in the news and then it fizzles away and nothing happens," he said.

Unlike other councillors who pointed to Hamilton as an example of a city that's managed to create a heritage listing, Matlow said Los Angeles is the best model.

They do the grunt work and you peer review it.- Josh Matlaw, Ward 22 St. Paul's

He said that city enlisted the help of residents with vested interests and students to create a list of possible heritage buildings and then city staff reviewed it.

"They do the grunt work and you peer review it," he said.

But he worried that Toronto city staff members "get their backs up and say, 'we're the professionals.'"

Heritage preservation services

Referring to Matlow's motion of two years ago, Mary MacDonald, who is the senior manager for Heritage Preservation Services, said "staff have not yet been able to respond to the motion with a report, but are addressing the motion in their work nevertheless."

Heritage register has gone from around 3,000 properties in 2001 to over 11,000 properties in 2017.- Mary MacDonald, Toronto  Heritage Preservation Services

Of 23 positions in her department, 10 staff members review development applications and building permits and two "work on heritage conservation district plans and planning studies."

She told CBC Toronto that the city's "heritage register has gone from around 3,000 properties in 2001 to over 11,000 properties in 2017."

In 2014 her department added 51 properties; the following year 491 were added and in 2016 the department added 362 properties to the register, she said.

At the most recent city council meeting, Matlow eventually supported the motions of his fellow councillors but questioned why Heritage Preservation Services staff isn't responsive.

"Is it just resources? Is it an inflexibility to work with others? Or a combination of both?" he asked,

"I want them to be candid with us about what they need to succeed rather than not get back to us for two years."

About the Author

Stephanie Matteis is a senior reporter with CBC News, filing stories for television, radio & online. She's a pathological truthteller and storytelling junkie whose work appears on CBC Toronto, The National and Marketplace. Contact Stephanie: stephanie.matteis@cbc.ca and @CBCsteph on Twitter.