Why Wellington St. W. could look very different in the near future
Some developers have appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board after city cited concerns
At least six proposed developments on Wellington Street West between Portland Street and Spadina Avenue have residents, and their local councillor, worried about how the 400-metre stretch could be changing in the near future.
The developers are asking for between 15- and 19-storey buildings, or about 55 to 78 metres, well above what the city decided is appropriate for the area.
"As a neighbourhood and as a city, rather than taking the position of just saying no all the time, we actually spent years developing a framework for how we would say yes," said Joe Cressy, city councillor for the area. "West of Spadina, in this area along Wellington, 45 metres has been set as the overall limit. Without exception, these buildings are exceeding that."
The Wellington St. W. area is part of the city's growing west end, Cressy said, but it's also a special spot.
The street is one of the city's original boulevards connecting Clarence Square to Victoria Memorial Park, Cressy said.
Meanwhile, the area is also being looked at for further development and intensification, which led the city to prepare the framework for how it should grow.
"If the city and the neighbourhood is going to do the hard work of articulating what its vision is so that we can say 'yes,' I think we want partners on the development side who are going to respect that and work with us so it's a win/win," he said.
The city had concerns for each recent proposal, according to Cressy, whether it be over height, heritage or spacing.
Cressy said after hearing the city's concerns, some developers quickly appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), the provincial body that deals with municipal and planning disputes.
He believes the wave of appeals is in response to the provincial government's announcement it will be replacing the OMB, often criticized for being too developer-friendly, with a new body.
"So frankly, what's happened on Wellington is no different than the experience councillors like myself are having throughout downtown, which is dozens and dozens and dozens of quick applications and quick appeals to the OMB before it was abolished," Cressy said.
Lee Jacobson, treasurer with the Wellington Place Neighbourhood Association, has lived in the area for about two decades.
"We're not against tall buildings," he said. "There are tall buildings on Spadina. There are tall buildings on Front Street. There are tall buildings on King Street. It's just that Wellington Street has a very particular character."
Jacobson is particularly worried about the proposal for 422-424 Wellington St. W., which is currently 19 storeys.
That developer, Brad J. Lamb Realty Inc., is one of three who have already submitted their plans to the OMB.
Jacobson is worried a successful appeal will set a precedent, inspiring other developers to propose similar buildings for the "mid-rise" neighbourhood.
"It'll certainly change the character of the neighbourhood, not for the better, and the question I would ask is why? What's the reason? What's the reason to do that except for the developer to make more money? Is there any benefit to the city? Is there any benefit to the community?"
Representatives from Brad J. Lamb Realty Inc. were unavailable to speak to CBC Toronto, and did not provide written answers to emailed questions.
Residents in the area have worked on more than 30 successful projects, which have dramatically increased density, Jacobson said.
"The current proposals are double what everybody else has managed to build in this neighbourhood over the last 20 years," he said.
One of the developments Jacobson consulted on is right beside the Wellington St. W. strip on Front Street West.
The Well is a mixed-use community that, at its tallest point, will be 46 storeys. It will have shorter buildings along Wellington, as well as parks and retail sites.
"We worked with that developer for over two years and there are tremendous public benefits that are going to accrue to the city and to the community based on that development," Jacobson said.
Frederic Geis Weiller, co-proprietor of Le Sélect Bistro, located directly beside the proposed 19-storey site, is also concerned about a change that's too drastic for the area.
"I'm looking optimistically, but I would like the city to enforce the limitations, which have been designed and thought of to maintain the character of the neighbourhood."
He's also particularly worried about the building at the 422-424 Wellington St. W. site, dating back to 1888 and sitting right outside his office window.
Currently, the developer has the building in its plans, something Geis Weiller believes could actually enliven the old structure.
"What I see is a ghost house at the moment. It's in terrible condition. It's inhabited by raccoons and birds," he said.
"So when the promoter will be building his project, certainly the historical component will be rehabilitated and, as a bonus, it will be right in front of my window. So I'm looking forward to that."
City, residents will fight appeals
Still, the proposal involving the heritage building is one that both the neighbourhood association and the city will be fighting when hearings are scheduled by the OMB.
Jacobson is now running a fundraising campaign for a lawyer and planning expert he's already retained to work on the association's behalf.