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Heritage, development at odds as cities come under pressure from growth

Armina Ligaya, The Canadian Press
December 6, 2017

A move to add nearly 100 Toronto buildings to the city’s heritage registry list amid letters of objection — including from one owner who says his building is a “box” with “no redeeming qualities” — is the latest example of growing tension between community groups, property owners and developers as municipalities come under pressure to accommodate growth.

City councillors voted unanimously on Tuesday to add a swath of 94 properties in Toronto’s west end to the municipal heritage register, a move which means that city will need to be involved in applications for municipal permits, such as demolition, involving these structures.

Councillor Joe Cressy, in whose ward several of these buildings are located, says the area is home to some of Toronto’s earliest buildings. The formal addition of these properties on the registry list, in connection with last month’s city approval of the King-Spadina heritage conservation district, does not freeze development but prevents “fly-by-night” demolitions.

“The city began here, and the future of our city will be derived by the economy here,” he said.

But the owner of a two-storey office building near Spadina Avenue and Queen Street West questioned its heritage value, calling its inclusion on the list “ridiculous.”

“You look at things like the Horsehoe Tavern… I can understand that,” said Mark Cowan, the director of Bercow Inc. “But buildings that never did anything, never meant anything? They absolutely put that stamp on every single building in our area that is still standing.”

Cities are coming under pressure to change the cityscape in substantial ways to accommodate growth, and heritage is one tool being used to rein in the urban shift, says David Roberts, assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Urban Studies Program.

“What I think is underlying some of these claims of heritage designations or desires to have building heritage designations, is an attempt to slow or alter the direction of this push for density,” he said.

Similar battles are playing out in other parts of the city and other municipalities as well.

In August, the Town of Oakville, Ont., voted in favour of proceeding with a notice of intention to designate the Glen Abbey Golf Course as a significant cultural heritage landscape under the Ontario Heritage Act as its owner, ClubLink, seeks to redevelop the site with a mix of residential housing, retail and office space.

Oakville has since voted against ClubLink’s development application, and last month initiated a court application to determine the town’s rights and jurisdiction under the Ontario Heritage Act in connection with the golf course. On Tuesday, Oakville held a town hall to solicit input on its proposed amendment to a zoning by-law which would allow the municipality recognize the cultural heritage of Glen Abbey Golf Course.

Meanwhile, when Ottawa unveiled the names it planned to add to its heritage register this summer, it selected three buildings on Carleton University’s campus.

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