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Fantastic story on the area in NYT Home and Garden section, in Julie Lasky’s ‘Four Square Blocks’ series, ‘Between a loft and a hard place’. Some highlights”
First came the manor houses, then the mental hospital, then the stockyards. By the end of the 19th century, the part of Toronto known today as Queen West had had more reversals of fortune than an entire season of “Dallas” (the original or the new version).
That was before industry and immigration billowed in the 20th century, before this neighborhood west of downtown grew seedy and unpredictable, before a gangland double murder was committed in a karaoke bar in 2003.
And long before the poles reversed again, and Queen West became one of the most appealing places in Toronto. […]
Despite these cliches of gentrification, the neighborhood is like no other. It has charming exaggerations: a retired Victorian fire station (now a drug treatment facility) with a tower like a pilgrim hat […]
“This is probably the most fertile creative area in the city right now,” […]
It is also one of the oldest. In the late 18th century, Queen Street was known as Lot Street, after the narrow 99-acre parcels that John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, bestowed on his military confederates as a way to create a loyal landed aristocracy.
By 1818 a manor house called Brookfield, the estate of the Denison family, stood at the northwest corner of present-day Queen and Ossington, where the Canadian film director Atom Egoyan opened Camera, a screening room and bar, 186 years later. Directly south, the Provincial Lunatic Asylum was opened in 1850 on the current site of the Center for Addiction and Mental Health.
As lot owners sold off their lands, and the area became populated and industrialized, the parcels crumbled into small blocks with little coherence. They are “helter skelter,” said Benj Hellie, the spokesman for the Ossington Community Association, which has pushed to have the neighborhood declared a heritage conservation district. In his proposal, Mr. Hellie, who is also a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto, described cattle being driven from Ossington along tiny Bruce Street in the 19th century on their way to the slaughterhouse.
The application for heritage status was recently turned down, Mr. Hellie said, on the grounds that the district was “not sufficiently intact.” In some ways, his proposal can be read as a memorial to the many neighborhood buildings that have been demolished and the historical layers buried. The oldest existing structures he identified on Ossington appear to date from no earlier than 1871. One is a modest shingled house at No. 91, now home of Crywolf.
Still, the neighborhood throbs with historical echoes. Not two blocks north of Bruce Street, where cattle marched to their doom, is Côte de Boeuf, a butcher that provides meat to Union restaurant, a sister business at 72 Ossington. The Candy Factory Lofts, on the south side of Queen, east of Shaw, is a relic of local industry, as is the 1970s former textile factory that houses the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, or Mocca, diagonally northwest.
Well, the OMB decision on 109OZ has come in—interestingly, dated the day of the election—and Jason Chee-Hing, the OMB Board member, ruled that the revised proposal that Reserve submitted during the hearing can go forward. The revised proposal is still 6 storeys, which is obviously disappointing. But it was nonetheless very good that the OCA was a party to the appeal, for 3 reasons. Moreover, the story of the appeal isn’t over yet.
First and most importantly, our detailed involvement in this case, and the historically and culturally sensitive “Ossington Avenue High Street Development Review” written by our planner, Terry Mills, had a concrete positive impact on the final draft of the Ossington Official Plan Amendment (OPA). The Ossington OPA is the first low-scale OPA on the entire West side: 4 storey max on all of Ossington between Queen and Dundas, with a 5 storey max in “Area 2” (East side of Ossington, between Argyle and Bruce). This OPA is huge: it means that we are very unlikely to have to fight this kind of time-consuming and expensive battle again, and more generally, that the character and culture of the Ossington strip and surrounding neighbourhood will be preserved for the foreseeable future.
Second, as a result of going to the OMB, Reserve produced a better proposal in several respects—this was the “surprise” 6-storey revision submitted at the end of the first week of the hearing, which led the City’s team (which by intent of Council direction was supposed to fight any 6-storey proposal) to cave, leaving the OCA to fight on our own. The height now is reduced from 21.5m to 20m, the mechanical penthouse is moved and the rear angular planes adjusted to improve shadow impact on rear houses, and—very importantly—the one very large retail space is broken up to 3 smaller spaces, with a max retail floor size of 500sq m. Chee-Hing also added as a condition of approval that a 1.5m pedestrian walkway be placed behind the building, for the safety of those walking down the alley (he also recommends that the City explore extending this the entire length of the alley).
Third, fighting this proposal was the right thing to do, for the sake of the character and culture of Ossington, and in hopes of improving the serious impacts on our neighbours and friends. It was also the right thing to do in hopes of getting the City and the Province to uphold the Official Plan, whose motto is “Grow but Protect”, and which explicitly directs mid-rise intensification to broad, long, transit-thoroughfare “Avenues” in need of “reurbanization”, as opposed to narrow, flourishing, culturally significant main streets like Ossington. Having read the decision, I remain convinced that our Official Plan-based reasoning is correct. We are clearly correct that Ossington is (notwithstanding the testimony of for-hire “expert” Anne McIllroy) nothing like an Avenue (and thanks to our OPA will never be like an Avenue), in which case there is no good reason for treating it like one. And we are also correct in rejecting the claim that Ossington is (or was, prior to the OPA) designated for mid-rise intensification just in virtue of being a mixed-use area. We originally heard this “mixed use” justification from Francis Kwashie, who was unable to point us to any passages in the Official Plan substantiating it, rather saying that it follows from reading the Official Plan “as a whole”. Chee-Hing reproduces the “mixed-use” justification and its fuzzy “overall” location in the Official Plan. Such vague and unsubstantiated reasoning is uncompelling. At the end of the day, then, there remains no clear reason for allowing this proposal to be built.
Issues of Official Plan law aside, Chee-Hing’s decision appears to contain two errors of fact, which may serve as the basis for an application to review the decision. We are looking into this, and will keep you posted.
One last word of thanks to the very large number of people who have invested time, energy, money, and psychological support throughout this long, yet informative and exciting, process. We won what really mattered—that is, the West side’s first low-scale protective OPA. We have a Heritage Conservation District application in progress. Perhaps most importantly: as a result of this proposal, we came together as never before as a community. Thanks for being a part of it!