As the Ontario government and multiple community groups vying to save the historic foundry site in downtown Toronto are set to have a series of meetings on Wednesday, many questions remain about the details surrounding negotiations with an unnamed developer to potentially acquire the site.
Suzanne Kavanagh, a spokesperson for the group Friends of the Foundry, said she and others are scheduled to have a meeting with provincial officials Wednesday afternoon.
However, she is among those who have expressed concerns about the format of the private meetings, how much their feedback will be taken into consideration, and a lack of information about what has taken place to date.
“There has been nothing tangible to actually talk about what this development application looks like,” Kavanagh told Global News in an interview Tuesday afternoon.
“Where is the transparency this government promised us? There’s a lot of concern as far as if we find out who (a developer or developers involved in negotiations) actually is, will they be willing to come to talk to us?”
Kavanagh’s comments came a day after the matter of the Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company property, located on Eastern Avenue near Cherry Street in Toronto’s West Don Lands, was raised at Queen’s Park.
Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark reiterated multiple times on Monday that the foundry site, which saw a demolition crew begin work at the site in mid-January before activities were temporarily ordered to stop, is still under provincial control and a “final sale” hasn’t occurred.
Two hours after Clark spoke, Ontario Premier Doug Ford was asked about why the coveted downtown property wasn’t put on the open market for proposals. He said a “deal has not been signed 100 per cent yet” and that affordable housing and community space are a part of any sale of surplus lands.
“I can’t disclose all the details of this deal. Once the deal is signed, we’d be more than happy to be transparent — a hundred per cent transparent — but until that deal is signed, it will be confidential,” Ford told reporters.
After the initial court decision pausing demolition, the government launched the public consultation, which is set to close on March 4. The consultation is focused on how to save “some elements of the existing structures could inform development following environmental remediation.”
The demolition of the property was part of the Ontario municipal affairs and housing minister’s zoning order (MZO) process under the province’s Planning Act, which involves a permit being issued by the minister that supersedes municipal planning and consultation processes.
Meanwhile, Kavanagh said she and others have worked with other developers, going so far as to sign non-disclose agreements with businesses in order to ensure the perspectives of residents were heard. She said she and others are eager to work with whoever might get the site if it is ultimately sold or leased.
“We would love it if the potential buyer was also at this meeting (on Wednesday) so they could hear from us,” Kavanagh said.
“The bottom line is this is all one-sided.”
Here are a few of the recurring issues surrounding the site and its development:
Who is vying to get the property?
One of the biggest questions Kavanagh and many others have asked is who has been negotiating to get the land.
Global News asked Clark’s office about who has been interested in acquiring the site, but potential purchasers haven’t been disclosed.
In an October heritage impact assessment obtained by Global News, provincial officials referenced lengthy negotiations with an entity.
“On Sept. 22, 2020, Treasury Board approved entering into an agreement of purchase and sale with the purchaser, negotiated over the last several months by Infrastructure Ontario and the Provincial Land and Development Facilitator, an office of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing,” the document said.
Both Infrastructure Ontario and the Provincial Land and Development Facilitator were contacted by Global News to ask about the negotiations. Paula Dill, the province’s facilitator, referred questions to Clark’s office and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing’s media office. A response wasn’t received from Infrastructure Ontario by the time of publication.
Some in the community questioned a reference in the document to a letter provided to Aspen Ridge Homes by heritage architect Philip Goldsmith. It said the letter described a process in which a heritage building could be disassembled and reconstructed as a way to conserve a heritage property. Goldsmith told Global News he hasn’t been involved in the foundry site and previously wrote about the process generically and how it could be used for other projects.
A spokesperson for Clark said Aspen Ridge Homes hasn’t been involved in the negotiations. Global News contacted Aspen Ridge Homes to ask about the reference in the report, but a response wasn’t received by the time of publication. It’s not clear why the letter was cited and how it came to be factored into the assessment report.
What could be built on the site?
To date, a definitive plan for the site hasn’t been released publicly despite multiple requests for information from members of the community and reporters.
However, the heritage impact assessment seems to provide some indication as to what could happen.
The document said two condominiums (one at 34 storeys and one at 43 storeys) have been proposed for the site. Government officials have been adamant that there will be both affordable and market housing.
The document also said an 18-storey rental building consisting of “affordable” rentals would be built along with 6,867 square feet of indoor community space and 5,512 square feet of outdoor community space. It said the affordable housing part of the development falls under the government’s More Homes, More Choice programs.
In total, the document said it’s anticipated there would be 1,045 residential units and of those, only 25 per cent (264 units) would be deemed affordable rentals for a period of 40 years. A majority of those units are expected to be family-sized (between two and four bedrooms).
As for the monthly rental cost of the affordable units and the form of payment (e.g. rent-geared-to-income, a discounted monthly rental price etc.), it’s not specified in the document.
It’s also not clear what the features are of the community space and what amenities could be included.
Why is demolition occurring and what does the heritage impact assessment say?
It was on Jan. 18 when demolition crews began, without public notice from the Ontario government, tearing into the four provincially-owned buildings at the site (the report said the machine shop was built in 1917, the office structure building was built in 1930, the warehouse was built in 1935 and the foundry was built in 1950).
Ontario government officials said the decision to demolish the buildings, which were added to Toronto’s municipal heritage register in 2004 and have been identified as a partial example of a historical and architectural industrial enclave, was based on the findings of the heritage impact assessment.
According to the Infrastructure Ontario report, it said the “government vision does not consider retaining” the buildings and that portions of the foundry and the machine shop could potentially be replicated and may form the base for two of the new buildings “as a permanent reminder of the site’s local history.” However, advocates have called for the buildings to be protected and reused through renovation.
The report said the demolition is needed to “access and remediate” contaminated soil and groundwater contamination as a result of the past industrial operations. It also said alternatives were ruled out based on a review by Core Architects.
“There have been minimal maintenance routines in the recent past and significant repair and renewal of the exterior and interior spaces would be required to bring them back into adaptive reuse,” the document said.
“Adaptive reuse consideration, based on on-site review and assessment of built form to determine structure conditions, materials, permanent all-season suitability or adaptability, and building code standards and requirements, determined that reuse of the structures was not deemed viable based on several limitations and deficiencies associated with the above.”
Even though the buildings were reported to be between fair and poor condition with issues such as moisture, rust, degraded finishes and friable asbestos, the report noted the structures still have most of the original integrity and “do not appear to have significant load-bearing issues.”
“The demolition of the four contributing structures will result in a negative impact because contributing heritage attributes will be removed from the property. The demolition will, however, lead to future positive impacts to the cultural heritage value of the site,” the report said.
“Following the removal of the four structures and remediation of contaminated soils adjacent to and beneath the four structures, two structures best representing the industrial component of the former use and heritage value will be reintroduced to the site at their original locations through replication and reconstruction, and complemented by an interpretation of the former industrial enclave by means of a heritage interpretation plan.”
The report went on to cite the report by Goldsmith and a method for replicating the components of the buildings “would allow for the history of the site to be interpreted and at least readable.”