As you may know on April 4, 2006 the Etobicoke-York Community Council rejected a re-zoning request for construction of a 10-storey condo tower at Jane and Bloor on the site of the old Humber Odeon theatre. (see our previous posts & Villager April 7th)

This is not a final and binding decision and the developer may try to have it overturned by the full Toronto City Council on April 25th, arguing that the Ontario Municipal Board will eventually reverse the decision of Community Council.

The fate of the Humber Odeon site could be very important to the future development of Bloor West Village in ways that may not be readily apparent, especially to those who do not live near the property.

What is the big deal?

There are no 10-storey buildings in the Bloor West Village. This would set a precedent. Current zoning, and the Official Plan, say the limit should be 5-storeys. This height limit is designed to help retain the human scale of the Village.

If this exception is allowed, the precedent poses a risk. If 10-storeys is okay on a narrow site with houses close behind it, why not 20 storeys on a big open site like the No Frills grocery store site? There are several other sites in the Village that could be targeted for similar over-development.

Isn’t there a plan for future growth?

Yes — and no. There is the Toronto Official Plan, but it is very general and is constantly amended for specific projects like this one. Hence the significance of precedents.

Plans that are specific to a neighbourhood (and less readily changed) are called “Avenue Studies” – and none has been done for the Bloor West Village, yet. We need an Avenue Study to avoid the hodge-podge development that has plagued much of Toronto.

What’s wrong with this proposal?

Criticism has been broad but it boils down to this:

The community (and several Etobicoke York Community Councillors) says it’s a mundane and unattractive block tower with blank side walls that will dominate the view of Bloor West Village from all directions. You can see the big yellow billboard on it now from High Park. There’s also the issue of precedent and what this proposed development might mean to the future of our Village.

Residents near the site say 10 storeys is too high and, at three levels of retail and seven levels of condos, the proposed development would make the Jane and Bloor traffic problems worse.

What should residents do?

The City will likely be hearing from the developer, who might offer to tinker further with the design to provide the City with a way to avoid a costly battle at the OMB, where it would have argue against its own Planning Department report. The City no doubt will be tempted.

You should write a note to Councillor Saundercook supporting his position at last week’s Community Council meeting to reject the development proposal. Include the others on the list below (and the City Clerk), who will vote on this issue at City Council. If you want them to kill the proposal, tell them so. But, alternatively, tell them that any further negotiations should result in significant changes to the design, height and impact of the building. Tell them than an “Avenue Study” must be ordered for the BWV to offset the damage if Council allows this precedent-setting proposal to go ahead.

For your convenience, we have included a sample letter that you could cut&paste with your own modifications. Please CC the City Clerk – clerk@toronto.ca

Below is a list of people who should know your views and concerns. Please contact them as soon as possible. A final decision on the site will be made April 25th.

Local Council Members

Councillor Bill Saundercook councillor_saundercook@toronto.ca

Mayor David Miller (lives in Bloor West Village) mayor_miller@toronto.ca

Sylvia Watson (represents neighboring ward 14) councillor_watson@toronto.ca

City Clerk (will put it in Council’s agenda package) clerk@toronto.ca

Community Council Members

Rob Ford (voted against the proposal) councillor_ford@toronto.ca

Georgio Mammoliti (voted for it to avoid OMB) councillor_mammoliti@toronto.ca

Peter Milcyn councillor_milczyn@toronto.ca

Frances Nunziata councillor_nunziata@toronto.ca

Doug Holyday (voted against) councillor_holyday@toronto.ca

Gloria Lindsay Luby (voted against) councillor_lindsay_luby@toronto.ca

Frank Di Giorgio councillor_digiorgio@toronto.ca

Suzan Hall councillor_hall@toronto.ca

Cesar Palacio councillor_palacio@toronto.ca

All Council member E-mails

http://app.toronto.ca/im/council/councillors.jsp

Sample letter

Sample letter text to copy & paste into your own email or document (text-only format)

Sample letter text to copy & paste into your own email or document (Word format)

Victory for Bloor West Residents!
Humber Odeon Re-Development Loses First Round Vote

Etobicoke Community Council voted against the application to re-zone the old Humber Odeon theatre at Jane and Bloor to allow for a 10-storey condo tower. The vote was cheered by the crowd of residents who had packed the hearing room Tuesday night for three hours of passionate presentations and debate.

Though the lawyer for the developer and City’s Planner spoke in favour of the project, it was impassioned opposition from Bloor West residents that swayed the vote.

“There are lots of bad buildings” said resident John Foden, who implored Councillors to “stop the decline and choose to build good buildings.”

More than 10 individuals echoed those sentiments, as did spokesmen for the Swansea Area Ratepayers Association and the Bloor West Village Residents Association.

Most criticized the proposed building as excessively high and too poorly designed to be worthy of the prominent site, which is visible from several kilometers along Bloor Street.

In its submission the BWVRA Executive urged Community Council to prevent “this building from becoming a ‘despised landmark” that memorializes the dying days or our flawed development process.”

Saundercook votes “NO”

The motion to turn down the re-zoning application was put by Ward 13 Councillor Bill Saundercook who had earlier said he was ready to support it “with conditions”.

But, he reconsidered over the course of the evening. Saundercook said the developer had “failed to convince the community this would be a beautiful building.” That, he said, was “a critical piece of the puzzle.”

It’s not over yet

Several Councillors expressed support for the residents but voted against them saying this is the kind of decision that often gets overturned by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). They warned that the developer could get a higher building from the OMB, and the City would not get the community benefits payments it can still extract from him at this stage.

Tuesday’s vote was not the final one by the City. The Community Council’s decision goes to the full Toronto City Council at the end of April for ratification. A Councillor who wants to re-open the debate at that time could still do so. That could result in the project getting the green light, especially if the majority is convinced the case would be lost on an appeal to the OMB. At that time, Councillor Saundercook’s pre-conditions, and those demanded by the Community, would come back into play.

Steve McNally – BWVRA Communications.

June 28, 2005

Bill Saundercook
Councillor, City of Toronto
100 Queen St. W., Suite C46
Toronto, ON
M5H 2N2

Dear Councillor Saundercook:

On behalf of the membership of the Bloor West Village Residents Association (BWVRA) I wish to thank you for your role in facilitating the organization of community meetings to review the proposed redevelopment of the former Odeon Humber theatre property at 2442 Bloor Street West.

I also wish to thank you for your energetic support of the Bloor West Village Urban Design Study, commonly referred to as the Bloor West visioning study, and your public endorsement of the recommendations of the report. I mention this important document because by dint of its location the Odeon site warrants a specific reference (see pgs 31-33 of the report) as being a “critical view terminus (which) demands architectural excellence.”

Under the title Design Principles/Initiatives for this key location the report further recommends that gateway treatments on key buildings remain in character with existing structures.

Regarding height, the report identifies the Odeon site as one for which “development may be considered that exceed(s) the permitted building heights in the zoning by-law,” i.e. five stories, but only “up to a maximum of eight stories …” But only even then with the significant caveat that “the development will be expected to demonstrate that it will (1) have no adverse impacts; (2) result in a benefit to the local community; and (3) exemplify the highest possible quality and design.”

On June 21 the executive of the BWVRA met to review site plans and images of the proposed redevelopment. I thank you for providing us with these important documents. After considerable discussion the executive reached several conclusions which we intend to communicate to the membership of our association.

In respect to the redevelopment of the Odeon Humber site the executive is concerned principally with the proposed design and height of the development. As currently proposed the development features blank, concrete walls on its east and west frontages. In our view this does nothing to enhance the “terminus / gateway” features of Bloor West Village. This type of vacant exterior design also invites the possibility of garish advertising on the facades and the real possibility of adjoining buildings at comparable heights and questionable design.

It is the view of the BWVRA executive that whatever final development occurs on the site must restrict advertising to storefronts and prohibit roof-top and wall advertising, as recommended in the visioning study.

At the currently-proposed 10-storey height, the development exceeds the recommendation contained in the visioning study which you have publicly endorsed. The majority view of the
executive is that the height of the proposed development be restricted to no more than eight stories if all other conditions are met as described in Appendix A of the visioning study.

The BWVRA welcomes the opportunity to meet with the property developer in advance of further municipal approvals to discuss our concerns. I believe that you, as our city councillor, can play an important role in facilitating this meeting. I invite you to contact me at your earliest convenience to confirm this meeting.

Sincerely,

Gregory Hamara
Chair

In preparation for tonight’s public BWVRA meeting, we’ve developed a short backgrounder on the New Deal for Cities.

You can view the backgrounder as a Word document (2 pages, 117kb) if you’d like to print it, or click “read the rest of this entry” to see it online.

Read More

Christopher Hume had a long piece about the renovated Runnymede library branch in the Toronto Star on June 2. Here are some excerpts:

TPL’s latest triumph, the newly renovated and expanded Runnymede Branch, reopens at 4:30 p.m. on June 8. The original building, designed in the 1920s by noted Canadian architect John Lyle, has been refurbished and a new wing added by Toronto architect Bruce Stratton.

Libraries have changed, too. “They’re a little less precious now than they used to be,” says City Librarian Josephine Bryant. “We want people to come in and feel relaxed. We want them to see inside and out. We’ve learned that architecture is extremely important. We could build more cheaply, but this way we end up with a much better product.”

As TPL’s director of branches, Anne Bailey, points out, every time a branch gets a new or renovated building, membership increases by 30 to 40 per cent.

“Our buildings have to be functional,” she says, “but they also have to be visionary and responsive to the community. Here, we’ve tried to make the library much more open, airy, spacious and inviting. Even though we had to work within a restricted budget, we’re very happy with the results.”

Read the entire article on the Toronto Star website (requires free registration)

One of the speakers at our public meeting next week (May 24th, 7pm, Runnymede United Church), will be Jennifer Keesmaat, from The Office of Urbanism. She is one of the authors of an ambitious study on the future of the commercial strip of Bloor West Village.

Ms. Keesmaat will present the document, called the Bloor West Village Urban Design Study, at the meeting. Since the study contains a lot of information, photos, and maps we want to offer you the chance to examine it in advance of the presentation.

Click here to see the study (PDF, 9MB)