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Plan to demolish heritage building in Roncesvalles 'really beyond the pale,' councillor warns





A city councillor says he would be "floored" if a developer won its fight to demolish a heritage building on Roncesvalles, but is still prepared to oppose the project at every turn given the developer's doggedness in the face of multiple refusals by the city.

The city's Preservation Board has denied a request by Propeller Developments to demolish the 1914 heritage property at 421 Roncesvalles Ave. near Howard Park Avenue. The decision will go to the Toronto and East York Community Council on Wednesday and then on to full city council within the next few weeks.

Propeller Developments is also appealing the decision to the Ontario Municipal Board, where pre-hearings are scheduled for October.

Coun. Gord Perks said the city has already rejected the developer's proposals for the Dominion Bank branch twice, when the plans incorporated the building. The developer is now seeking to tear down the building entirely, though Perks said he has not seen what it is proposing to replace it with.

According to Perks, it's rare for a developer to continue fighting the city over its plans for a heritage building.

"I can't remember a time when a developer has come forward with a designated building and applied to demolish it entirely," Perks told CBC Toronto. "This is really beyond the pale, and it's been very frustrating for the community and for the city to deal with."

'Completely out of scale'

The initial application to develop the site triggered a review by the city's heritage department, according to Perks, and the building got its heritage designation in 2017. The building was designed by famed architect John M. Lyle, whose firm designed dozens of bank buildings across the city, as well as the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Lyle also collaborated on the design of Union Station.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam sits on the city's Preservation Board. She called the building an "important anchor to the block.

"Any application to alter or even demolish the building would have to comply with the Heritage Act, as well as any other planning criteria that staff have put forward," she told CBC Toronto.

"Tearing down and demolishing an entire heritage building that sits in valuable context to the rest of the street is a non-starter."

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam says tearing down the heritage building at 421 Roncesvalles Ave. is a 'non-starter.' (Jasmin Seputis/CBC)

She said there are a number of issues with the developer's proposal for the site, including height and density that are "just completely out of scale with the rest of the neighbourhood."

While the developer is within its rights to appeal, she said, a heritage designation is "very strong" and difficult to overturn.

"Because it's so profitable at the other end, [developers] do try," she said.

'I would be floored if they succeeded'

Neighbour Sophie Bedard lives across the street from the building, which she calls "beautiful."

She would be sorry to see it torn down.

"It would be really disappointing to see this replaced with anything else," she said.

Over the last few years, the city's planning department has been working with the community to change the planning rules for the Roncesvalles neighbourhood, designating it a "character street" much like Queen Street East in the Beach.

The city is finalizing the planning rules for the neighbourhood that would put limits on what could be built and where, particularly south of Howard Park, "so that neighbourhood feeling of a real village street is maintained," Perks said.

Not only is council opposed to the building's demolition, Perks said, but also members of the community. He said the developer is in for a "rude awakening" if it continues to push for this project.

"I would be floored if they succeeded with this. An appeal to demolish a heritage designated building entirely would be unheard of," Perks said. "But nevertheless, there is always some risk."


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