Developers have arrived in our sleepy low-rise neighbourhood and it will never be the same again.
Late last summer a curious event took place on the semi-abandoned lot behind our Annex townhouse. A truck pulled up, hauling a large trailer, from which emerged a small blimp. Tethered to a long line, it appeared to circle the site for about an hour. Interest piqued, I walked across the lane and very pleasantly asked the operator what he was doing. It appears there was a camera affixed to the underside of the blimp and his job, he told me, was to photograph the view from each floor of the new highrise that was going up there.
Since the first few floors of any new building would be slap up against the crumbling brick wall of a carpet warehouse on one side and the blank face of a five storey condo block on the other, I didn’t think they’d have much of a view. I remarked as much to the blimp pilot, who replied that as he was paid by the floor, he didn’t really argue with developer Freed who’d commissioned him. The surprise was the height to which he flew his blimp.
Ever since the low-life residents of the three houses had been evicted, we’d been expecting development. The office workers who’d rented parking spaces on the asphalt lot had gone and occasional dope smoking teens had begun hanging around. So in a way we were looking forward to an improvement. However, no sign of any notice of how the development would proceed. Calls to the councillor’s office revealed that, yes there was a developer, and no he hadn’t put in a proposal yet.
This was strange, as through our letter box a few weeks later came a glossy brochure announcing a 10-storey condo on the site and offering special early-bird pricing. The blimp-created views from the 10th floor were spectacular. Somehow, the inappropriate height was disguised.
The developer was using the oldest trick in the development world book. Pre-sell the building before a shovel is put in the ground. Then when the proposal goes to the planning department for permission to build, bring along the new owners as “neighbours” who are in favour of the building and pack the public meetings. I guess we’ll have to fight this one the old-fashioned way.
First step was to get together with our actual neighbours, about eight dozen of them in existing houses and condos around our triangular block, and form a residents’ association. Of course, we spent more time arguing about what it should be called than getting down to the nitty-gritty, but that’s the way with neighbours. It’s a bit like herding cats.
Once we were somewhat organized, we were able to get a meeting with the councillor and his staff, who revealed that this wasn’t the only development in the works in our little block. Oh, dear me, no. Developers have got their sights on our little ignored corner of the Annex and no less that six proposals are in the works, it seems. I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice to say that not only will it change the block for ever, but traffic will increase down our already jammed little lane, construction will wreck our next few summers and most importantly, if they get their way on height, we’ll have no sunlight on our garden ever again.
The lane, I should explain, which until recently had no name and was quite happy that way, is a narrow stretch of concrete which covers Taddle Creek between Dupont Street and Bedford Road. Daily it is filled with trucks who are delivering to the businesses which border the lane and whose drivers feel it is their God-given right to leave their engines idling as long as they damn well please. Leaving our garage, our choice is to wait patiently, or turn around and go out the other end, whichever isn’t blocked. Quite frequently, visitors or perhaps even workers at the businesses park their cars in the laneway, almost blocking the traffic at a couple of bottlenecks.
As we are a class D lane, the City neither tickets the perps, removes our snow in winter or allows the garbage trucks to pick up at the back of our townhouses, where we keep our trash. Oh no, we have to haul it round (the long way in our case, as we are dead centre in the block) to the front. When we had a fire a few years ago, the fire trucks refused to come down the lane, even though a deck was on fire, preferring to bash their way through the unlucky neighbour’s front door and run fire hoses through their house. Common sense prevailed when someone showed the fire marshal the way (OK, it was your correspondent) and hoses pumped water onto our house seconds before it was attacked by flames. We literally escaped by seconds.
If one of the thoughtless car parkers had blocked the lane that day, we would not now have a house. It’s true. We were that close to disaster. Furthermore, since we aren’t a recognized ‘real’ street, there are no fire hydrants in the lane. Hoses had to be run to neighbouring Davenport Road.
This makes one planning department demand even more inexplicable. During construction all access and materials will have to be delivered to the site by lane, not as common sense would dictate, on the main road. Even now, small trucks arriving at the site have to back onto our parking pad to manoeuver through the construction entrance. It’s going to be fun when the cement trucks arrive.
Round the corner, another developer is planning a 28 storey highrise on the garden half of a public housing residence, along with several dozen town homes. Goodbye trees and green space. Of course, the notices show people having fun on the green lawns between the highrise and the townhouses. Funny, that they’re disappearing. Yet another is planning an eight storey condo squeezed into the lane where now stands a tiny little two storey house. And the owners of the commercial property that spans the block have more plans that sound terrifying. Two or three vacant or under-used plots on the other corners look ripe to fall. If they all go at once, chaos will ensue.
Across Davenport, a 10 storey condo has gone up that is ugly beyond belief. On either side it presents a massive blank wall to the world, while in front unusable balconies jut out this way and that.
Now one would expect the planning department to be careful what they allow developers to do, but it turns out they are almost useless in helping existing home owners protect their laneways and air rights. They’re apparently committed to “intensification” in the downtown area and good luck to us humble tax payers who pay these civil servants and should be represented by them. No, they are clearly on the side of the developers, and if they aren’t then there’s always the OMB, a mysterious appointed-not-elected body of faceless development approvers, to rubber stamp whatever the developers ask for.
So the little narrow lane will be blocked by trucks all summer for several seasons, we will loose our sunlit back garden for ever, and the lovely mulberry tree which shades the back will be the first victim of the chainsaw. The fence is up, the buildings are being gutted and all this without planning permission. Finally, a sign has been erected to indicate development is intended.
Looking at the bigger picture in the city of Toronto as a whole, one can see the desecration of neighbourhoods everywhere. At the theatre the other night, one couldn’t help notice that crammed into the parking lot between the theatre and a lovely old warehouse, which housed our restaurant of choice, a massive glass spire had arisen. Utterly out of place. Wherever one turns, buildings are going up faster that one can imagine. It’s a sign of a decade long building boom and though one can applaud the improvement to a robust downtown, when it creeps into solid residential neighbourhoods and threatens to ruin them forever someone has to say – enough!
And the final insult when developers don’t get their way is willful destruction and an abandonment of the rules. Once-admired developer Mizrahi certainly didn’t gain any friends when overnight he tore down the historic old Stollery building at the corner of Yonge and Bloor. Oops. Someone forgot to designate it “historic.” Or the other downtown developer, impatiently waiting for a permit to transform a genuine heritage treasure, allowed arsonists to torch the place while no one was looking.
Reminds one of the old joke. Says one developer to another: “Sorry to hear about the fire.” “Hush,” says the other. “It’s tomorrow.”