It is with fury and anger that I watched yesterday as the Government of Ontario began demolishing the Dominion Foundry buildings at 153 to 185 Eastern Avenue. It is clear that when Doug Ford says his government is “for the people” he is not referring to residents who see the opportunity to adapt and incorporate the 100+ year-old buildings on site for the future of the community, but his wealthy donors who see it as an obstacle to their bottom line.
It was only last Thursday that the community and I learned about Doug Ford’s plan to demolish four 100-year old heritage buildings in the West Don Lands. What followed was a flurry of activity and advocacy to pressure the Ontario Government to save those buildings.
Over the weekend, Toronto’s Chief Planner sent a letter to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing as well as the Ministry of Infrastructure Ontario confirming the need for a Strategic Conservation Plan and Heritage Impact Assessment with public engagement. The Province’s Standards and Guidelines for Conservation of Provincial Heritage Properties (2010) outline this mandatory process for provincial heritage properties. To this moment, no physical evidence of these documents has been provided to the City to allow for an adequate peer review.
Residents in the West Don Lands and beyond banded together at incredible speed and formed Friends of the Foundry, and over a few days worked incredibly hard to obtain over 7,000 signatures, with more coming in. Their request to Premier Ford and the Minister of Municipal of Affairs and Housing, Steven Clark, to halt any demolition until the community could be consulted on the plan for the Foundry site.
Instead of communicating directly with the City of Toronto and the local community, Premier Ford responded to the burst of advocacy by bringing in a demolition excavator. It was only when protesting residents arrived on site, and the Toronto Police were involved, that any demolition activity ceased. This protest is the result of the Premier flouting democracy and the City’s planning process thereby ignoring the wishes of the local community.
The Foundry site was subject to one of three Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs) last October, issued without warning and with zero consultation with either the City or residents. The MZO issued on 153 to 185 Eastern Avenue--also known as Blocks 17 and 26--permits up to three tall buildings with a maximum total residential gross floor area of 74,810.45 square metres. The MZO is entirely silent on matters of heritage and affordable housing which discredits any claims from the Province they are committed to these objectives.
What has always been puzzling is the origin of the 153 to 185 Eastern Avenue MZO, as unlike the other two MZO sites, there was--and remains--no formal development application for the site. Does the Province expect us to believe that this MZO followed a careful independent study? Or were the specific parameters of the MZO determined by a wealthy developer donor who handed the Province a fully realized plan behind closed doors?
One thing I know is that before the MZO was issued up to and including today, not one single person was consulted about the Province’s intentions for the site. In not doing so, the Province is willfully negligent in following its own heritage policies.
The Province will predictably claim that their intentions were noble, that this is all to bring additional affordable housing to the West Don Lands. The idea that providing affordable housing on such a large site was impossible while seeking the preservation and incorporation of on-site cultural heritage assets at the Foundry site is laughable. One only needs to look across the street to the historic Distillery District to see the successful retention of heritage buildings integrated with new residential development.
Today I submitted a letter with a clear set of recommendations to the Planning and Housing Committee and City Council that include direction to the City Solicitor to seek an injunction to halt immediate destruction of the heritage buildings. Any further disregard of their own heritage policies represents an irreversible mistake and a willful attack on the heritage and cultural identity of our Province and City.
I once again call upon the Provincial Government to immediately stop any and all demolition activity of the Foundry buildings and to work collaboratively with the City of Toronto, communities, and stakeholders on this important site.