I have learned today alarming news that the Province is actively on site with the intention to demolish the buildings on the Foundry Site (known as 153 to 185 Eastern Avenue or Blocks 17 and 26) in the West Don Lands. The lands contain the Dominion Foundry Complex, the largest concentration of heritage buildings to be preserved within the 80 acre precinct. The demolition of these heritage assets would be an incalculable detriment to proper city planning. It signals to municipalities and developers across the province that the Ford Government is unwilling to follow its own recently updated heritage planning policies. If the Province refuses to respect its own heritages policies, why should anyone else?
Last year, the Province issued three Minister's Zoning Orders (MZOs) affecting three sites in the West Don Lands. These MZOs - which bypass the typical planning processes, including community consultation - were issued without notification to City Planning or the local Councillors offices. While two of the orders were for sites with active planning applications, no application has even been submitted to the City of Toronto on the Foundry site. The Minister's Zoning Order issued on Blocks 17 and 26 permits up to three tall buildings, with no specified unit count. Whether any units would be affordable is unknown. The MZO is entirely silent on matters of heritage and affordable housing.
The four buildings on the Foundry site were constructed between 1917 and 1929, were owned by the Canadian Northern Railway (later, the Canadian National Railways) and were used by the Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company to produce railway equipment. As noted when the properties were added to the City’s heritage register in 2004, the four buildings were deemed “historically and architecturally significant as a good example of an industrial enclave in the area adjoining the lower Don River.”
The information the City has is limited, but the clear intention by the Province is to create a “clean slate'' for a future developer to redevelop the site without being burdened by necessary city approvals related to the heritage buildings. From speaking to City Planning, I have been informed that the Province does not require any permissions from the City, including a demolition permit, to proceed with tearing down the four Foundry buildings.
The impact of the MZOs last year shuttered community input and raised new questions as to how the City can now properly plan the West Don Land Precinct. Through my subsequent motion, the City expressed its opposition to the MZOs, and requested staff to report back to City Council early this year with a framework to guide the use of MZOs, including respecting the Ontario Heritage Act and related heritage policies.
I 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, without exception.