The Ontario government said Friday that it will temporarily pause demolition of several heritage buildings at a site in Toronto’s West Don Lands as a "good faith measure” until a proper court hearing next week.
The provincially-owned Foundry buildings at 153-185 Eastern Avenue are designated heritage properties.
The province says the site is needed for the construction of new affordable housing, market housing, and community space and has used the exceptional power of a ministerial zoning order to override the heritage protection of the buildings.
Demolition began about a week ago, but the community itself has rallied to try and save the buildings, launching daily protests, as well as a court challenge.
The St. Lawrence Community Association has sought an interim injunction to stay demolition and environmental remediation activities at the site. The injunction was not granted on Friday, but the court said it will hear full legal arguments on Wednesday.
“Although an injunction was not ordered, as a good faith measure towards the City of Toronto, I have called Mayor John Tory to advise that the province will temporarily pause demolition and environmental remediation, until next Wednesday, January 27th,” Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark said in a statement Friday afternoon.
“The province has been clear that this provincially-owned property – which has been largely abandoned for over 40 years and requires demolition to allow for significant environmental remediation – will be revitalized to allow for the construction of new affordable housing, market housing, and community space.”
But community members working to save the buildings say the province has demonstrated anything but good faith so far.
Suzanne Kavanagh, who is past president of the St. Lawrence Community Association and a member of the newly formed “Save The Foundry” group told CP24.com that the property has been sitting vacant because the province has not responded to the community’s suggestions over the years about ways to use the site.
“We are incensed and we are insulted. How dare they say to us that we're not interested in affordable housing,” Kavanagh said.
She said that the community is accustomed to working with developers, but there was no plan for the site prior to the ministerial zoning order issued in October.
Even if there was a plan to create affordable housing, Kavanagh said, she doesn’t see why that means the heritage structures would need to be demolished.
“Who declared that heritage and affordable housing are mutually exclusive?” she said. “That is obscene. And we are very good at looking at adaptive reuse.”
She noted that heritage structures are adapted and incorporated into new projects around the world all the time.
“How dare they come in and raise this site without a plan. We have examples of developers where they even said they have a better application after community consultation than when they first started out,”Kavanagh said. “This government from day one has never talked to the community about anything.”
Speaking with CP24 Friday afternoon, Mayor John Tory said that while the city wants more affordable housing, the proper process needs to be followed.
“The proper way to do this from the beginning would have been, and still is, to sit down and talk about that and talk with the city and talk with the local community and for the province to follow some of the laws that apply to this kind of thing,” Tory said. “So that's what we're seeking to do. That's why we asked for the pause. The minister gave us five days. We'll put those to good use. And if we need more, then we'll take whatever steps we can to get more.”
The parties are expected back in court on Wednesday to present more fulsome legal arguments.
An online fundraising effort by community activists has already collected $11,000 to cover legal costs and a petition to save the building has garnered more than 18,000 signatures.
The buildings at the site were constructed between 1917 and 1929 and formed The Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company. The buildings were added to the city’s heritage inventory in 2004. At the time the city noted that they were “historically and architecturally significant as a good example of an industrial enclave in the area adjoining the lower Don River.”