Ryerson student flays OMB over Elm St. tower plan

Dennis Hanagan—

58164b3ed8506A Ryerson urban planning student got his wish at Toronto community council in October when he said it was his responsibility to oppose an 80-storey tower proposed for Elm St. just west of Yonge.

“It’s my duty to defend the campus and surrounding area from poor planning,” Eli Aaron told council, adding he had started a petition at his university against the application that requires a zoning bylaw amendment.

Council unanimously adopted its planning department’s recommendation that the zoning amendment request be refused. The tower, at 8 Elm St., would have 469 units and no parking spaces. Planning said the site is too small, the excessive height would cause shadow problems, setbacks are inadequate, it lacks sufficient outdoor amenity space and the number of family-sized units is not enough. It offers 35 three-plus bedrooms.

But if the application is taken to the Ontario Municipal Board and gets approved there then the city wants up to $2.9 million from the developer under Section 37 of the Planning Act for things including affordable housing and parkland improvements.

In his address to council, Aaron said he supports intensification “but that doesn’t mean we should approve every application.” He called the Elm St. proposal’s height “ridiculous” and said it’s “one of the worst” development proposals he has seen. He took a strip off the OMB, saying that’s where the proposal will likely end up.

“At the end of the day we’re playing a game that is provincially rigged for the big-money developers,” said Aaron. “It is absolutely essential for the future of our city that our municipality is free from Ontario’s broken approval process … I just want to say to the Minister of Municipal Affairs we have had enough. Start acting in our city’s best interests or find another job,” Aaron said to a round of applause.

Michael Vaughan, a member of the Arts and Letters Club in the 125-year-old building next door to 8 Elm, told council the club’s building was built on a rubble foundation and depends on the solidity and stability of abutting soil to hold it up. “Excavation, vibration and construction does cause serous damage to heritage buildings,” Vaughan said. He reminded council Elm St. is a narrow road of small scale, heritage buildings. “It’s too small to handle the impact … from this proposal.”

He said noise from construction would prevent the club from holding its literary and music programs that require a quiet atmosphere.

Janice Robinson of Goldberg Group representing the owner of 8 Elm asked council to defer making a decision on the application to allow time to consult further with the city and Elm St. neighbours.

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose Ward 27 includes Elm St., moved staff recommendations to refuse the application and to attend the OMB to make the city’s argument. “This particular application just represents something that we’re seeing quite a bit of in the Downtown core,” said Wong-Tam. “The tower is far too large, there’s too much massing, there’s zero transition (from tall to small buildings).

She said it gives no respect to the street’s heritage and if it can’t do that “then please don’t come in,” she told the developer. “The building just does not function well for Elm St. There’s a lot more than a deferral will be able to resolve. I think you have to start all over,” said Wong-Tam.