Small retail preserved in Yonge BIA heritage plans

Dennis Hanagan —

A final plan to preserve Yonge St.’s character and heritage buildings between College/Carlton and Bloor is expected to go to the Toronto Preservation Board on Dec. 15.

About 50 people at an October community meeting at the Central YMCA on Grosvenor St. were presented with the draft plan for the preservation work and were asked for feedback.

The plan would designate the one-kilometre stretch of Yonge a Heritage Conservation District (HCD) for the purpose of saving its heritage attributes in the face of development pressure. That stretch is called the Historic Yonge HCD.

In the meantime, Downtown community council is asking city council to designate 480 and 484 Yonge—the former St. Charles Tavern between Grenville and Grosvenor streets—to preserve its landmark clock tower. Before its tavern years it was a firehall.

At the YMCA meeting, Antonio Gomez-Palacio, a principal with Dialog archaeological services (the firm that’s undertaking the HCD plan) told residents and business people that new development or alterations in the district would have to contribute to the heritage and character of Yonge, not detract from it.

The stretch proposed for an HCD started to develop in 1860 when “a pastoral landscape of large private estates was subdivided and sold-off,” notes Dialog in literature provided at the meeting.

One woman said buildings from the 1960s should also be preserved, not just those with Victorian architecture. “It’s going to become a Disneyland” if just Victorian style is retained, she said.

According to Dialog, 73% of the buildings in the area represent Edwardian, Gothic, Georgian, Italianate, Renaissance Revival, Romanesque or Second Empire architectural styles.

A businessman asked how an HCD designation would save small businesses. Another said market value assessment isn’t working because developers, who pay big money for properties, end up creating higher property taxes for small businesses.

Mark Garner, executive director with the Downtown Yonge BIA, told The Bulletin he sees nothing in the HCD that would save small retail stores from being crowded out by big developments. (His BIA wants to expand its northern Yonge boundary up to Charles St. and its west boundary over to Bay between Grosvenor and Charles.)

Garner said he wants the HCD to stipulate that if a developer buys, say, five small stores then those five small floor plates should be reinstated for retail use. Small, independent retail at street level must be maintained, said Garner.

A property owner asked how an HCD would benefit him as a Yonge stakeholder. He was told the city offers eligible heritage property owners a rebate of up to 50% of maintenance and conservation costs for work relating to, among other things, roofs, chimneys, exterior walls and foundations.

In his presentation, Gomez-Palacio said small architectural treasures can be found when over-cladding on some buildings is peeled off to reveal the original façade.

Some areas of “archaeological potential” have been identified in the proposed HCD, according to Dialog. Policies will be provided for work involving soil disturbance.