Michael Schwartz –
The St Lawrence Neighbourhood’s proposed heritage conservation district (HCD) came under scrutiny at its second public consultation.
On April 10, attendees at Snell Hall on Church St. heard from the professionals behind the HCD. They also learned about the hard work put in by volunteers: students from Ryerson University and George Brown College and members of the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association (SLNA) have surveyed 330 local buildings for their age, history, architecture and current usage.
One key question emerged from the research: is there sufficient integrity of character for a neighbourhood to be designated as such in the first place?
Keynote presenter Dima Cook of FGDMA Architects enumerated the Neighbourhood’s cultural heritage values as its historical importance as the original footprint of York (now Toronto), its physical character arising from the concentration of 19th century buildings, and its contextual, social and community significance from institutions such as the St. Lawrence Market and St. James’ Cathedral.
While a few buildings intended for inclusion within the new HCD date back to 1821, a concerted building process between 1981 and 2000 totally changed the southern front of a district that had already been changed beyond recognition by the extension of the city’s shoreline in the nineteenth century. Cook’s presentation confirmed just how immense the changes had been for many buildings.
In Cook’s words, all of the buildings were “themes—the stories that can be told.” The slides showed that the regrowth and redevelopment since the 1970s had reversed the industrial decline of the previous half-century.
One criticism of the presentation came during consultation with the audience when an attendee noted that the slide showing the height of the buildings could have been better depicted in a three-dimensional format, thereby allowing greater appreciation of the HCD’s changing landscape.
Comments were invited from the floor. One speaker noted that things were changing so quickly that he just wanted things to be sorted out soon. Presenters replied that the HCD will not be in place for another year, pending any objections from or appeals to council.
A resident from Corktown reported that she had not received an invitation to the meeting—she stressed that the police station site was part of Corktown and that Corktown’s influence on the district would indeed be considered.
The question of who has final approval over the HCD was raised. Councillor Pam McConnell pointed out that the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) has final right of refusal. “We don’t like it,” she said, “but it is the law.”