Saturday, November 30, 2013

Toronto’s manufacturing heartland turns to condos.

Condo developer Luigi (Louie) Santaguida, who is standing on a barren piece of land that he’s owned for about a decade in Toronto’s west end, points to a small park across the street and shakes his head.

“The city did a great job of putting a park in front of industrial use,” he says sarcastically.
Mr. Santaguida’s frustration shows. After buying this two-acre site in the Upper Junction, on which paint factories of one form or another had sat for nearly a century, his company, Stanton Renaissance, spent more than $5-million on underground remediation and other activities to clean it up. About five years ago, he asked the city to rezone the land to allow some of it to be for residential use. He’s still working on that.

The site, which sits directly below St. Clair Avenue West, to the east of Mulock Avenue, is emblematic of a protracted transition that’s taking place in what was once a manufacturing heartland, and the tension that has developed as the city seeks to preserve employment lands in an area that has seen a slow and steady decline in industrial jobs. The railway tracks that sit directly to the east of the property once fed a vibrant hub of factories. These days the trucks that try to get into the remaining factories find themselves in snarled traffic, while better public transit will increasingly be shuttling the growing number of local residents.

Mr. Santaguida argues that manufacturers are no longer interested in moving into the neighbourhood, and says he’s called the city’s bluff by trying to sell the land to industry.
“We’ve challenged the city to bring us employment, we’ve offered the property to local industry,” he says. “You can’t find employment uses, otherwise it would have been there already. It really must be converted or it will sit here like it sat here for the last 20 years,” he says, noting that the Benjamin Moore paint factory that had sat on it had shut down in the late 1990s, long before he bought the land. “Industry is not coming into this quadrant, it’s over.”

City councillor Peter Milczyn, who chairs the planning and growth management committee, does not want to see the neighbourhood veer too much toward residential.
“There are still some large sites left in the Junction that condo developers would snap up in an instant if they felt that they could just walk in and get permission for a condo, but that in fact is not what the city wants to see,” he says. “I personally don’t want to see that happen. I like the idea that along the avenues, where we have public transit along the edges, that where appropriate you can have a bit of a mix of residential and commercial, but behind that the appropriate types of businesses and smaller industries can very well coexist side-by-side and actually mean that somebody can walk to work, they can live and work in their neighbourhood.”

Mr. Milczyn does agree that it’s becoming more challenging for big industry to function in the neighbourhood, but he points to smaller employers like cheese makers, carpenters and furniture-makers that he’d like to see remain.

He says that Mr. Santaguida’s site, “6 Lloyd, is one of these little mixed pockets where you have single family homes across the street from what we would today consider pretty nasty industries, but they co-existed for decades and decades.”

The property has some advantages when it comes to seeking the ability to build condos, Mr. Milczyn suggests, including its proximity to St. Clair and the fact that “there are single family homes across the street, so it’s already on a street that you might want to quote unquote try to clean up a little bit.” In addition, Mr. Santaguida’s proposal includes using some of the site for employment uses, with sculptor Abraham Ruben, who currently lives in Vancouver, saying he will open a teaching school on the property and move his own business there.

The proposal scored a win last week, when the planning and growth management committee decided to delete the recommendations of city staff and instead recommend that two-thirds of the property be allowed to convert to mixed-use areas with residential, while some of the property will be carved out for employment lands on which such things as an arts school, creative arts studio, gallery, theatre, farmers’ market or museum would be permitted. City council will look at the recommendation in December.

“I really believe that this is an area that needs to be revitalized,” says local councillor Frances Nunziata. “This little pocket where [it] is, it’s been sort of neglected. It’s really an eyesore, it’s a forgotten part of the city.”

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