Freelance: Another condo in the Village, 11 Wellesley West Park

Somewhat delayed, I reported on the OMB’s approval of yet another condo on Church St over the objections of the local councillor and the neighbourhood.

While I feel for the low-rise neighbourhood that will soon be in the shadow of this development, it will probably be an improvement for the neighbourhood over the pair of facing parking lots that currently stop the neighbourhood flow on Church south of Carlton, and the new retail space may help drive business back to Church.

And although the OMB rationale does seem heavily biased to me, it seems that a tall building of some sort was inevitable for the site, and it’s unfortunate that bringing the fight to the OMB cost the city about $1 million in section 37 benefits. That money could have gone a long way to improving this quite dumpy section of the street, or could have gone into the city war-chest to buy 11 Wellesley West back from the province.

On the subject of 11 Wellesley West, there’s something I’ve been curious about in that whole fiasco. The land was initially a city-owned skate park. It was handed over to the province in the late 80s in order to build the opera house that was eventually cancelled in 1992 when the recession hit. But rather than hand the land back to the city, the province simply boarded up the property, and it’s remained boarded up ever since.

Now the province is selling the land to help pay down the debt, and the city is being forced to bid for it against developers with infinitely deeper pockets. But why does the province have the right to sell it at all? Did the province purchase this land from the city, or did the city give it to the province for the express purpose of building the Opera House? If the latter, did the city not have any kind of kill switch in the agreement to prevent the province from just selling it away? Finally, if the city is worried about having to outbid developers, can’t the city simply threaten to invoke eminent domain/expropriation to acquire the land from whoever purchases it, in order to build a park? I’m not following this story right now, so I can’t answer these questions, but would appreciate a recap, especially since it looks like city council is going to be debating the whole scheme tomorrow.

Another idea might be put an underground Green P lot under the park, which could help pay for the land and the park development. I’m not sure if that’s feasible, but Toronto Parking Authority has indicated that it’s also interested in the land for a surface parking lot.

Again, virtually anything (with the possible exception of a surface parking lot) would be an improvement on the current urban blight the boarded-up area currently is. Which actually makes me question if another park is really the best use of the land — after all, Queen’s Park is just two short blocks away. Perhaps returning it to the skatepark it once was, or designing it as more of a public square, appropriate for hosting performances and events, would be a better use of the space.

BTW, if you read the letter Minister of Transport Bob Chiarelli wrote to Councillor Wong-Tam on the subject, it’s pretty clear that the province has approximately zero interest in the land becoming a park. He rather suggests that she “work with developers interested in your ward to find a solution that works.” You know, like building more land somewhere.

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