Proposal for Spadina-Sussex Student Residence

Spadina-Sussex site for U of T residenceThe University of Toronto intends to build a student residence on the property it owns at the northwest corner of Sussex and Spadina. The planning process requires consultation with the community.

In its current form, the project is not supported by the community, even after a number of public meetings with the developer.

See below for a summary report giving a timeline since December 2013, with background information, links to documentation, and an outline of key elements in the discussion. Those elements now include a Heritage designation for 698 Spadina and a decision by U of T to take the whole proposal to the OMB and also to appeal the Heritage designation. Hearings and discussions continue.

NEXT STEPS:

In August 2017, City Planning issued its final report on the Sussex-Spadina application, expressing a negative opinion of the application as it currently stands. Read its strong statement at http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2017/te/bgrd/backgroundfile-106270.pdf.

At the September 6, 2017 meeting of the Toronto and East York Community Council (TEYCC), City Planning asked that the City Solicitor and appropriate staff be authorized to oppose the University and Daniels zoning bylaw amendment at the OMB, to continue negotiations with respect to heights, massing and public benefits, and to defer demolition of the existing rental units. TEYCC adopted the report with amendments.

HVRA made a strong presentation to TEYCC to support this report: see the official YouTube recording at https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JmzDTsQi3dI, starting at minute 46.

On October 2, 2017, City Council also adopted this negative report, directing City staff to oppose the zoning amendment at the OMB and to continue negotiation on heights, massing and public benefits. Demolition of the existing rental units has also been deferred. See the summary and supporting documents on the city website.


HVRA AND THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO/DANIELS RESIDENCE PROPOSAL

A summary report by Carolee Orme and Sue Dexter, Board Members, Harbord Village Residents’ Association, prepared July 1, 2017

Since December 2013, the plan by the University and Daniels Corporation to put student housing at the corner of Sussex and Spadina has been at the forefront of community concerns. How has such a long process resulted in a planning stalemate, leading to University appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board and Conservation Review Board on both the built form and heritage protection on part of the site?

The community is particularly offended by the University’s claim that it has taken our concerns into account, when clearly it has not. To test this perception, we have reviewed notes from a dozen community meetings and consultations between the University and the community since the first community visioning exercise on December 4, 2013. Note that, among other issues, rental housing replacement was mentioned at all meetings.

Dec. 4, 2013: First Step

At a crowded community meeting in the basement of Trinity St. Paul’s, Councillor Adam Vaughan asked participants to identify what was important to them in the neighbourhood, given Daniels and the University were planning what Prof. Scott Maybury said might be a residence for as many as 600 students at Sussex and Spadina. The Councillor reported concerns that included:

  • Public access to greenspace, improve the Robert St. Field and secure public access to it
  • Respect heritage, in particular the Ten Editions bookstore at 698 Spadina
  • Low-rise height
  • Buildings should step down into the neighbourhood, storeys should be tiered, not a wall to the community
  • High green standards
  • Trees and landscaping
  • Retail at grade
  • Truck access is sensitive
  • Impacts of student culture on the community, especially noise
  • Satisfactory interim accommodation and right of return for the residents of the existing buildings.

Phase 1: 2014-Nov. 2015

April-May 2014: the working group

The University set out its initial plans following a six-week working group led by Councillor Vaughan:

  • 550 beds, 70% dorm, 30% suite
  • 60-40 split first year to upper years
  • Height 18-20 storeys
  • Infill town housing along Sussex and in the base of the residence
  • Community garden/dog run between the rear parking of the new townhouses and an extended Robert St. playing field. Community might have access to the playing field at certain times, but if dogs defecated on the field, the gates would be locked.

July 10, 2014: Community meeting

The community was not happy with the plans arising from the working group.

Note to residents from the Councillor’s assistant, Brent Gilliard:

Last night, we heard loud and clear that there are still many outstanding problems that need to be addressed. Among the loudest points, we heard that the building is too massive, townhouses should not be built to the west along Sussex Avenue, the student entrance should be off Spadina Avenue, and securing community access to improved green space is very important. In addition, we heard that you are very strongly interested in continuing the consultation process and providing additional feedback when the applicants have revised their plans.

August 12, 2014: Heritage study approved at Toronto and East York Council

In response to widespread community concerns about the loss of the heritage building and bookstore at 698 Spadina, Councillor Ramkhalawansingh moved that Toronto and East York Council initiate a heritage study of the bookstore site.

Sept. 8, 2014: Liaison Committee

From the Liaison Committee Minutes: 

At a September meeting of the University of Toronto Liaison Committee, HVRA said since the last public meeting, the community has come up with new ideas and would like to work with the University to create a space that welcomes neighbours and is not just a university-specific building. HVRA would like to negotiate something different than what has been proposed with respect to the town houses, massing, entrance on Sussex rather than Spadina and proposed building use.

Oct. 21, 2014: City Hall meeting

At a meeting with Daniels and U of T, convened by Councillor Ceta Ramkhalawansingh, HVRA identified height, massing, entrance, demographics, cafeteria and heritage as issues.

From an email to residents by Tim Grant, Sue Dexter and Carolee Orme Jan. 26, 2015:

We tried to impress on the U of T team that 20 storeys was way too high and we urged them to populate a smaller building with a mix of faculty, grad and undergraduate students—and without a cafeteria. We also wanted to see a beautiful building and one with an entrance on Spadina and no houses on the Robert Street field.

The University reps resisted our arguments on the Spadina-Sussex site until City planning staff asserted that a mid-rise building of 12 storeys would be appropriate for that site. At that point, one of the Daniels reps said they would be willing to develop plans for a mid-rise building.

Phase 2: the final design Nov. 2015 to formal application to the City July 2016

Nov. 2015 to July 2016: final design and formal application to the City

The Spadina tower was now sited to the east of a spur City lane. Across that laneway facing on to Sussex Mews, the University proposed twelve three-storey stacked townhouses for faculty use. The townhouses west of Sussex Mews were eliminated. The main entrance was moved to Spadina. Otherwise, the project specifications were virtually unchanged.

At a City Planning community consultation meeting on January 16, 2016, residents raised the same concerns as previously. Councillor Joe Cressy reported: “At this meeting, we heard that some of the community’s main concerns were: the proposed height and density, the appropriate mix of students within the building, heritage considerations, and on-site/nearby parkland provisions.” An HVRA report summarizes these concerns in further detail.

The university responded with a summary of its intentions:

  1. Density and Student mix – 549 students, 60% first years, 40% other, possibly graduate students. Cafeteria was retained. Gross Floor Area (GFA) 9.46.
  2. Height – Height was now increased to 23 storeys plus two mezzanine floors. Commercial/office floors were retained, with unspecified provision for some community use.
  3. Robert Street field– No plans for rehabilitation or changed use of the Robert Street field were included.
  4. Heritage – The bookstore building at 698 Spadina was deemed by the University to have no heritage value so was to be demolished.
  5. Transition to neighbourhood – Stacked 3-storey townhouses east of Sussex Mews are presented as fulfilling this role.
  6. Trees – Mature trees in parkette no longer under threat. Other trees will be chopped down.
  7. Displaced tenants – To be dealt with by Daniels and the University under the City process
  8. Appropriateness – University asserts that the proposed redevelopment is consistent with government policy

In July 2016, the proponents made their formal application for re-zoning without making any of the changes desired by residents. The lengthy process for re-zoning includes reviews by HVRA, the Councillor, and the City’s Planning and many other Departments. Rezoning applications are decided by Community Council and City Council, with no timelines imposed. The City makes all plans and supporting documentation available online as the process continues.

Fall 2016: City responses

On Sept. 23, 2016, City Planning responded with a preliminary report specifying areas of concern, including in part, height massing and density, heritage, tree protection, indoor and outdoor amenity space, and rental replacement. This preliminary report from the City Planning Department (CPD) went to Toronto East York Community Council as background material for its meeting of Oct. 13, along with a letter from HVRA and another from other local associations.

Concerns formulated in all these documents included the lack of green space and the potential community strains of inserting a 549-bed student residence next to a residential area. The Planning report listed studies that must be completed before the proposal can be approved, and mentioned the need for further community consultation.

The Toronto-East York Community Council accepted the report and directed that staff plan a community consultation meeting, with notice given to landowners and residents within 120 metres of the site.

Winter 2017: City decisions

On Jan. 16, 2017, a well-attended public meeting was held, with presentations by the developer and City Planning. The proposal from the developer contained no substantive changes from previous versions.

10 Editions Bookstore; photo by C. Levett, Varsity, 6 Feb. 2014On March 9, 2017, City Council voted unanimously to designate the bookstore and its building at 698 Spadina (corner of Sussex and Spadina) for heritage preservation under Part IV, Section of the Ontario Heritage Act. This followed a Jan. 12 report from Toronto Heritage Preservation Services and eloquent public presentations at the Feb. 22 meeting of Toronto East York Community Council. HVRA sent a strong letter of support supporting this designation and noting the cultural contribution to the neighbourhood of Ten Editions Bookstore. (See also Regine Schmid’s article about the bookstore on pages 6-7 of the Spring 2017 HVRA Newsletter.)

This designation would require substantial adaptations in the impacted architectural plans.

Spring 2017: University appeals

On May 3, 2017 HVRA was advised that the University had appealed the Heritage designation to the Conservation Review Board (CRB). As part of the original designation recommendations, City Council directed staff to attend the CRB in case of appeal. Heritage Preservation Services staff, along with Planning, will be working with the City Solicitor on this file.

And then on May 16, 2017, we learned that the University had also appealed its re-zoning application to the Ontario Municipal Board, and that it was considering the possibility of mediation.

SIDE-NOTE, April 2017: HVRA seeks to understand the relationship between the Daniels Corporation and the University

On April 4, 2017, under the Freedom of Information Act, HVRA requested from the University “the letter of intent and any and all accompanying schedules and/or appendices and/or attachments authorized by the University of Toronto Business Board on June 16, 2016, for the University’s partnership with the Daniels Corporation to design, manage and construct a mixed use student residence on the above properties.” This is minuted in Report 227 of the Business Board.

We were told the letter had been located but access was denied. The reason given was that the letter “remains under negotiation. It contains information, the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to prejudice the economic interests or the competitive position of the University. It also contains positions, plans, procedures, criteria or instructions to be applied to negotiations carried on or to be carried on by or on behalf of the University.” At a subsequent meeting of the U of T Liaison Committee, on which HVRA has a seat, the Daniels Corporation denied there was any agreement in place with the University.

In the belief that the University, as a public institution, has a duty of transparency, HVRA has appealed the decision to deny us access to the letter of agreement.


FURTHER EVENTS IN THIS TIMELINE

Summer 2017: HVRA blocked from participating in appeal, BUT overcomes blockage 

 Since the summary report above was prepared, HVRA has faced—and overcome—an attempt by U of T to block our participation in one of its appeals.

On July 27, 2017, at the pre-hearing conference on the University’s challenge to the CRB, U of T lawyers argued against granting HVRA immediate full party status—with rights to call witnesses, cross examine and participate in mediation.

On July 31, after an exchange of letters, U of T withdrew its objection and affirmed that it supports immediate party status for HVRA at both the CRB and OMB hearings.

On August 15, CRB granted HVRA immediate party status, noting that it would make a valuable contribution to the hearings.

These communications among HVRA, the University, and the CRB reflect the story. Use the links to read the original documents:


While compiling this record, we came upon a declaration by President Meric Gertler. On Nov. 9, 2013, at his installation speech, President Gertler was reported to have said: “We need to acknowledge and embrace our role as a city builder…. We must work closely and effectively with our neighbourhood and civic partners to ensure that our physical development plans not only help us achieve our academic mission but also address the needs and aspirations of our many good neighbours.” (Toronto Star)


NOTE: A group of local residents has formed the Sussex-Spadina Neighbourhood Group to share information and encourage participation in the consultation process. Its website links to HVRA material and gives more details about the proposed development and local objections to it.