Hollywood highrise battle has divided community

Council and school board on opposite sides of building proposal

A Hollywood Ave. area development proposal is splitting the community in half, with each side fighting bitterly to get their way. And while city council voted unanimously to reject the proposal, one councillor warned that the development might go ahead anyway.

About 30 irate residents showed up at North York community council, each wanting to voice their displeasure with four highrise towers being proposed in their neighbourhood — a school zone community.

The residents came to council to speak out against the project after a few hundred concerned citizens packed a community information meeting at Claude Watson School for the Arts a few weeks before.

However, despite the worries of increased traffic in the area, the Toronto District School Board is siding with the applicant, Rosedale Developments, and has brokered a deal with them. The school board sold part of their property on Spring Garden Ave., where the Claude Watson school is currently situated. The sale will see the cramped and deteriorating 81-year-old school completely rebuilt and transformed into a state-of-the-art educational facility.

"We have a specialized program and it would be nice to have specialized rooms for our kids in the program," said Heather Mitchell, principal of the school.

The school currently has about 300 students enrolled, all of whom will remain in the current building until their new school is built.

Although most of the residents welcome the idea of a refurbished school, some say the costs are too high. Several showed pictures they had taken of crosswalks, with swarms of students walking onto the street. Other pictures showed a steady line of cars parked on the street dropping off or waiting to pick up their child.

"Traffic is a major problem in the area," said a Spring Garden Ave. resident. "We are very concerned about our children crossing the street. This whole proposal is out of line and inconsiderate."

Mitchell said that growing traffic woes are all part of living in a city.

"We’re living in a big city these days — North York is growing," she said. "It’s the nature of a city’s growth when suburbs become no longer a suburb but a city."

The city’s community planning department, in one of its many recommendations for the site, suggested building a continuous driveway with a dedicated drop-off and pick-up site at the new school.

"The application of this provision is particularly important on this site given that the Claude Watson school is only one of two TDSB schools that are focussed on the arts…therefore many students do not live in the area but instead arrive by car or transit," said the city’s report.

The proposal put forth by Rosedale Developments was amended for significantly taller highrise buildings. Originally, in late 2003, Rosedale’s application for an 18-storey building with ground floor retail space as well as a 30-storey condominium was approved. The amended application is now seeking a permit for a 35-storey residential building on Yonge St., complete with two floors of commercial use, two additional 24-storey residential buildings, a 36-storey condominium, in addition to the new school.

"Once construction is complete, this will be the block with the highest density in the city," said Hollywood Ave. neighbour Francine Fleming, stacking tall paper bags next to smaller ones to illustrate her point. "It’s a Manhattan-style development to satisfy greed."

Even those who have already purchased homes in the first building proposal are complaining about the additional development.

"I bought a unit because I was reassured I would have an unobstructed view," said Edmond Leung. "(A home) is a lifetime of savings and a lifetime dream. Now my view will be completely blocked and my dreams are shattered."

However, the city’s report concluded that the proposal is consistent with the density and built-form policy of North York’s current official plan.

A legal representative for Rosedale Developments was at the meeting and distributed a letter to the members of council, saying that the developer is prepared to continue working with staff, but that he has concerns about a recommendation for an open public green space abutting Spring Garden Ave., and just who would be responsible for its maintenance. He said he had no further comment to make but would answer any questions the councillors may have.

Rosedale has already appealed the application to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), after the city failed to call a public meeting in time. Although councillors voted unanimously to reject the application, they also forewarned the public about the OMB’s tendency to vote on the side of the developer.

"The planning is a nightmare and it didn’t have to be this way. It probably could not have been done worse or more callously," said Willowdale Councillor John Filion at council. "Isn’t it sad that we have unelected people (the OMB) making decisions on what’s important to our community instead of those you elect?"

The OMB meeting is scheduled for November.

About this article:

By: Sandie Benitah
Posted: Nov 26 2004 3:00 am
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto