Forest Hill Villagers strongly oppose 9-storey building

NOT IN MY VILLAGE: Marcia Gilbert is one of the many local residents speaking at community consultation meeting to oppose the Foest Hill Village development.
NOT IN MY VILLAGE: Marcia Gilbert is one of several local residents speaking at community consultation meeting on Oct. 20 to question a controversial development’s affect on Forest Hill Village.

The 100 or so residents who attended the Oct. 20 community meeting about a controversial Forest Hill Village development were firm in their opinion.

They wanted to see the empty two-storey building at Montclair Avenue and Spadina Road replaced — just not with a nine-storey, 46-unit mixed-use building.

Artist's rendering of the nine-storey building proposed for Forest Hill Village.
Artist’s rendering of the nine-storey building proposed for Forest Hill Village.

After brief presentations by city planner David Driedger, who opposed the application in a May report, and architect Ralph Giannone, speaking for developer Armel Corporation, not one resident spoke in the proposal’s favour. Most cited concerns with the building’s height, density, and impact on local traffic.

“This proposal is completely out of whack,” Montclair Avenue resident Hartley Robins said to the crowd  at Grace Church on-the-Hill. “It completely ruins what we know as the Village.”

He was applauded when he asked what would stop the owners of the site from building an equally tall building on another corner, which they also own, if the current proposal was approved.

City planner Driedger said under the Forest Hill Village Design Guidelines, 390–398 Spadina Rd. lies at the edge of zone for the commercial and mixed-use development that forms the heart of Forest Hill Village.

The area’s height limit is four storeys, or 12 metres, while Armel’s proposal would rise to 35.5 metres, Driedger said.

Architect Giannone began his presentation by emphasizing his family’s connection to Forest Hill Village.

“My sons play hockey at Forest Hill Arena, we shop at Kitchen Table, we buy our bagels at What A Bagel, and coffee at Starbucks and Aroma,” he said. “It’s been about a dozen years that we’ve been very happy to be part of this village character, and clearly here we’re about to change that.”

He said one of the site’s owners, who did not address the audience, was attending the meeting and interested in hearing their comments. Armel hoped its proposal would serve as a “southern gateway” to Forest Hill Village, creating a bridge between the apartment neighbourhood on Montclair and the “main street experience” defined by the two-to-four-storey buildings in the heart of the Village, he said.

A four-storey building would have been proposed had it been financially feasible, he said.

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t work to rebuild a building and build a four-storey building,” he said. “That is my client’s observation.”

The proposal’s target market would be “empty-nesters” who “want to stay in [Forest Hill Village],” and would have a minimal impact on neighbourhood traffic, Giannone said.

Montclair resident Marcia Gilbert said she favoured renovating the “dilapidated storefronts” on the current site — but she echoed other residents when she drew attention to Forest Hill Village’s current traffic problems and asked how the developer had concluded its proposal would have a minimal impact on  traffic.

Gilbert also said she was offended by Giannone’s comments regarding empty-nesters, many of whom had moved to the Village because of its character and community environment.

“I heard nothing from you during your presentation that talks to the community, and what you’re going to give back to the community by building in that area,” she said.

When one resident mentioned the Forest Hill Village BIA, coordinator Yvonne Bambrick stood up and told the crowd the board had not been given details of the proposal before the community meeting.

“The BIA board haven’t had any dealings with the owner at all,” she said. “We’re as anxious as you are to find out about the details of the proposal and what the next steps will be.”

“The community has clearly voiced some very strong concerns about the [application’s] height and density and traffic issues,” Ward 21 councillor Joe Mihevc told the Town Crier after taking a diplomatic stance at the meeting, though his negative opinion of the proposal is well-known. “I hope the developer comes back with an application that takes those views into consideration.”

Ward 22 councillor Josh Matlow, who told the meeting he was “completely opposed” to the application, said afterwards he dismissed developer Armel’s idea of a southern gateway to Forest Hill Village as “spin.”

“Last year I was successful in getting urban design guidelines approved at council to protect not only the height and density, but also the small-town character of Forest Hill Village,” Matlow said. “This development would forever destroy what we’ve been able to protect for over 100 years.”