MacLean House to be saved — sort of

Facade to remain, existing rental units to be demolished

A portion of a heritage-designated building at 7 Austin Ter. could be demolished as part of a new development proposal, but the exterior will remain nearly intact.

Toronto and East York community council approved a recommendation to city council to approve the plan that would demolish nine rental units inside the building and expand the rear of the building to make room for six new dwellings.

The building, known as the MacLean House, is located just down the street from Casa Loma. It was designed by Canadian architect John Lyle in 1910 for journalist and founder of Maclean’s Magazine John MacLean. Lyle also designed Union Station and the Royal Alexandra Theatre.

The MacLean House was designated a heritage building in 2010 after a previous developer ripped out the window frames and part of the main entrance.

Although the rear of the structure will be altered, the façade facing the street will look the same, and the structural elements deemed as heritage properties will remain largely untouched.

Preserving the heritage behind the site was an important part of the development, said Matthew Garnet, one of the partners at Renaissance Fine Homes, the new owners of the building.

“The idea of restoring a heritage property really appealed to us,” he said. “It’s something we’ve always wanted to do.”

Although the rental units will not be replaced, the developers agreed to give the city $250,000 as a substitute. The money will go toward an affordable housing project at 200 Madison Ave.

Ward 21 councillor Joe Mihevc said that while the agreement wasn’t ideal, it was a compromise necessary for the heritage site to be saved.

“We all wanted to get more for rental replacement,” he said. “This was the number that allowed the development to go forward.”

To Garnet, the preservation of the rental properties was a secondary concern.

“The greater good here, from what we can see, is preserving one of Toronto’s heritage landmarks,” he said.

Mihevc agreed the development is a victory for the city because MacLean House was previously under threat of complete demolition.

“A developer basically applied for a building permit for something that would never be built, so they could get a demolition permit and demolish the building,” he said.

The previous developer, 1626829 Ontario Ltd., hoped to demolish the current structure and replace it with eight townhouses and a six-unit rental building.

It was already in the process of ripping out the window frames when the province stepped in with a 60-day stop work order in order to evaluate if the building qualified as a heritage structure. It did, and two applications for demolition permits were subsequently denied.

But the damage was done. The previous developer and the elements have not been kind to the building and it is currently dilapidated and in danger of further decay.

Casa Loma Residents Association president Robert Levy has lamented the building’s state for years.

“It’s been really sad for the past few years, because it’s still on the (Casa Loma) walking tour, except they’ve been looking at a pretty desolate building that has suffered a lot of destruction,” he said in a presentation to community council.

The new development will restore the exterior to its original state. The rear of the building will be expanded for three townhouse units within the original structure.

The east side of the building, which was not designated as a heritage attribute, will be demolished to make room for two semi-detached dwellings and one single family detached townhouse.

A third storey will be added, which means the roof will have to be rebuilt. Garnet said they plan on retaining the John Lyle architectural style.

Garnet said he hopes construction will begin by August. All but one of the homes will be over 275 square metres and priced in the $2 million range.

The building will feature a historical exterior with modern amenities inside. To Levy, the mix of new and old is an attribute that is uniquely Torontonian, and a fitting way to preserve the city’s heritage.

“We always say we’re a new city, we have no heritage, we have no story — it’s not true,” he said. “We have a fantastic story, and it’s our story.”

Toronto city council will have a final vote on the development proposal on July 12 and 13.

About this article:

By: Omar Mosleh
Posted: Jul 8 2011 1:02 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto