St. Clair right-of-way suit launched
Frustrated St. Clair business owners have banded together to launch a $100 million suit against the province, city and TTC, claiming negligence and mismanagement during the construction of the dedicated streetcar line and saying the process had a detrimental effect on their livelihood.
The suit, filed in Superior Court in March, is claiming damages of $100 million, with an additional $5 million in punitive damages against the City of Toronto.
Lawyer Stephen Edell said the suit is the culmination of months of meetings with business owners and storefront proprietors from the stretch of St. Clair from Bathurst Street to Old Weston Road.
The claimants say construction problems like power disruptions, sewage backup, and unsafe walking conditions over the past five years has driven their business away.
The suit claims the Province of Ontario failed to enforce the agreement with the city that allowed the project to go ahead, and claims the Toronto Transit Commission was negligent in its construction of the $65-million light rail line, Edell says.
The suit also claims the City of Toronto intentionally harmed businesses along that particular stretch of St. Clair, where most
commercial establishments are lower-end dollar stores, ethnic restaurants and variety stores.
This policy of blockbusting, the claim states, was intended to force smaller businesses to leave the area by driving them out of business. This would ultimately make way for redevelopment, and tenants who would pay higher rents and business and property taxes than those currently on the street.
Edell said the first phase of the project was completed in Forest Hill, and done with minimal disruption and without cost overrun. This created obvious questions, he said, when the second phase began west of Bathurst, and “all hell broke loose” in terms of delays and mismanagement.
“None of these things were a problem for some reason when they went from Yonge Street to Bathurst, which was the first phase where you would think it would be the learning curve,” he said.
The businesses west of Bathurst represent small, impoverished operations that were taken advantage of by the city’s
mismanagement, Edell says.
“They’re easy targets because they don’t have the sophistication or the organization or the wealth or the connections to fight back in any kind of a way,” he said.
The representative plaintiff named in the suit is Curactive Organic Skin Care, a hair salon and retailer owned by AnnaMaria Buttinelli.
The business owner, who’s been on St. Clair for 30 years, told the Town Crier last summer that a lack of parking was forcing her clients elsewhere, and the city did not respond to her needs during construction. Buttinelli estimated at the time that she had experienced a 50 to 70 percent drop in business during construction.
According to Edell, about 200 businesses failed during delayed construction in the area, and store closures are still occurring.
“Whether some of them may have died on their own, impossible at this point to say, but we’re certainly maintaining that construction put many of them out of business or certainly helped put many of them out of business,” said Edell.
The statement of claim is still subject to a certification process that must convince a judge to declare the suit a class action.
Calls and emails to both the city and TTC were not returned at press time.
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