Birch Cliff Residents Sideswiped By Scope of New Development
By Hedy Korbee
Every day, Karen Azucar wakes up and looks at the trees outside the south window of her two-bedroom apartment at Lenmore Court in Birch Cliff and thanks her lucky stars for her “oasis” in the city.
“I love my home. I absolutely love it,” Azucar said of the affordable walk-up apartment she’s lived in for the last five years.
But Azucar and more than 30 of her neighbours, including seniors, single parents and people receiving disability payments, have been served notice that they need to move because a developer has purchased the four 1950’s-era buildings on Kingston Rd. along with most of the block between Lakeside and Birchcliff Avenues.
“I am angry. I’m really angry,” Azucar said. “I’m not opposed to any condos, I understand that neighbourhoods need to be developed, and that’s fine. But there are so many places on Kingston Rd. that are empty or derelict, or more viable for building something. Why did they choose a set of buildings where people live?”
Altree Developments plans to build a nine-storey condominium at 1615-1641 Kingston Rd. with 265 units and total gross floor area of 19,337 square metres.
The Lenmore Court tenants have been given the option to move to “similar” rental units in a new 11-storey condo further east at 2151 Kingston Rd., at the site of the current Days Inn motel.
But that development, also by Altree, has not yet been approved by the city, let alone built, and Azucar said they were told they’d have to find interim accommodation for a couple of years with some financial help from the developer.
Azucar said she and her neighbours are “devastated”. She pays $1,100 a month in rent, including utilities, and said she won’t be able to find a nice apartment for that amount of money.
Like many people, her income was cut off for three months because of COVID-19. She described the developer as greedy for giving notice to tenants during a pandemic and treating them as collateral damage in a quest for profits. Rebecca Price, a single mother who works 50 hours a week to provide for her 20-month old daughter, said she’s struggling to understand how it’s acceptable for the tenants to be offered replacement units that haven’t been built yet.
“I moved here because the rent is cheaper and affordable,” Price said. “Where am I going to go? I love living here. I work massive hours to ensure I have a nice home for me and my daughter. It’s very upsetting.”
Price said an employee of the City of Toronto planning department attended a Zoom meeting organized by Altree to speak to the tenants.
According to Price, the planner told them that preconstruction units qualify as replacement units in some cases in the eyes of the city. She said that the tenants would not be given first right of refusal to move back into a rental unit in the Birch Cliff building.
“I found it very biased,” Price said. “Are you here for the developer or are you here on behalf of the city?”
Price said when she asked for a tape of the meeting, she was told it wasn’t recorded.
Local activist, Anna Dewar Gully, is also upset and plans to reconvene the Birch Cliff Community Association, which has been inactive for several years, in order to help the tenants of Lenmore Court.
Dewar Gully, the co-founder of an equity-focused strategy consultancy with a long career in public policy, also wants to address the explosion of development on Kingston Rd. that has resulted in some calling it “Condo Alley”.
“I think there are too many tenants in those buildings, who are paying low and stable rents, who are being shipped off to who knows where,” Dewar said. “The scale of the development proposed is already enormous and completely not in keeping, from my perspective anyways, with the plan for Kingston Road and reasonable development along the corridor.”
Details of the development were brought to the attention of the neighbourhood through the Birch Cliff Community Facebook Group on Oct. 22. when Dewar posted a link to a website that tracks new real estate developments.
According to the official submission to the City of Toronto’s planning department, Altree submitted a Combined Official Plan and Zoning By-law Amendment Application on Oct. 9.
The developer is asking the city to amend the Birchcliff Community Zoning By-law No. 8786 in order to increase the height and density of the property to nine storeys.
The current zoning permits a maximum height of six storeys or 20 metres that may be increased to eight storeys or 27 metres if the developer contributes Section 37 money to improve neighbourhood facilities and services.
The developer is also seeking an Official Plan amendment because Altree has purchased two single family dwellings on Birchcliff Avenue south of Kingston Road to provide vehicle access to underground parking. Those houses fall under the “Neighbourhoods” designation, which does not allow them to be used for parking access.
Instead of ground floor retail, which many people feel is needed in Birch Cliff to improve walkability, the developer is planning “live/work space” at street level, which, for example, would allow an accountant to buy a condo with an office.
Birch Cliff News requested an interview with Altree Developments to discuss the application but a spokesperson said they were unavailable for comment until next week.
Dewar said she’s concerned with the growing number of “enormous builds” in Birch Cliff.
“I don’t think it’s the right design in this neighbourhood of houses and a village-like atmosphere,” Dewar said, comparing the building to something that would be better suited to Eglinton East. “That’s not appropriate here. It absolutely is not. This is a community. This is a village. This should be a walkable, enjoyable, neighbourhood. That is what is envisaged in the revitalization plan — mixed use, low development.”
In an interview with Birch Cliff News, Ward 20 Councillor Gary Crawford said the proposed condo “looks to be a little dense”. He said he was caught off guard when he saw the Facebook post and described the way the information was released as a misstep on the part of the developer.
Crawford said he met with a representative of Altree Developments two or three weeks ago and advised them to immediately begin consultations with the community, even though that’s not required by law. Crawford also cautioned that this is just the beginning of a process that could take months.
“We have seen a proposal, a sort of vision from a developer, but we haven’t had the opportunity to meet and talk to the community and city planning,” Crawford said. “We’re at the very beginning of the process, and the application literally just came in. So, there is a long process that has to take place with community consultation. I have always been a proponent of working with the community and working together to consensus build. And we need to start that process right now.”
Crawford said he believes that development on Kingston Rd. cannot be stopped but needs to be shaped.
Edward Nixon, a Birch Cliff resident who runs a communications PR firm and has experience in stakeholder relations, agrees. He pointed out that Kingston Road is an arterial road designated for higher density and said it’s better to work with the developer than lose on appeal to the The Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), which replaced the Ontario Municipal Board.
Presuming that the tenants are treated fairly, Nixon is in favour of mid-rise density from six to nine storeys on Kingston Road because he said it will lead to a lively community where people can earn a living and residents can walk to get the get goods and services they need.
“One of the key things we can do to preserve or give a fighting chance, especially post COVID, to mainstream traditional retail is, frankly, ensuring there is a significant number of people living locally, who will choose to patronize a local business, because it’s right there in front of them and it’s convenient.”
Meanwhile, Anna Dewar is already rolling up her sleeves.
“We need to take the reins back as a community and have a leadership voice on what we think is appropriate. I think there are many, many people in this community who share my feelings that we need responsible development in this community, because we have a very mixed population from a socioeconomic perspective and we need to take care of our neighbours. I think I’m one of many, many people in this neighbourhood who care about people who have less and who need help.”
As the debate over density plays out, Karen Azucar and the other residents of Lenmore Court are left in a holding pattern, waiting to receive their six-month notice to move out as well as more details about their compensation package.
Azucar said grateful that Dewar is reconvening the Birch Cliff Community Association to help the tenants with their fight and looks forward to hearing from Gary Crawford, who has promised to help ensure that their legal rights are protected.
In the meantime, Azucar said she will continue to enjoy her view from the window of trees, birds, and squirrels, knowing that she may not have it much longer.
More from local journalist Hedy Korbee
can be found at www.birchcliffnews.com/