Tag Archives: toronto heritage
St. Lawrence Hall debate asks candidates to commit to protecting city’s history
Anna Mehler Paperny – Globe and Mail
Torontonian heritage buffs got the chance to hear how the major mayoral candidates would protect the city’s historical sites during a debate at St. Lawrence Hall.
They also got a chance to hear more from candidates who’ve been getting low profiles lately: Rocco Achampong, a lawyer and former University of Toronto students’ union president who has noted that so-called “fringe” mayoral candidates get shut out of the plethora of debates playing out across the city, had a seat at the table. And Rocco Rossi, who has been showing disappointing results in the latest series of polls, held his own during the debate.
He slammed fellow candidate Rob Ford when the front-runner reiterated his position that Toronto “cannot afford another million people” — an statement he made a couple of weeks ago when arguing the city shouldn’t accept any newcomers.
“What we really need to watch out for is mayoralty candidates who can’t get their numbers straight,” Mr. Rossi shot back, noting that the projections Mr. Ford was citing were for the much larger Toronto area, including suburban regions growing far faster than the city of Toronto.
Mr. Achampong, for his part, railed against what he perceives as misplaced priorities and bureaucratic wrangling at city hall, noting that heritage is “subsumed” in a larger culture file and doesn’t get the respect it deserves.
“Spending is not the problem,” he argued. “Priorities are.”
Sarah Thomson joined Mr. Rossi in calling for long-term planning for the city, and emphasized the need to work with developers and get Torontonians “back into City Hall.”
Moderator and former chief planner Paul Bedford’s introspective debate (What kind of heritage walk would you lead, if you could? What does “cultural landscape” mean to you?) also allowed councillors to tout their own pedigrees: While George Smitherman cited his childhood getting to know the city’s ravines, Joe Pantalone called himself the city’s “deputy mayor of heritage” because of his role preparing for the bicentennial of the War of 1812.
Mr. Smitherman also cited his heritage platform, which he unveiled earlier that day. He vowed to focus on community-based development – and he pointed to Councillor Adam Vaughan’s dense downtown ward as the best way to do that.
The tower-heavy Trinity-Spadina neighbourhood, where clubland is ceding space to high-end condos, is a good example of negotiations with developers and residents that respects existing heritage while encouraging new growth, Mr. Smitherman argued.
“There’s something that really is striking about that model. That is the ward where there’s been the highest number of projects approved and the lowest number of projects that went to the Ontario Municipal Board. That tells me there’s something happening there that’s good and it means people were given the chance at the community end of that process,” Mr. Smitherman said.
The former provincial energy and infrastructure minister’s plans include beefing up the city’s heritage enforcement, adding tax incentives to encourage property owners to maintain their buildings, and penalizing them financially if they don’t.
“Where someone owns heritage properties and doesn’t take care of them, we can bring the force of government … to create a punitive approach as required to make sure that appropriate protection is given to heritage buildings.”
He said he’d also encourage “heritage shopping districts” throughout the city, and enforce the idea of natural heritage when it comes to protecting the city’s parks and ravines. He said he’d like to see an “early-warning system” in place that would get heritage and fire officials to monitor older buildings and ensure those with historic value are kept in good repair.
“There are pressures for growth and there are pressures around redevelopment, but there are fantastic models” for the city to learn from when it comes to balancing the city’s built form past and future, Mr. Smitherman said, citing the Maple Leaf Gardens as an example.
Mr. Smitherman couldn’t say how much it will cost to create heritage-protection enforcement with better teeth, or beefing up planning partnerships for local residents and business improvement areas, but said the costs would likely be “modest.”
But the city already offers property tax rebates on heritage buildings — up to 40 per cent of the specific heritage sections of a property, if the property in question is covered by a heritage easement. If a heritable building is in disrepair, the city has the power to either order a property owner to repair it or pay for the city’s repair work. It can also pursue the matter in court.
“We can always do more,” Mr. Pantalone said, “but you’ve got to look at the forest, the overall. … Mr. Smitherman is trying to grapple with an issue on which he’s been missing in action, while my record more than speaks for itself.”