What’s going on with Toronto foundry property 2 years after demolition crews moved in?

It's been two years since crews began demolition on the foundry property on Eastern Avenue, sparking a court battle and a settlement. Nick Westoll has more on what's going on with the property.

In early 2021 demolition crews under the Ontario government moved in to tear down the Dominion Wheel and Foundries site in Toronto, but after a court injunction and a subsequent settlement, little has been revealed on the property’s sale and future.

“I just ran down there and wanted to get them to stop, and so I just started yelling, stop, stop, stop,” Tim Hurson, who lives near the property, was one of the first to rush to the site in mid-January of that year when those crews showed up.

“We were apparently quite disruptive, and good thing because they did stop. And as you know, there was a court case, and the community actually spent a fair bit of energy and time and money.”

Groups of neighbours challenged the matter in court, and an injunction was granted, forcing the Ontario government along with the City of Toronto to the negotiating table.

The Dominion Wheel and Foundries site had five buildings, including the cherished machine shop from the late-1930s, and it’s located on Eastern Avenue in the West Don Lands.

“It’s very attractive and very kind of impressive when you come to the site and see [the machine shop buildings], especially if you go inside the site and look out. These windows are things of beauty, and they’re a lovely sort of reminder of our industrial past, but also very attractive, and they bring in a lot of light,” Franca Leeson, a spokesperson with the advocacy group Friends of the Foundry, said.

In August 2021, the Ontario government announced demolition would stop, and two building clusters would be saved after a heritage assessment. It’s likely the saved buildings will be incorporated into the design of the future condo towers.

It’s anticipated there will eventually be more than 1,000 units, and 25 per cent of those units are to be affordable housing. However, the affordability definition and criteria haven’t been publicly set out yet.

Ever since that announcement, not much has happened at the site. Property title documents obtained and posted by Friends of the Foundry members appeared to show the site was officially sold in March 2022. But even before that happened, there were indications a deal was being negotiated behind the scenes with a developer. A minister’s zoning order issued by Ontario’s municipal affairs minister in 2020 also cleared the way for residential development at the site.

“The day after the M.Z.O. was issued, the agreement of purchase and sale was signed, and it was signed with this numbered company that was based in Concord, Ontario,” Leeson said.

There has been no indication the Eastern Avenue property ever went out for public bidding. The property records obtained by Friends of the Foundry showed the site was purchased by Eastern Avenue (Condo) GP Inc. for nearly $101.2 million. A search of the City of Toronto’s development application information centre appears to show a site plan application hasn’t been submitted for the property.

Leeson and Hurson said they and others want to know what’s going on.

“Openness … what was it that sales thing always be closing right? Always be closing? I don’t want to always be closing to these people. I want to always be opening,” Hurson said on what he’s looking for this year while also pushing for transparency.

RELATED: Demolition of historic Foundry buildings halted until final decision in late February

The documents listed an address for Eastern Avenue (Condo) GP Inc. on Floral Parkway in Concord, which is also the same address as Aspen Ridge Homes — a company affiliated with the De Gasperis family. Companies operated by family members are well-known in Ontario’s development industry.

CityNews emailed Aspen Ridge Homes Thursday afternoon to ask about the current status of the project, the timeframe for when the affordable housing units would be ready, more information on the process for acquiring the property and details on consultations for the final design. A reporter visited the office Friday afternoon to follow up and to try to speak with someone about the project since an email reply wasn’t received, but a representative wasn’t available. A response wasn’t received as of Friday evening.

CityNews also emailed the Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark’s office along with ministry staff on Thursday to ask for details about the affordable housing units and how those rents will be determined along with how exactly Eastern Avenue (Condo) GP Inc. came to be picked to purchase the site, if there was a bidding process and how the money from the sale of the lands was used.

Clark’s office didn’t respond to the requests for information, and most of the questions posed by CityNews surrounding the disposal were ignored by Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing ministry staff. Instead, a statement issued Friday afternoon said the government will “leverage unused provincially owned properties to help achieve this.”

“The lands on Eastern Avenue previously owned by the provincial government were largely unused for 40 years and were transferred to a homebuilder for the purpose of creating more affordable housing in the City of Toronto,” the statement said.

“This plan will help Toronto achieve its affordable housing targets and ensure that more Ontarians can find homes that meet their needs and their budgets while providing better value for taxpayers by putting these properties to productive use.”

Kristyn Wong-Tam, a former Toronto councillor and the current NDP MPP for Toronto Centre, said the party put in an Ontario Freedom of Information (FOI) request in 2021 to try to get answers many said they were looking for.

“What is the sale transaction all about, and for those two years, we’ve been searching for answers,” Wong-Tam asked during an interview with CityNews on Friday.

“Why were they in such a hurry to destroy those heritage properties? We’ve never gotten a straight answer.”

Documents in response to the FOI request given to the Ontario NDP and shared with CityNews by Wong-Tam appeared to be heavily redacted.

“We had always wanted to know what was the rationale behind the demolition of these properties. What was the future plan of the government all along the West Don Lands?” Wong-Tam said.

“We have new construction housing being built, but two years after the rapid and illegal demolition of the Foundry buildings, which the government began, they still haven’t built anything despite the fact that they were rushing to build, rushing to demolish, and they haven’t produced a single unit of housing down in the West Don Lands.”

Wong-Tam also expressed concerns over what appears to be no publicly disclosed or fair bidding process for selling the land.

“This government makes announcements all the time. They stand in front of podiums announcing small contributions and large, and in this case, they said absolutely nothing despite the fact that there’s great public interest in this parcel of land and in this community,” Wong-Tam said.

“It became a provincewide story about what was happening to Ontario’s industrial heritage buildings, and yet they seem to deliberately continue to avoid answering the questions here.”

Meanwhile, as 2023 begins, there are hopes the developer will work with the neighbours on whatever the final design is and that the heritage buildings will shine once again.

“It is our hope [the developer is] going to be willing to bring the community on board in terms of planning how this development is going to integrate with the rest of the community. We’re in favour of housing, especially affordable housing … We’re in favour of density … but it needs to integrate well with infrastructure,” Leeson said.

“There’s a lot that has to happen to make a community balance well and work well, and that’s what we all want. That’s what we want because we’re in the community for good.”

Wong-Tam added the heritage buildings will serve as a great asset for Toronto and one which can be an example that’s similar to the Distillery District.

“I think we need to be investing in those buildings and investing in the neighbourhood and make sure we actually design something that’s architecturally beautiful, that’s deserving of that old industrial hidden heritage while incorporating the modern uses that people require,” Wong-Tam said.

“It should have, and it must have a blend of deeply affordable housing as well as high-quality public realm spaces for people to use all year round.”

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