Meeting Report, October 21
Sorry if this is a bit long-winded, but I'd rather to go to bed than edit anymore.
I attended the meeting this evening at Harbourfront Community Centre. It was another packed room. Most of the people seemed to be from the immediate Bathurst Quay neighborhood and it was a notably older and more mixed-income crowd than the Cityplace Block 31 meeting last week. Several speakers mentioned having lived there for decades. Adam Vaughan hosted and there were several City staff including a planner and heritage expert.
They began by noting that the marine leg removal on the east side has commenced (as noted by an earlier post) and east dock wall repairs will happen soon. (I think they said within the next year.) This is already decided and budgeted for. The dock wall has to be repaired anyway because it is so badly deteriorated. Removing the marine leg will open up a promenade along the east side of the complex all the way from Queens Quay to Ireland Park. Some of the marine leg equipment will be stored for possible future use in an interpretive display.
As for the main site, according to the engineering reports the structure is in imminent danger of collapse in a matter of a few years and a final decision has to be made within months to either stabilize them or tear them down once and for all.
The phrase “$hit or get off the toilet” was not used, but that was the gist. There are no plans yet; the purpose of the meeting was simply to get community ideas.
If the silos are saved, it will only be to stabilize them structurally. Converting them into functioning buildings or any other active use is completely out of the question
at the moment, but isn’t precluded in the long term. They said the engineering is difficult and the silos don’t have a lot of internal load-bearing capacity. At most it might be feasible to build a single floor of say conference space or a lookout area at the top of northern silos for now.
If the silos are saved, the likely approach will be to demolish all the western buildings leaving only the silos themselves. Some of the land west of the silos and south of the community centre would then be sold for private development, with the proceeds being used to fund the silo stabilization and provide more community amenities.
A pool was suggested as a vague possibility. The city planner showed a possible residential development idea involving a 16 story tower with a podium and some townhouses. This wasn’t a specific proposal; it was simply to illustrate the order of magnitude of any project that would be necessary to make the whole thing financially viable. They said the city would retain air strata rights above 16 stories in any such scenario to guarantee that nothing taller could be built, and that even the OMB couldn’t overrule it.
Two main things came out of the ensuing discussion. First, a surprising number of people want to demolish the site entirely. Second, the people preferred commercial and retail to residential development.
I was quite surprised by the first point that many people wanted to demolish the silos. The room actually cheered a few times when this was mentioned. A show of hands found about half the room agreed and half disagreed. Someone asked if the newer 1944 northern silos could be demolished while preserving the only older 1929 southern ones. The heritage expert was reluctant to say that the southern ones were more significant, but reading between the lines it seemed clear that was a possibility.
Someone asked why we need to maintain these silos when there are also the silos on the east end of the waterfront. Why not tear down one and focus all the resources on the other? Vaughan argued that first, it was better culturally to have the two bookending the waterfront instead of just one, and more practically that the other silos are privately owned with a heritage designation requiring the owners to maintain them. If the City neglects and then demolishes its own silos, then it will be very hard to continue to force the private owners to maintain the east silos. Vaughan also argued that this would make it politically difficult for the City to enforce heritage designations for regular buildings.
It was suggested that those who want them demolished should be careful what the wish for. Their presence and restoration would make it easier to tie the land sale proceeds to local area improvements, and to put heavy restrictions on the private development. But if they were demolished entirely, then the reality of Council politics and budget pressures would probably mean that the sale proceeds would disappear into the general City capital budget without necessarily benefitting the local area, and it would probably be harder to control the details of the private development.
Regarding the second point, the audience was generally opposed to more residential in the area and made the usual complains about density and traffic. They preferred a mix of public and private cultural and entertainment venues such as restaurants, a movie theatre, stores, etc. They complained about existing lack of such amenities, and the need for them given the influx of new condo residents to the north. Someone suggested moving some of Harbourfront Community Centre’s existing functions into a new building on the site, freeing up space along Queens Quay that could be rented out to retail. One person complained that there is no bar in the area.
(Actually there is a lonely Japanese restaurant.) It wasn’t clear to me how this would work. My impression is that the land sale to private interests is essential to provide funding for the silo stabilization and new public amenities, but would a purely retail or commercial building with no residential raise enough funds?
At the end they agreed to form a citizen steering committee and ask Council to defer the final decision on whether to demolish or restore until January, giving the committee time to come up with a general plan for the area. There is also some sort of report going to Council on November 2.
A few other miscellaneous points:
• Someone mentioned that the old Maple Leaf Quay silos at Peter slip had been extremely difficult to demolish and went way over budget. Vaughan said that was because they were more structurally sound. The Canada Malting silos on the other hand have deteriorated so much that they will be easy to demolish.
• The land title is a bit unclear because a huge number of public agencies, some not even existing anymore, have had interests and covenants on the site over the years. Toronto Waterfront is not interested in incorporating this into its plans precisely because of this.
• The Toronto Port Authority wants to demolish the whole thing and built a surface parking lot.
• The quay on the east side of the slip, currently housing an underground parking lot and marina, was discussed. Some residents would like commercial and retail there, such as a restaurant. Vaughan noted that there are a complicated ownership and leasing arrangements there split between the federal government, City and Harbourfront Centre, which derives revenue from the parking garage, whose lower levels are currently flooded and unusable and being pumped out continually.
• Someone asked about using the silos for geothermal storage. It wasn’t ruled out in the long run but again is out of the question now.
• Someone asked about the Mississauga New Credit natives, who apparently have some sort of treaty water landing rights in the area, which is complicated by the fact that the waterfront has been moved over the past two hundred years.
• Something was mentioned about a possible Tall Ship festival in a few years.