Sugar plant worries ships will wake condo owners
But planners say a mixed-use strategy that includes grit of industry is key to vibrant Toronto waterfront
Jan 03, 2009 04:30 AM
It's a rather romantic idea: Massive sugar-bearing freighters travelling low in the water, their gargantuan hulls weighted by the sweet bounty of Brazil. Even more seductive is the idea of watching that journey conclude beneath the silvery light of the moon from high atop your waterfront love nest.
Until the captain hits the horn.
"Our concern is, while we can make the plant reasonably quiet, ships are not quiet," says Jonathan Bamberger, president of Redpath Sugar, a 50-year-old facility at the foot of Yonge St., smack in the heart of a rapidly developing section of Toronto's waterfront.
"When the ship comes in it might turn around, it might arrive at 2 in the morning. The horn blows, the cranes move," he says, adding, "It's not good to have condominiums right next to something that is a 24-hour operation outside."
As the city's plans to redevelop Toronto's waterfront move forward, old elements like the Redpath plant are being incorporated.
The condo project in question is Pier 27, to be built immediately west of the plant by Cityzen Development Group.
"Where else can you get a view like this?" partner Joseph Cordiano says of the waterfront site. "There is a lot of activity, a lot of life."
Construction is to begin in spring, and Cityzen hopes to have at least one of the two buildings completed 30 months after breaking ground. There will be 685 units over both buildings; about 70 per cent have been sold.
Because the buildings will butt up against the property line, bylaws required the company to design noise-shielding elements.
Potential buyers expect a certain level of water traffic, Cordiano says, adding it won't be much more intrusive than the clatter of streetcars elsewhere. "In the summer it's quite a pleasant thing to sit here and watch the vessels go by."
Units were selling this fall despite the economic downturn, says Cordiano, former Ontario minister of economic development and trade.
"If there is a silver lining in this, it is that construction prices are starting to fall and material prices are starting to fall a little bit, so we are getting off the peak of pricing."
Sugar production and sales are expected to remain stable. Bamberger is working with the developers to make sure the plant and residents can live side-by-side.
Everyone involved admits that if it's handled properly there is something rather romantic about watching the ships come in.
"The most boring waterfronts in the world are the ones that have been sort of sterilized and sanitized," says John Campbell, president and chief executive officer of Waterfront Toronto, the agency responsible for directing waterfront revitalization.
"So in the Redpath situation we have gone through a fairly extensive process of saying, `How are we going to do this in a way that both sides can live together and co-exist?'"
To Campbell's mind, it's poor waterfront planning to design it for pre-cast condos and sailing slips, but little else.
"The shipping is what gives the harbour its excitement."
Founded in 1854, Redpath Sugar Ltd. is Canada's oldest sugar refiner and has its roots in Montreal, but is now a wholly owned subsidiary of American Sugar Refining Inc. The Toronto site, opened by Queen Elizabeth, was completed in 1959. There is so much history tied to Redpath, the plant has its own museum, open free to the public.
That the product produced here is sugar makes it seem a benign form of industry, but it is industry nonetheless.
Potential noise is really only a problem at night, Campbell says. The ships that bring in raw sugar from tropical ports are often more than 120 metres long. Ships that size are exceptionally expensive to operate so they must be unloaded as quickly as possible, regardless of the hour they arrive.
Massive cranes and metal scoops empty the ship's hull, moving swiftly about 21 metres above the dock.
The pier ends up smeared with a sweet slurry of raw sugar and water that pools into murky puddles and forms a thick paste that squelches under boots. It has a predictably sweet and slightly musty scent, like unfinished beer.
Microscopic particles stirred up by the massive cranes and backhoes used to shift the raw material are carried by the wind. Those particles can settle to form a thin, crystalline coating on nearby surfaces.
Campbell said studies to determine if the sugar runoff was corrosive or created any health hazards revealed no concerns.
Just east of the sugar dock, past the site of a future park to be called Sugar Beach, is the Corus Entertainment building being constructed by the Toronto Economic Development Corp. (TEDCO).
"One of the beauties of the city of Toronto's waterfront plan is to mix the uses," says Jeffrey Steiner, TEDCO's president and chief executive officer. "But that also brings about challenges, because you can't always have heavy industry right next to a university or condominium or house."
Though the sugar dust is not toxic, it could cause other problems, so elaborate plans have been made to clean the office building and air vents have been incorporated to deal with the occasions when sugar dust might billow over the site.
The Corus building was also designed to act as a noise buffer for its occupants and people who will live in the residential area planned further east.
Finding ways to work shipping into future development is essential to Toronto's waterfront, Campbell says, adding that about 250 ships visit it each year. "It would be a real loss if we lost the shipping."