Note: this article was revised at 7:50 PM, Feb 9, 2012.

Heritage has it tough in this town when it comes to new developments. (See: demolition of Odette House at 81 Wellesley St E for the latest example of a loss.)

But sometimes heritage buildings do find new uses, often through a negotiation process with the city and the developer so that the old building is reused to the satisfaction of Heritage Preservation Services and the Toronto Preservation Board as well as the developer who is ultimately out to make money.

But what if a group of neighbourhood citizens comes in and wants a different plan?

Usually community members want to preserve buildings. When they are successful there is a sigh of relief, except when the local citizens would prefer to turn a heritage building into ruins.

Such is the case with 129 St. Clair West.

Deer Park United Church, photo by drum118

Here on St. Clair near Avenue Road lies the former Deer Park United Church, which received heritage designation in 2008. "Deer Park United Church began in 1881 as Deer Park Presbyterian Mission. In 1925, the congregation voted to join the newly formed United Church of Canada. From 1913 to 2008, the congregation of Deer Park United Church worshipped at 129 St. Clair Avenue West in Toronto, until the maintenance costs of the church’s building necessitated a relocation." (source)

The new owner of the property, Diamond Corp, went through discussions with the City with whom they came to an agreement whereby the Deer Park United Church was left pretty much intact, and a tower was to be put immediately to the south of the church. The church was to be retrofitted as condos.

Next, a working group made up of local residents including members from the Deer Park Residents Association and the Foxbar Neighbourhood Association, wanted the tower moved closer to St. Clair and away from the more low-rise portion of Foxbar Road.

Foxbar Road, located immediately south of 129 St. Clair, photo by drum118

This was to be done at the expense of losing more of the heritage property. These changes were incorprated into the plan, and this became the application which was submitted and ultimately approved. For reference: Toronto Preservation Board approval and the City Planning heritage easement agreement and report.

With work done by architect Michael McClelland of E.R.A. Architects, a well-known figure and proponent of heritage planning and development, and work by Diamond & Schmitt Architects, one could expect an excellent final product. Stone from the demolished portion of the church will even be reused in the three-story townhouse portion of the development along Foxbar Road. In the end, this is a heritage success story.


129 St. Clair, image courtesy of DiamondCorp


Not so fast: the neighbourhood citizen working group had an alternate plan.

They wanted to take the roof off of what remained of the heritage designated church, lower the walls, remove portions of the original building and then turn it into a ruins and courtyard. In the mind of the working group, the old church was a congregation, so they want to create an open public space for community congregation. The developer had a choice to take this proposal to the Toronto Preservation Board, but they chose to work with the City's recommendation to retrofit the church.

Currently, outside of the recommendation of Heritage Preservation Services, the working group is pushing the developer and the Councillor to create ruins of the heritage designated church. As a result, the neighbourhood would receive a new courtyard, but at the expense of retaining a functional heritage building.

Deer Park United Church, photo by drum118

In the staff report, Heritage Preservation Services has already implied that they will not approve this (“Planning staff had substantial concerns with the [neighbourhood working group] proposed heritage conservation strategy as it does not satisfy provincial and municipal requirements nor does it adequately conserve the heritage property according to relevant standards which call for minimal intervention”), but the neighbourhood is continuing to work with Councillor Josh Matlow and the developer to make the alternate plan a reality.

St. Clair Ave looking east from 129 St. Clair, photo by drum118

Any changes made from the currently approved plan would require going through all the channels of approval again, including the request to create the ruins going back to the Toronto Preservation Board for report. Both plans are intended to be presented to Toronto and East York Community Council meeting on February 14.

129 St. Clair, image courtesy of Diamond & Schmitt

The other issue at hand is loss of time and effort that was put into this application by Heritage Preservation Services. There is a long waiting list of properties that are waiting to receive this treatment. When buildings are requested to receive heritage designation or listing it requires time for research to determine each building's value. We often know that a building has heritage value, but the work still needs to be done formally. So when a neighbourhood decides to ignore the expert advice, evidence, and time put into the application, it means that they are leaving less time for HPS to work on saving buildings like 81 Wellesley.

Will we get an approved retrofit or willful demolition of a heritage designated building? We'll find out next Tuesday.

Join the conversation in the 129 St. Clair thread.

Related Companies:  Camrost-Felcorp, Diamond Corp, Diamond Schmitt Architects, Janet Rosenberg & Studio, Live Patrol Inc.