Willowdale proposed development called ‘sacrilegious’ by opponents

Plans for a major affordable housing development on the grounds of a Christian university in North York are pitting Toronto’s former chief city planner against local residents, some of whom charge that building towers on the site would amount to sacrilege. .

Markee Developments, a company co-founded by former Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat, is working with Tyndale University to build an 85,000-square-foot, 1,530-unit residential development on the school’s campus at 3377 Bayview Ave. south of Steeles Ave.

A revised application the company submitted earlier this year proposes 14 residential and mixed-use buildings between six and 20 stories tall on the 22.75-hectare property. All of the units in the project, called Tyndale Green, would be rented and half would be permanently designated as affordable to middle-income individuals. Most of the college buildings would remain, and Tyndale would continue to operate the school and own the property.

A proposal for Tyndale University would see an 85,000-square-meter, 1,530-unit residential development built on part of the campus on Bayview Avenue, just south of Steeles Avenue.

Mark Richardson, technical lead for HousingNowTO, a volunteer group that monitors Toronto’s progress on its housing plans, said Markee’s proposal is the kind of project the city needs to address its affordable housing crisis. He said it is by far the largest proposed development under the city’s Open Door initiative, which offers private groups incentives to build affordable housing.

“You will need to pass hundreds of projects like Tyndale Green by 2030 to meet your affordable housing goals,” Richardson said at a North York community council meeting on May 24. The council has committed to approving 40,000 affordable homes over the next decade. .

But local resident groups opposed to the plan have nominated 3377 Bayview Ave. for heritage status, in what they say is an effort to protect it. The Bayview Woods Neighborhood Association has hired prominent Toronto attorney Alan Heisey and heritage architect Chris Borgal to help make its case to the city, and the group and its allies are calling on the council to enact an interim control statute that it would effectively freeze development in Tyndale while the city conducts a heritage review.

Before the university took over the property in 2013, it was owned by the Sisters of St. Joseph, a Roman Catholic women’s congregation. The chapel and school buildings on the site date from around 1960, and some members of the community argue that the property is particularly significant because Pope John Paul II stayed in the Mother House there for three days. during his 2002 visit to Toronto for World Youth Day.

Harriett Altman, secretary of the Bayview Valley Taxpayers Association, another group backing the estate plan, told the community council that losing even a fraction of the existing buildings would be unacceptable.

“There is so much heritage on this property,” he said, citing the pontiff’s visit and his canonization in 2014. “Tearing down any part of it is sacrilege.”

In addition to heritage concerns, residents’ groups have also raised objections about the density and height of Tyndale Green, its proximity to existing housing and its potential negative impact on traffic, city service provision and the German Mills Natural Heritage. Creek Valley, the university turns its back.

Some residents oppose the proposal for major new affordable housing on the Tyndale University campus.

HousingNowTO’s Richardson dismissed the residents’ groups’ arguments as a red herring for homeowners who simply oppose any changes to their neighborhoods. He said many of the same groups are also campaigning against nearby modular affordable housing plans.

“Maybe they just don’t agree with any affordable housing in that part of North York,” he said.

But city planning staff also have reservations. In a report to the community council, they wrote that elements of the Markee proposal do not align with important planning policies and recommended that while staff should continue discussions with the developer, the city should oppose the development in Court. Ontario Lands (OLT). Markee appealed to the OLT in March after the council failed to make a decision on his application by the legislated deadline.

Kevin Kirk, senior vice president of external relations for Tyndale, which is a nondenominational school, acknowledged that the campus buildings have historical significance, particularly for residents of the Catholic faith. He said the administration and Markee are working to address legitimate community concerns. But Tyndale, who would collect revenue from the development, believes the project will be beneficial to the university and the community at large.

“Almost every urban center in the country is dealing with an affordable housing crisis, and this is one way we can be good neighbors,” Kirk said.

In an interview, Keesmaat said he believed Markee’s proposal complies with relevant planning policies and that it’s natural for developers to have to negotiate the details of their plans with city staff. She predicted that Tyndale Green will be built, and when it’s finished, it will be celebrated as a precedent-setting model for more affordable housing.

But he cautioned that affordable housing projects have good margins for private developers, and having to litigate an application through the OLT can lead to delays and higher costs that threaten the financial viability of a plan.

“It’s quite annoying to be spending money on lawyers when we could be spending money on improving the public realm (of development) or deepening the level of affordability,” he said.

The community council approved the staff recommendation to oppose development on the OLT, and the issue will go to council next month. Local Councilwoman Shelley Carroll (Ward 17, Don Valley North) said she is confident the city can work with Markee to resolve outstanding issues.

“There’s a lot to figure out, but I think there’s a way forward,” he said.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter who covers city hall and city politics for the Star. Contact him via email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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