Residents are urging the City to make heritage designation changes a priority

Summerhill, Leaside and Lawrence Park singled out in report


Published:

Barbara Mason in front of her home on Donlea Drive in Leaside

Some Midtown residents are concerned by the number of residential tear-downs in their neighbourhoods and argue the city should make sweeping heritage designation changes a priority.

A Toronto Preservation Board’s recommendation to hurry up and undertake Heritage Conservation District Studies for several areas, including Lawrence Park, as well as cultural heritage resource assessment studies for Leaside and Summerhill, will soon be considered by Toronto City Council. 

Geoff Kettel of the Leaside Property Owners’ Association said requests to demolish homes in Leaside come up at the committee of adjustment every couple weeks. 

“There’s no protection on any of it,” said Kettel. “We continue to get monster homes that erode the character of the neighbourhood.”

Tamara Anson-Cartwright, program manager for City of Toronto’s Heritage Preservation Services, explained the purpose of the heritage distinction is to put a limit on the types of changes landowners in a given area can make to their properties.

Summerhill resident Susan Stock, who also belongs to the Summerhill Heritage Group, would like to see such recognition for her midtown community.

“Heritage preservation is part of good planning,” said Stock. “What you preserve is part of the fabric of your city, and so there should be a greater overview.” 

She also suggested conservation creates “more livable” urban environments. She bemoans the loss of important buildings downtown and doesn’t want to see the same fate befall Summerhill.

In Leaside, Barbara Mason welcomed the possibility of a heritage district too. 

“I don’t want the government to tell me what I can and cannot do to my own house.”

“It’s about community. It’s not about not in my backyard or looking out for myself or how do I get the biggest buck,” she noted. 

Bylaw changes can’t come soon enough for her. Based on how she has seen Leaside develop over the nearly 30 years she has called it home, Mason has decided to move to Picton, Ont., once her husband, a teacher, retires in the coming years.

“There used to be a visual synergy here,” she said. “You were a left staircase or a right staircase [kind of house] — that was kind of the joke,” she added. Now she looks forward to moving into the Victorian home in Prince Edward County that she purchased four years ago and currently resides in for part of the year. 

In Lawrence Park, Katherine Armstrong said she’s on the fence about the area becoming a heritage district. Previously, some local residents had been vocally opposed to the historic neighbourhood attaining heritage district status. Armstrong, who has lived here for four years, sees both sides.

“I’m of two minds. On the one hand, I like the charm of having older houses in my neighbourhood. I think that provides more scenic, well, charm,” she explained. “And on the flip side, I don’t want the government to tell me what I can and cannot do to my house.”

Anson-Cartwright said that even within Toronto’s heritage districts, there is room for homeowners to alter their properties. 

“With districts, what’s protected is what’s visible from the street or from the public realm,” she said.

For interior renovations or rear-end additions, for example, a homeowner would only need the usual paperwork and approvals, she said. And they may still be able to demolish a building entirely if it were considered “non-contributing” to the neighbourhood’s heritage.

“There’s flexibility for those non-heritage [buildings], but you are within a district. I don’t want to say it’s just like anywhere else. We only have 26 of them [heritage districts] in the city, so it’s something important,” said Anson-Cartwright.

If approved, the recommendation would follow the listing of 258 heritage buildings in the Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue area this past September. 

“In this case, at Yonge-Eglinton, the area hadn’t been thoroughly surveyed before, so that’s why the number was so high,” Anson-Cartwright explained.

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