Midtown businesses don’t want heritage status

Landowners contest listing of 258 properties on city’s register


Dianne Monkman is critical of the city’s push to hand out heritage status on main streets

Toronto City Council has granted 258 properties heritage status in Midtown, but some business owners are calling the batch listing a poor move by the city.

The aggressive push by the city comes after years of historical — and not so historical — buildings have been bulldozed to make way for tall glassy condos as developers grapple for land in a growing city. Midtown has been one of the hardest hit areas in recent years with the seemingly endless presence of cranes and dust in the air. 

The batch listing on the Toronto  Heritage Register was approved by city council in early October. It singled out two- and three-storey buildings on main streets such as Yonge Street, Eglinton Avenue, Mount Pleasant Road and Bayview Avenue. 

The list has caused a number of small business owners and landowners to worry they may now pay the price for lack of a better plan to address overdevelopment.

“I’ve owned the building for almost 30 years. That’s my retirement. I don’t want someone to tell me what to do,” Dianne Monkman, owner of Jacaranda Tree & Co on Mount Pleasant, said.

“I think there are a number of issues. Without giving me any true explanation, they are taking away my rights as a property owner. They can’t arbitrarily tell us what we can and can not do,” she added.

Owners of listed properties have to answer to the city’s official plan and prove how they will conserve the heritage building if they choose to redevelop. They will also be obligated to give 60 days notice ahead of any demolition.

Although Monkman said she has received little feedback from the city, she was told the brick that runs along the top of her building was enough to justify the listing.

David Zammit, who owns Bernardi’s Antiques on Mount Pleasant, agreed with Monkman and noted that the precedent set by the batch listing could affect the value of his property should he sell. 

“I understand that they [the city] don’t want to just see everything be glass condos, but I think they need to set guidelines or rules rather than just telling me that I can’t sell my building,” he said.  

“I’ve owned the building for almost 30 years. That’s my retirement. I don’t want someone to tell me what to do.”

Another problem small business owners have identified is that few of them can afford the steep price tag of most addresses in the area. It is developers who can foot this bill. 

A building at 1642 Bayview Ave. on the northwest corner of Manor Road East, for example, was included in the batch listing and is currently on the market for $6.5 million with 5,375 square feet.

Zammit also said that some buildings have simply been passed over for heritage status, with no obvious reason why, which has caused further confusion and upset.

“They are picking and choosing, which also isn’t really fair,” he said.

City councillor Josh Matlow said he understands their fears but defended the steps being taken by the city’s heritage staff and planning committee.

“I agree there should not be an arbitrary sterilization of properties. That is not what the city is doing,” Matlow said and added that these listings will improve the historical value of the community. 

Larry Biricz, a resident and property owner in Midtown, argued the city ignored the business and commercial side of the issue when city staff consulted residents alone. 

“To have grabbed 258 properties after consulting with residential groups was a mistake in approach,” Biricz said. “They talked to the residents who said, ‘Yeah not in my backyard, heritage everything.’ ” 

According to Matlow, these listings would have been ultimately inevitable.

“Consultation isn’t going to affect the heritage planning staff’s recommendations because it’s not subjective. They look at fact-based merits of architectural or cultural heritage. They don’t consult with councillors either. It either is or it isn’t,” Matlow said.

However Biricz said he remains firmly against the city’s approach. 

“The heritage registry is the wrong tool for a problem about development,” he said.

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