Toronto.com: 'Like wildfire': people in Scarborough's Birch Cliff are determined to take on a developer

Posted January 8, 2022

It started as a neighbourhood rumour and is turning into a fight requiring their own time and money against a strong opponent.

And yet people behind Save Birch Cliff Village (SBCV) are not backing down.

“This one is the one where the community has decided to take a stand,” says Rob Carmichael, a board member of the newly formed Birch Cliff Community Residents Association which is running the campaign.

Birch Cliff, he said, had simmered over redevelopment for a couple of years when word of Altree Development’s proposal “took off like wildfire in the community.”

Residents were angry about The Manderley, an approved but still unbuilt 12-storey Kingston Road condominium for which neighbours, after many meetings, agreed to extra height in exchange for an appearance matching the area.

They felt duped, Carmichael said, when The Manderley’s builder sold to another, who ignored the new design.

Feelings then boiled over when Altree, a third developer, announced its own 10-storey proposal last fall covering most of another block on Kingston, including two house lots on Birchcliff Avenue, a street where Carmichael lives.

Low-rise buildings called the Lenmore Court Apartments would be torn down, their tenants displaced.

Though Altree later said tenants would be guaranteed rental units in the building, people in Birch Cliff objected to what some tenants and advocacy group Toronto ACORN called a “demoviction,” the project’s size and encroachment on a residential street. A group presented these objections in points residents call the Five Asks.

Altree changed and resubmitted its proposal, which now places rental units in a separate building. After waiting the required 120 days, it appealed in August to the Ontario Land Tribunal, as is its right, bypassing the city’s approval process.

The group has incorporated — letting it oppose Altree’s plan as a party at the OLT — but must fight in an unfamiliar quasi-judicial arena and may need $50,000 to hire a lawyer and planner.

It doesn’t have long: the first conference before the hearing begins Jan. 24.

Four families, including Carmichael’s, initially gave $1,250 each. Last Friday, 10 days of community-wide fundraising had raised $16,000

“We’re novices at this but we’re very determined,” said Carmichael.

“Maybe we don’t win, but I would much prefer for us to try as hard as we can to get there.”

From the start, Altree’s proposal hung over the neighbourhood as a constant source of stress, said Travis Kelly, who also lives on Birchcliff.

It should be the city dealing with a developer, instead of “just families and parents on a couple of streets,” he said, but believes residents have no other choice.

Kelly is contributing money and time because, he said, the neighbourhood’s quality of life is worth more than $50,000.

With things moving faster than residents thought, he added, “We have to go door to door with our hand out saying, ‘If you care at all, give what you can.’ ”

Residents can’t expect to know what the city will do about Altree’s proposal until months after the January conference takes place.

There may be mediation with Altree before city councillors decide, based on staff advice, what position to take.

Local councillor Gary Crawford may be part of mediation and recently said he considers the proposal “far too dense.”

“What I’ll fight to protect is in the best interests of the community,” he told a Nov. 30 community meeting.

In a Dec. 13 statement in response to questions, Altree said it won’t outline its reasons for the appeal before the OLT conference, which is a public meeting.

The developer said its revised proposal is an improvement on the first “based on feedback from residents,” including Lenmore Court tenants who were offered replacement apartments outside Birch Cliff and considered that undesirable.

Asked how it would respond to residents who thought their proposals are too tall or out of character for their neighbourhood, Altree said Toronto needs one million new homes in the next 10 years.

“We want to celebrate the livability of Scarborough neighbourhoods and contribute to the local fabric with mid-rise projects that we feel are the appropriate scale.”

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Article by Mike Adler for Toronto.com

 

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