It’s been mind-boggling to accept the cold reality that the City of Toronto doesn’t truly advocate for the best interest of its residents — we the residents who pay our taxes to fund community services and staff salaries. The social contract feels broken.
South JT Grows has been fighting and advocating for responsible urban development in our 1km area for almost three years. Despite the lies, gaslighting, and threats, we persist.
South JT Grows is a small group of volunteers who work full-time and are caregivers, parents, partners, and neighbours. It’s been a struggle and a challenge to squeeze out extra time to hold billion-dollar developers and the City accountable for deeply affordable homes and responsible urban planning practices. We meet online, on porches, in backyards, in our local pub, and on the sidewalk. The city has abandoned our community. Our attempts for media attention have been unsuccessful. We are alone. We persist. Our continued persistence has angered a BILLION dollar REIT. Kingsett Capital employs up to 250 people, they own “interests in a $12.5 billion portfolio of assets” and they can afford to hire law firms to represent them.
Recently, Kingsett Capital’s lawyers snail-mailed and emailed the directors (all volunteers) of our non-profit corporation claiming that they could be held personally liable for damages. Additionally, the letter accused the directors of making “...false allegations regarding building deficiencies allegedly caused by our clients’ “negligence” " despite the reality of what tenants have publicly stated, including in a city council meeting, where representatives from Kingsett were present.
Moreover, Kingsett also claims that the directors are abusing the Judicial review process because they filed an application questioning the OLT’s conduct and procedures between community laypersons and moneyed developers. As a result of the directors’ actions, Kingsett claims that they “...impeded the sale of the lands, causing more than two purchasers to not proceed with their offers of Purchase and Sale.”
In October 2022, Kingsett executives used a community mural (at no cost to a billion-dollar company) as a quid pro quo. Yet, somehow, it’s the moneyed and powerful corporation that is portraying themselves as victims to a small community group of volunteers.
In addition to Kingsett Capital, South JT Grows is continuing to fight at the OLT over the Brad Lamb development proposal. On 21 September 2021, the City issued a report to attend the OLT to oppose the proposal on the grounds that the building didn’t conform to the City's Official Plan, specifically, the public realm, the built form, and land use designation policies, citing the City’s Tall Building Design Guidelines and Growing Up Guidelines. The report also stated that Brad Lamb didn’t show any intention to meet any of the guidelines.
South JT Grows was optimistic about the City’s report and began working to create a case using the City’s reasons to further our evidence by also cross-examining the City’s experts. The City legal council also tried to encourage us NOT to seek party status for the OLT because they would represent our concerns. Months of emails and meetings later, we discover that the City has capitulated to Brad Lamb. The City also removed their witness list for us to cross-examine at the tribunal — the City experts we were relying on. We're stunned. The City further stated that they won’t volunteer any staff for us to cross-examine and instructed South JT Grows to request summonses to call on City staff as witnesses. We persist. We issued multiple summonses.
The City's lawyers have been misleading, misrepresenting, delaying, and unsupportive. Then we discovered that the City's legal counsel recommended a confidential settlement which City Council accepted with the support of Councillor Bravo! The settlement DOESN’T adequately address community issues.
We requested an adjournment because of this last-minute blindside but were denied. The OLT’s adjudicator wouldn’t allow us to finish making submissions. So, on 2023, July 4, we go to the OLT ALONE. We will be representing the concerns of the community as the sole representatives of the community.
To add to the list of City betrayals, we also discovered that on 6 June, the hard-won fight to get a heritage designation for 221 Sterling Road, our vibrant artist community, was removed by City Council. No one discussed the 2022 August 15, City Council meeting, where the council adopted the decision to “...state its intention to designate the property at 221 Sterling Road (including active entrances at 225 and 227 Sterling Road) under Part IV, Section 29 of the Ontario Heritage Act as set out in the City Council decision...” It was as though all previous heritage analyses and meetings never happened.
As South JT Grows prepares for an OLT hearing beginning 2023 July 4, we learn at the last minute, the City of Toronto made a settlement agreement with Firm Capital (owners of 221 Sterling Road), in addition to withdrawing their issues with respect to the neighbouring property at 1405 Bloor Street (the Brad Lamb application). Since both of the developments are interconnected - the success of South JT Grows at the OLT will have an impact on the development at 221 Sterling Road.
We’re confused about the withdrawal of the heritage appeal. Has the City of Toronto altered the Heritage status of 221 as approved by City Council on August 15, 2022? We had filed to be added as a party to that appeal and aren’t agreeable to the settlement reached between 221 Sterling and the City of Toronto. We weren’t advised of the Settlement until AFTER the decision had been finalized. South JT Grows had been acting on a good faith basis that we’d be informed of settlement negotiations as we’d previously been involved in mediation meetings.
It’s very disappointing that after all of the hard work done by the City Staff and the community to support the many talented unique artists, residents, and businesses in this last-of-its-kind cultural hub — the City lawyers throw it all away in a secret backroom deal.
From a Report for Action, dated 2022 August 3:
“In the opinion of Heritage Planning staff, the property at 221 Sterling Road is a rare and unique example of a former industrial complex that evolved to accommodate various manufacturing uses, and later gained prominence for its adaptive reuse as an incubator of arts and culture. Few such examples of live-work complexes remain extant in Toronto. The property is directly associated with the Canadian Fairbanks-Morse Company, and with the themes of industrial development as well as arts and culture in the area. The property is important in maintaining and supporting the character of Sterling Road as a former industrial streetscape, which has evolved as an area known for supporting arts and culture. The adjacent property at 213 Sterling Road, which was also associated with the Canadian Fairbanks-Morse Company, stands in clear architectural dialogue with the property at 221 Sterling Road.“
South JT GROWS and the residents of 221 Sterling Lofts are extremely disappointed in the City's reversal of their position without explanation or without formal redress. Our position remains unchanged in our commitment to defend the interests of the community of South Junction Triangle and in particular the incredible people of the historic Sterling Lofts.
South JT Grows is considering all options to hold the city accountable for secretly undermining democratic public and transparent decision-making.
Large development firms have the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) stacked with real estate insiders adjudicating cases; they have the Ford government’s support and the provincial Planning Act on their side. It’s been a difficult experience for a small group of volunteers to navigate. The condo proposals in the South JT don’t meet missing middle housing. The right to make profits in real estate development exists but it shouldn’t be unlimited over the fundamental right to creating sustainable and equitable communities.
South JT Grows will head to the OLT and cross-examine City staff to prove that their plans are good developments.