From the balcony: "You said you were here to listen. So get off your phone and listen!" From the balcony: "You said you were here to listen. So get off your phone and listen!" Yukon Damov
On display Thursday night at College Street United Church was an expression of NIMBYism tinged with religious fervor, as developer RioCan confronted its first public consultation for a proposed big-box store on the edge of Kensington Market.
The proposed development was as much an object of scorn as its potential tenant, Wal Mart, and RioCan’s own representatives.

“We’ll have a similar crowd on Sunday, so come early,” joked Minister Christopher Levan, addressing an audience that crammed the pews, lined the walls, sat on the stage, and spilled out the door.

“There are much better corporate citizens [than Wal Mart],” he said.

At issue is the latest fight in a series of battles pitting the identity of Kensington Market as a haven for eclectic and independent businesses against a corporate foe. An online petition opposing the proposal had garnered more than 50,000 signatures before the meeting began. Starbucks withdrew from an attempt to open a cafe in 2008. Local activist group Friends of Kensington Market is currently working to keep Loblaws from opening a store on College Street, east of Augusta Avenue.

“To build the city we want is to maintain the diversity of local independent businesses,” said Councillor Mike Layton, who opposes the project.

An atmosphere of opposition swirled throughout the sanctuary. A graffiti banner with the slogan “No Walmart No Big Box” was unfurled in front of the altar, but with no place to hang it, was held up to applause for just a few minutes. From the tiny balcony, a couple women held signs simply reading, “NO.”

During the hour of audience comments, nearly every speaker said they were from Kensington Market, though the proposed building will lie on the boundary of Kensington Market and Little Italy. None spoke in favour of the development. But, in that room, anybody who was considering the idea probably decided to save themselves the trouble and wrote a note for the comment box at the back.

At one point, City planner Lynda MacDonald stepped in to say, “I appreciate there are some strong feelings here, but let’s try and separate the applicant from the application.” Occasional shouts of “Shame!” had been directed toward Rio Can representatives, who were also asked just how much they would profit from the project.

“I tell you as a resident and as a neighbour that this project must be stopped,” said Councillor Adam Vaughan, who lives in the ward, but represents the one beside it. “If Kensington Market is hurt or bleeds one drop of blood, it is on your good name!” he exclaimed, to rapturous applause, and while looking directly at the RioCan representatives. He also said that the proposal could not be allowed to damage “the soul of Toronto.”

After being rejected twice already last year—once by the City and then by the Ontario Municipal Board—RioCan has applied for a zoning amendment to the site, which is on the west side of Bathurst Street, between College Street and Dundas Street. The Planning Department will present a report to the City in the last quarter of 2013.

RioCan’s proposal is to erect a three-story building with 129,000 square feet of retail space. The ground floor would include small units and the top two floors would be home to one occupant—thus the “big-box” space for which Wal Mart has signed a tentative agreement with RioCan.

For their part, Rio Can’s representatives accurately judged the audience’s mood and tried for pacification before the comment period got underway. RioCan is “committed to listening to your concerns,” said its land-use lawyer. He argued that that the project complied with the “intent” of the City’s Official Plan to encourage appropriate growth and “will not adversely affect nearby shopping districts,” a comment which was met with derision.

MacDonald, the City planner, noted that RioCan had made reductions to the scale of its proposal, decreasing its height and gross floor area. But for Kensington residents the Devil is not in the details; he is, one might say, in a suit.

Additional Info

  • Subtitle:
comments powered by Disqus