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Future of Large-Format Retail Near Kensington Market Still Uncertain

The Ontario Municipal Board has put the brakes on one proposed development, while another charges ahead full steam.

Kensington Market, on a good day. Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/metrix_feet/8013445218/"}Metrix X{/a}, from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

Kensington Market is a neighbourhood that seems to face a new existential threat—or, at any rate, a perceived existential threat—every year. If it’s not Starbucks or swing gates, it’s development.

This coming year, it’s probably going to be development.

On Tuesday, the Ontario Municipal Board released a decision on the fate of a plot of land on the Market’s western border. The plot is owned by Riotrin, a holding company majority owned by real-estate giant RioCan.

The land, which includes the former site of Kromer Radio as well as some surrounding lots, is big enough to accommodate a substantial shopping centre. RioCan applied to the City’s committee of adjustment for permission to build a three-storey building with 12,000 square metres of retail space there. That amount of space is more than enough to accommodate a supermarket. The notion of a Loblaws competing with Kensington’s small green grocers, cheese shops, and butchers is what has some neighbourhood residents and businesspeople up in arms.

The committee rejected RioCan’s application in May, and the company appealed to the OMB.

The OMB’s recent decision [PDF] also rejects the application, but that doesn’t mean Kensington has heard the last of this particular development proposal.

That’s because the OMB hasn’t said that large-format retail isn’t appropriate for the area; it has only said that RioCan went about applying to build its project in the wrong way. Rather than going to the committee of adjustment, which approves “minor variances” from City bylaws, the OMB thinks RioCan should have applied for an amendment to the City’s zoning bylaw. That’s a much more arduous process, and it involves convincing city council that a project is in the city’s best interests.

RioCan could go that route, or it could try to appeal the OMB’s decision. The Post reports that an appeal is likely.

Meanwhile, on the north side of Kensington, another contentious development proposal has already successfully navigated the zoning-amendment process. In October, with little fanfare, city council approved a 15-storey building for 297 College Street. The upper floors will consist of condos, but there will also be 2,882 square metres of retail space—again, ample floor area for a supermarket.

The developer, Tribute Communities, has yet to announce retail tenants for the property, but neighbourhood merchants have been nervous. A demolition crew is currently in the middle of hauling away what remains of the Zen Buddhist Temple that used to stand on the site.

Comments

  • Mort

    I’m almost certain that the only way to appeal an OMB decision is to take it to a higher court on the grounds that it violated the law, or did something outside its jurisdiction. Can anyone expand on this?

    • Anonymous

      You’re pretty much correct, as far as I know. The OMB’s own explanatory materials say an applicant can seek judicial review, but only if the OMB “made an error in a question of law.”

      • Mark

        Indeed. That judicial review would be heard by Divisional Court. The first step in the process of appealing an OMB decision is to argue for Divisional Court to grant the applicant leave to appeal. If leave to appeal is granted, then the appeal can be argued at Divisional Court. And yes, it must apply only to any possible error in law made by the OMB. Divisional Court appeals cannot hinge on land use planning arguments the way OMB decisions do.

        • ModernLife

          Accurate.

          From reading the decision, I don’t see any obvious errors in law. I wouldn’t expect that the decision would be appealed to DC, and wouldn’t think it would be successful if it was.

        • Mort

          Then Councillor Layton is probably wrong about the developer probably appealing the OMB’s decision. It’s more likely that the developer will just apply for a Zoning by-law amendment, which it may or may not get, and then it’ll go to the OMB again (either the proponent appealing the decision to refuse or the residents appealing the decision to approve).

  • Anonymous

    “The notion of a Loblaws competing with Kensington’s small green grocers, cheese shops, and butchers is what has some neighbourhood residents and businesspeople up in arms.”

    Why? The people who buy produce and meat and fish in the market wouldn’t give a shit if a Loblaws opened up at College and Augusta. They’re loyal customers. (I’m one of them. I buy the rest of my groceries at Loblaws.)

    The neighbourhood is already grocery store saturated. Metro at Bloor/Spadina and College/Beatrice, Loblaws at Dupont/Christie & Queen/Portland and Fiesta Farms on Christie. I highly doubt any big grocer would want to jump into that location.

    And – a 15 storey condo at the intersection of 2 streetcar lines? Yes, please. We need density where the transit is.

  • http://joeclark.org/weblogs/ Joe Clark

    I continue to note the Torontoist/Spacer hypocrisy of endlessly concern-trolling about development even at the outskirts of tiny, perfect neighbourhoods like K-Mart while dismissing any concern about development in the Beach as NIMBYism by rich Caucasians who, by implication, ought to shut the fuck up and let developers do whatever they want.

  • ModernLife

    Very interesting decision that definitely will have some implications in downtown Toronto. Both Mr. Smith and Mr. Romano are excellent planners and very experienced OMB witnesses… would have been a very interesting hearing to attend.

    I’m glad to see that nothing hinged upon the protection of Kensington Market.

  • Joe McBlow

    I see. We’re trying to freeze one neighbourhood in time. We wouldn’t want that dynamic thing called change or evolution. While we’re at it, can we get rid of the computer and bring back typists, travel agents and Sam the Record Man?