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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.

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