Mr. Christie, the Ontario Food Terminal, and Development in Etobicoke
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Mr. Christie, the Ontario Food Terminal, and Development in Etobicoke

Council makes a bid to preserve area for employment lands in the face of condo development plans.

A few weeks ago, there was an announcement that saddened many Torontonians: the Mr. Christie bakery, near Lake Shore Boulevard, would be closing. It’s the end of a longtime landmark, and also of 550 jobs. Etobicoke councillors are concerned that factory owner Mondelez Canada wants to have the land rezoned for residential development—cue the condo alarm bells—and that this will lead to the loss of further employment lands in the area, and in particular threaten the future of the Ontario Food Terminal.

Today, in an effort to reverse that trend, city council voted unanimously to ask the province to declare the Food Terminal and the land around it, including the Mr. Christie site, “a provincially significant employment area”—which would have more effect than the municipal government’s designation, because it would preclude appeals to the OMB.

Local councillor and Planning and Growth Management chair Peter Milczyn (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) has been championing this cause. In an interview with us last week he explained why he thinks this is a matter of not just municipal but provincial concern: it’s not so much the Mr. Christie plant itself, though that’s garnered most of the headlines, but that bakery’s ability to serve as a buffer between the condos that have already been allowed in the area and the Food Terminal. And the Food Terminal, he contends, is essential. It’s the largest produce distribution in the country and the third largest in North America. For decades Toronto has been a major food processing centre, and Milczyn’s worry is that if condos start encroaching on the Food Terminal the province, which owns the site, will be tempted to move it outside of Toronto—and this, he says, could have a cascading effect on other local businesses, ranging from those processors to the many small shop grocers who make the journey to the Terminal several times a week to stock up.

He is also concerned about the future of development in Etobicoke. “We’re reaching a point where the infrastructure to support increased residential is not there,” he says, “in terms of traffic capacity, in terms of public transit, schools, libraries, other facilities.”

Nobody really expects today’s vote to save the Mr. Christie plant: even if the provincial government grants the City’s request, Mondelez is likely to shut it. (They could then sell the land to someone else who wanted to operate a factory, manufacturing site, etc., if they were denied the opportunity to build condos on it.) But the reason councillors from across the City spent time speaking on the matter today is that they share a concern about the shrinking availability of employment land in Toronto. And they hope that by maintaining the current zoning and planning designations, they might not only preserve the Food Terminal but find a way to spur some new economic activity in the area. Council, following a motion from Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), is now going to consider striking up a working group to examine the prospects for “hosting educational and/or commercial food incubator programs and possible new food industry tenants” on the land.