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Final hearing on proposed 24-storey residence begins

University, developer clash with City, local residents
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Knightstone Capital Management private development company is in the process of an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) over the building of a 24-storey, privately run residence for U of T students. The proposed site for the residence is the southeast corner of College Street and Spadina Avenue. Knightstone stands against the City of Toronto, as well as a number of local residents and residents’ associations. The proposal has been a source of tension between the university and residents’ associations for years.

In 2010, Knightstone proposed a 42-storey residence. It scaled the plan back to 24 storeys in response to local opposition that emerged following a series of meetings between Knightstone and opposed parties. Toronto City Council rejected the 24-storey proposal in 2012, resulting in the current appeal.

All parties agree that the key issue in this hearing is the degree of intensification (increase in population density) appropriate for the proposed site at 245–255 College Street and 39 and 40 Glasgow Street.

Knightstone, the City of Toronto, and the residents provided evidence from expert witnesses, including architects and urban planners, over the first half of the 10-day hearing, which began Monday November 18.

The City and residents’ associations (including the Grange Community Association, the Harbord Village Residents’ Association, the Annex Residents’ Association, and the Huron Sussex Residents’ Association) argue that the proposed building would not fit in with the rest of the neighbourhood. They claim that the building’s height and density will overshadow the low-rise neighbourhood to the south.

“It is our view that this proposal, as it is, will lead to the destabilization of College Street, Spadina Avenue, and, more particularly, the neighbourhood to the south,” said Ceta Ramkhalawansinghin, honorary president of the Grange Community Association, in an opening statement on behalf of residents and residents’ associations.

However, Knightstone argues that the building was carefully designed to suit its physical context, as well as the City’s larger development goals for College Street and surrounding areas.

“I would be the first one to say that intensification is not a trump card,” said David Bronskill, an attorney for Knightstone. He maintained that the proposal is for a high-quality, architecturally distinguished residence, in line with an increased need for student housing.

The building would consist of apartment-style residences, with individual bedrooms for each student — typically with one washroom per two bedrooms, and limited kitchen space. The building would feature amenities including a full-service dining area, laundry, study, and lounge spaces, as well as retail space on the ground floor.

“I agree with Mr. Bronskill that intensification in and of itself is not a trump card: it’s not a mantra,” said Ray Kallio, attorney for the City. “What we will be asking at the end of the day is that all appeals be dismissed. We don’t need a monument to this perceived need for student housing. Everything can be done in balance, and we will try to prove that it is not being so done.”

U of T supports the development proposal. Althea Blackburn-Evans, acting director of News & Media Relations, said that the proposal addresses a growing need for student housing. She added that the university’s lease agreement with Knightstone states that the land can only be developed as a student residence. Blackburn-Evans said that the university provided ample opportunities for the local community to address its concerns with the developer.

“We find it regrettable that this project had to go all the way to the Ontario Municipal Board since we believe there were many opportunities for the parties to find an agreement,” she said.

UTSU president Munib Sajjad is strongly opposed to the development, citing safety and accountability concerns. He said that the residence will be open to people outside the university, which he argues would impact the safety of students living there. Sajjad said the UTSU was told that the residence may target international students. He claimed this would make little sense as international students already pay triple the tuition fees of domestic students.

“We think that the university rushed in to this agreement. Knightstone does not seem to have any experience with student housing; they are a property manager for commercial businesses,” said Sajjad. “Residence associations in the area agree that this is essentially a private corporation attempting to profit off students.”

The hearing will conclude on Friday, November 29.

With files from Alessandra Harkness