On Friday, November 28, a hearing involving Knightstone Capital Management, the City of Toronto, and a number of residents’ associations and local residents concluded at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). Knightstone, a private development company, appealed the OMB’s rejection of a a new University of Toronto student residence at the corner of College Street and Spadina Avenue. Originally proposed to be 42-storeys, the current residence plan is for 24-storeys.
Concerns raised by the City and residents’ associations include that the building’s proposed size and scale are not appropriate for the area, as well as its relationship to U of T, and the legal rules under which it will operate.
Unlike U of T’s other off-campus residences, like Chestnut Residence, the proposed residence at 245–255 College Street and 39–40 Glasgow Street would be built by Knightstone and managed by The Scion Group. Scion is a private company based out of the United States that manages student residences.
During the cross-examination of Eric Luskin, the vice-president of Scion, the opposing council raised concerns ranging from how much social space Scion would provide for students to how many loading docks they had in place for delivery trucks. Additional concerns included who is allowed to live in the building and how people can be evicted. Both Knightstone and Scion said that the sole purpose of the building is to house U of T students from a broad range of ages and programs, to accommodate an increasing need for student housing in the downtown core.
However, because the site is off U of T property, U of T does not govern it. The building falls under the jurisdiction of the Residential Tenancies Act. This would make it difficult to evict individuals who are no longer students at the university, since they would be protected under this legislation. Furthermore, because the residence will be privately run, students from other universities may live in the building if there are rooms available. Local residents also asked who will inhabit the building in the summer, and if it will be run as a hotel.
Luskin said that his company has an agreement with U of T to fill the building with U of T students, and to make the terms of the lease last for 12 months to avoid the issue of renting out rooms in the summer. Scion has not signed any contracts with U of T that outline these policies.
Other concerns about the details of the residence — including the number of live-in staff, dons, and the operation of the cafeteria and security — were raised by the city and residents’ associations. Most details were not fully determined at the time of the trial.
The exterior of the building was also discussed, which brought architects and city planners to the stand. They disagreed on whether the residence would fit into its surrounding area, as its location is designated “mixed-use.” David Bronskill, representative of Knightstone, described other buildings in the area of similar height to the residence, or taller.
Residents expressed concern about the problems that a students residence might create in the neighbourhood. Furthermore, they were skeptical about the fact that a private company runs the project, claiming that its ultimate goal is to meet the company’s bottom line.
Ceta Ramkhalawansingh, a representative from the Grange Community Association, said that residents would be okay with something eight to 12 storeys high, but that something of the proposed scale does not fit the area.
During his closing remarks, Ray Kallio, representative of the city, asked the adjudicator to put less weight on the remarks of expert witnesses like Luskin — claiming that they contain inconsistencies. “Tall buildings don’t belong everywhere downtown,” he said, and asked the adjudicator to dismiss the appeal completely.
“[This residence is the] most egregious development I have seen in this neighborhood in the last 40 years,” said Ramkhalawansingh in her closing remarks. “Another way residents have talked about this is this is a form of home-wrecking. To match up 829 students with the 50 Glasgow Street residents is a way of wrecking their homes. We don’t get it.” She urged the adjudicator to refuse the appeal.
In a statement after his closing remarks, Kallio said: “I think the city and the residents put in a strong case to persuade the board not to approve it. We will wait for the decision to come out to see if there are any further steps.” Bronskill did not give any comments after the case.
The decision of this case could set a precedent for other proposed buildings in the area. The final decision will be released within the next few weeks.