On February 22, the Toronto and East York Community Council voted to recommend designating 698 Spadina Avenue as a heritage site, potentially adding an obstacle to U of T’s plans to build a new student residence at Spadina Avenue and Sussex Avenue.

The site of 698 Spadina Avenue originally housed the John James Funston grocery store. Since 1984, it has been the site of the Ten Editions bookstore.

The university has been trying for years to develop new residence buildings to meet a growing demand from students for more affordable housing. U of T’s plan is to construct a 23-storey building containing 549 bed-sitting rooms for both undergraduate and graduate students on 54 Sussex Avenue and at 698, 700, 702, 704, 706 and Spadina Avenue, which are located on the north-west corner of Spadina Avenue and Sussex Avenue.

The university’s proposal to the city included a heritage impact assessment on the property. The report concluded that 698 Spadina has “minimal design, historic, or contextual value.”

The City of Toronto’s report from the Chief Planner and Executive Director reached a different conclusion. It stated that the building, which was constructed in 1885, has significant value for the neighbourhood.

According to the City of Toronto’s report, “The building has design value as an example of a late 19th century corner-store building type designed with a high degree of craftsmanship in the late Victorian style.”

Christine Burke, Director of Campus and Facilities Planning for U of T, said the university had not been aware beforehand that there were plans to designate 698 Spadina Avenue as a heritage site.

“We were surprised learning the city’s intentions to designate it last month,” said Burke. “It doesn’t mean that the proposal is not going to continue … we’re ready to work with the city staff and the councilor to determine any changes going forward to the proposed development … it’s a very important project to us and again we’d like to see this residence probably as much as students.”

Sherry Pedersen, the Preservation Coordinator for the City of Toronto, echoed Burke’s statements: “I suspect that it’s going to require some redesign of their proposal … but by designating the building we’re looking for the university to work with us to find ways to accomplish what they need to do on this site while conserving the resource.”

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has expressed support for the proposed residence. Matthew Thomas, the UTSU’s Vice-President External, said, “The university has had to turn away hundreds, almost thousands of residence applications. I have an obligation to make university as accessible as possible through my work, and this residence is my opportunity.”

The Harbord Street Business Improvement Area (HSBIA) also supports the project. HSBIA Chair Neil Wright wrote a letter to the Toronto Preservation Board, calling the campus “a strong economic engine which benefits all communities surrounding the campus and beyond.”

“We believe this development will enhance this relationship and will have a long lasting and positive effect in this area,” the letter concludes.

Ward 20 Councilor Joe Cressy, who represents the ward in which the building is located, has expressed his support for a plan that allows the university to move forward with development while also protecting
the building.

“I am confident and optimistic that with further changes and hard work that this can be a site that will work for the community and the university,” stated Cressy, at the Toronto and East York Community Council meeting on February 22, “I don’t believe that when we designate a building that we do freeze a building in time … rather I think it adds a layer of complexity, but complexity that at times can improve a site and improve a neighbourhood.”

The Harbord Village Residents’ Association (HVRA), which represents the neighbourhood in which the building is located, wrote to the city to declare its support for the designation.

“The building is important to the neighbourhood for its physical presence and level of preservation, but also because it has been a major contributor to the intellectual and cultural life of our community,” states their letter.

Sue Dexter, who is on the board of directors for the HVRA, further commented at the Community Council meeting: “There’s no reason the University of Toronto should ever be killing a bookstore, it doesn’t compute.”

Toronto City Council will have final say on this matter when it reconvenes on March 9.

The Varsity visited Ten Editions to seek comment, but Susan Duff, the owner of the bookstore, declined.