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Woodbridge condo project – with potential ramifications for historical properties – deferred
Adam Martin-Robbins
March 11, 2016

City councillors have put off making a decision about a controversial condominium proposal in the Woodbridge village core on properties where two of the community’s “most important” historic homes currently stand.

Last week, councillors postponed a vote, to March 22, on a re-zoning application for three properties at the corner of Woodbridge Avenue and Wallace Street — where a developer is seeking to build a seven-storey, 119-unit condominium — despite a recommendation from city planning to staff to approve the application.

The matter was deferred to give city staff a chance to report back on potential options for dealing with the re-zoning application as well as a pending settlement of an official plan appeal by the developer for the same property.

The decision was made after dozens of residents trekked to city hall during last week’s snowstorm to speak out against the proposal put forward by Cityzen Development Group and Fernbrook Homes.

In order to facilitate the proposed condo, the developer plans on preserving a portion of the Dr. Peter McLean House, built in 1893, and a portion of the Thomas Frazier Wallace House, built in 1875, but wants to move them forward on the property to the sidewalk.

The developer also wants to level the hilly property and remove several large trees, according to a city staff report.

Members of the Village of Woodbridge Ratepayers Association along with several area residents argued the proposed building, which many described as institutional-looking, would overwhelm the heritage homes.

“The two contributing buildings on the property are not just a couple of old houses, they are two of the key residences for some of the village’s most prominent families,” said resident Jamie Maynard, whose family has lived in the community for several generations. “The Wallace House is a standout in Woodbridge due to its architectural quality, but also as the longtime home of the Wallace family.”

Maynard noted the city’s heritage guidelines for Woodbridge Village states that buildings of historical significance should not be re-located and that “new buildings should be sympathetic to the adjacent contributing (heritage) buildings.”

“It might be said that these are guidelines and can be overruled. My question is this, why then do we have these guidelines (and) under what circumstances would we enforce them, if not this location?” Maynard said. “(This property) is, perhaps, the key remaining remnant of the original village landscape with two of the most important houses in the village.”

Residents also don’t want to see the mature trees on the properties cut down, arguing they add as much to the area’s heritage characteristics as the homes do.

They also raised concerns about the impact the project would have traffic and parking on Woodbridge Avenue, which they say is already heavily congested.

“This project is just too big for this neighbourhood, the road infrastructure simply cannot handle it,” said resident Lou DeBellis.

The residents submitted a petition bearing more than 200 signatures from people opposing the building.

Christopher Tanzola, lawyer for the developer, told councillors on Tuesday his client held five community meetings and made changes to the proposal to address residents’ concerns including reducing the height of the building from eight storeys to seven storeys and reducing the number of units from 146 to 119.

“In our view, it’s been a successful process that’s led us to those changes,” Tanzola said.

But, he noted, there are residents who remain unhappy.

“From the developer’s point of view, it’s never going to be possible to please everyone,” Tanzola said. “And what we’ve done is make changes that did satisfy some of the people that came out to those public meetings.”

He also noted the trees would be cut down, in part, to allow for enhancements to be made the streetscape.

The residents’, meanwhile, insist that they’re not opposed to development, they simply want the developer to follow what is prescribed in the city’s official plan — and to respect the area’s heritage.

“The Vaughan official plan says four storeys, they’re giving us seven. The Vaughan official plan says an FSI (floor space index) of one, they’re giving us 3.2,” said resident Pina Sacco. “We want to make it very clear that the residents of Woodbridge don’t want to see taxpayers' money spent on deviations of the official plan.”

A few residents also expressed outrage that, in January, the city and the developer agreed to terms for settling the developer’s appeal of the official plan to the Ontario Municipal Board.

Under the agreement, the city would allow the developer to erect a building that is higher (up to seven storeys) and larger than what is currently allowed under the official plan in exchange for the developer paying $100,000 toward streetscape “improvements” along Woodbridge Avenue.

Before that agreement comes into force, it has to be approved by the Ontario Municipal Board, which could happen as early as March 23.