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Richmond Hill will not buy developer’s land at Bloomington and Yonge

“We need strategically to find places in the south end of Richmond Hill where we’ve got enormous density forced upon us,’ Regional Coun. DiPaola says
June 21, 2022
Sheila Wang

Sitting off Yonge street and opening out onto a lush forest, a 29-hectare empty lot in the north end of Richmond Hill has once again had city council debate its future.

This time, a councillor wanted the city to tap into its $70-million funds for park acquisition and take over the land from the hands of a developer.

The proposal failed to pass at the June 8 council meeting when a majority of council members rejected the idea of entering into negotiations with Baif Development Limited to purchase its landholding at Yonge Street and Bloomington Road for park uses.

“It's not the right way that we do things," Regional Coun. Joe DiPaola spoke against the proposal. "Every dollar we have in that park and recreation fund is precious. We're gonna need to use it wisely.”

Regional Coun. Carmine Perrelli brought the motion forward less than a year after the developer revised its original development proposals for the site from high-density apartments to medium density townhouses.

“Here I am trying to purchase more land and save it from development and yet I hear resistance from a few people in the community,” he said at council.

Baif’s landholdings -- located at 13515 and 13715 Yonge St. and 53 St Laurent Drive -- were originally proposed for 13 apartment buildings ranging in height from eight to 12 storeys with a total of 1,527 apartment dwelling units, 370 townhouse dwelling units in 2020.

Oak Ridges Coun. Greg Beros had opposed the original proposal in his ward and asked residents in a paid Facebook video in May 2020 to help him “force this developer to scrap this plan and come back with something that works for this community.”

In 2021, Baif Development brought to council a revised proposal which would instead see 455 townhouse dwelling units, and blocks for future development on the site.

It was “still not good enough” Perrelli said in his survey circulated to the residents. He told council 91 per cent of the respondents were supportive of his idea.

Beros reached out to the Liberal in support of Perrelli’s proposal, saying he hopes this site will not turn into “another cookie-cutter subdivision.”

Throughout this term, Beros and Perrelli have voted in favour of a number of controversial developments despite public pushback, including the intensification plan for the Yonge and Bernard Avenue key development area, and the requests for two minister's zoning orders to fast-track developments in the city.

At the meeting, Perrelli said his proposal was just to “start a dialogue with this applicant, this person who owns the land.”

The landowner Baif Developments -- related to Acorn Developments -- also owns the 9.42-acre land in the Headford Business Park, which recently received an MZO to convert it from employment lands to residential uses following a motion led by Perrelli.

Paul Minz, president of Acorn Developments, wrote to council in support of Perrelli’s motion in 2020. Minz’s name also appeared in Perrelli's donors lists for his campaigns in the 2018 municipal election and the 2022 mayoral byelection, contributing the maximum amount of $1,200 each time.

Minz did not respond to an inquiry from the Liberal.

On March 22, 2021, Perrelli received a combined $25,000 in sponsorship from Baif and Acorn, making the developers the biggest sponsors of his events last year, public records show.

In his response to the Liberal, Perrelli did not answer questions about his connection with the developer but stated Richmond Hill has a shortage of land to meet the need for more green space, off-leash dog areas, pickleball and tennis courts.

“Richmond Hill residents are fed up with having to travel to Vaughan and Markham for their children’s home soccer games. They are fed up with having to wait 10 years for a plan with no substantial deliverables in sight,” he said.

“We need strategically to find places in the south end of Richmond Hill where we’ve got enormous density forced upon us,” DiPaola said at council, noting Baif's land is located near Aurora.

A city report says as of August 2021, Richmond Hill has a total of 358 hectares of active parkland and 1,629 hectares of open space. Major parkland gap areas exist along the growth centres and corridors and in the southwest and southeast areas.