Big Box death
Moore Park area residents still stinging from the city's backdoor approval of a Best Buy-style visitation centre at Mount Pleasant Cemetery aren't yet ready to roll over and play dead.
But the chances of nixing the sprawling 24,000-square-foot, one-stop-shopping centre for the dead seem, on the surface at least, slim. The city's legal higher-ups have twice overturned the building division's rejection of the plan after Mount Pleasant threatened to take legal action.
"They felt we [the city] would lose the case in court," says Councillor Kyle Rae, one of the three city councillors whose wards touch the southern cemetery boundary.
The building division has now decided that the centre can be considered an "associated use," similar to a mausoleum or crematorium, explains Toronto-East York district planner Melanie Melnyk. This circumvents a pre-amalgamation city council designation of the lands proposed for the centre as open space, to prevent development and the cutting of trees.
"It's a zoning issue, it's a green issue, but it's also a process issue," says Cindy Caron Thorburn, president of the Moore Park Residents' Association. Thorburn says the proposed centre, which includes an 82-car parking lot, "could potentially bring hundreds more cars" to the vicinity.
Adding to area residents' consternation is the fact that they only caught wind of plans for the centre after the cemetery's lawyers turned up at a committee of adjustment meeting last spring. They were there to oppose another developer's request for a variance for houses he was building backing onto the cemetery.
But the Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries, which owns the land, says it made no attempt to keep the plans secret. CEO and president Norris Zucchet says simply that "there was no point in meeting with residents" until after impact studies were completed.
"We've built three other [centres] already, and they've been extremely well received by the adjacent communities," he says. Not this one, it seems.
Downsview Park officials unveiled their most recent landscape designs for 170 residents at the park's first annual public meeting on February 20. The latest long-delayed plan to convert the desolate former military base at Allen and Sheppard into a thriving green space, like past plans, looks good on paper: a giant forest, a sports complex, a vast constructed lake.
Says Parc Downsview Park CEO Tony Genco, "We want to act on the rest of our business plan and try to make it vibrant and make a better Downsview Park."
The idea of a forest the size of 22 soccer fields wowed many residents, who've been waiting since 1994 for the park to take shape. Planned housing could attract up to 20,000 people to the area, almost seven times more than earlier proposals envisioned.
Urban planner Calvin Brook of Brook McIlroy Inc., the company facilitating the creation of an urban development plan and sustainable community development guidelines for the park, contends that intensification is "a logical thing to do," especially when a subway and GO station are also being considered for the site.
But area resident Erez Karp counters that "an added 5,000 people working within the area seems like an incredible strain."
Of considerably more concern to Marco Iacampo, an assistant to area Councillor Maria Augimeri and the NDP candidate for the area in the last federal election, is that Stephen Harper's Conservative government might shoot down plans to convert the former base into a park.
He says, "Harper's made it very clear that he wants a strong military presence in the city, and I can't think of a better site."
While PDP chair David Bell agrees, he points out, "It would take a lot of action to undo the progress that's brought us to that point."