Yonge stir

Rating: NNNNNIf developers have their way, those attractive, circa -- 1930s low-rises dotting the Yonge Street corridor will soon be.

Rating: NNNNN

If developers have their way, those attractive, circa — 1930s low-rises dotting the Yonge Street corridor will soon be replaced with shiny new condos.

And that’s giving nightmares to tenants who live up and down Canada’s most famous street.Their fears were sparked by news of a proposed condo conversion at Cheritan Manor, south of Lawrence. The plan is to convert a five-storey, 158-unit building into a 14-storey, 326-unit condo with commercial space at street level.

Residents woke up one morning to find a sign out front announcing the surprise plans.

“They came in the night and stuck it right at the front door,” says Ross Skene, a music teacher who is leading the charge to stop the plan. “You can imagine what that does to people.”

Skene says the development raises the prospect of increased density, parking problems, the loss of affordable housing and the displacement of seniors and those on fixed incomes who currently live in the building. (Two-bedroom units in the apartment currently rent for $1,450, although some long-term tenants are paying substantially less.)

“I’ve heard some horror stories,” says Skene.

To hear him tell it, there’ve been a lot of hijinks behind the scenes, including unusual calls from unknowns trying to pump him for info about what tenants plan to do next.

Area councillor Anne Johnston worries that it’s the beginning of a troubling trend by landlords to gut older low-rises in more established neighbourhoods and convert them into more profitable condos twice the size.

Johnston fears a domino effect “all the way down Yonge Street.

“There are lots of old apartment buildings like this in my ward,” she says.

There goes the neighbourhood.

The city wouldn’t be facing these problems if affordable housing protections passed by council hadn’t recently been squashed like a bug by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

City council has also asked the province to impose a two-year freeze on demolitions. But try as council might, forces beyond its control at the province and OMB are calling the shots.

“We’re in a real pickle,” says Johnston.

The city’s policies to keep existing affordable housing in place require developers to maintain the existing number of affordable units in a redevelopment.

But the city seems at the same time to be giving in to the density demands of developers, lest they be dragged into costly court battles.

City planner Ted Cymbaly says thepolicies “are not 100-per-cent enforced.”

So what are the chances of a 14-storey complex being built where a five-storey one used to be?

Cymbaly’s not speculating, but they’re pretty good, it seems, in this market.

The Dennis family, who own Cheritan Manor, are on a bit of a condo conversion spree.

Further west, at Avenue and Lawrence, they’re in the middle of replacing two-storey townhouse-style buildings with six- and seven-storey condo complexes at Rosewell Court.

The woman answering phones at the property management office for the family’s buildings says no one is available to comment until the new year. A lawyer for the family also failed to respond to a request for comment.

But Bob Michener, president of the Litton Park Residents Organization, says of the Rosewell proposal: “This is the kind of development that should go on a major thoroughfare, not in a residential neighbourhood.”

He’s worried about the plan setting a development precedent that may bury existing neighbourhoods. “If this one goes through, it’s going to be horrible. It’ll mean the beginning of the end of neighbourhoods.”

Council opposed the proposal, but the Dennis family is taking the city to the OMB.

Skene doesn’t have much faith that the board, which has usually sided with developers since the Tories took power, will rule in the residents’ favour.

“These aren’t city planners,” he says. “These are just people picked by Mike Harris. They know nothing about planning.”

Scott Harcourt, the director of housing policy for the province, acknowledges that even with a four-fold increase in housing stock in the province since 95, that precious little has been of the affordable variety.

He says it’s been up to municipalities, not the province, to protect affordable housing stock ever since the repeal of the Landlord and Tenant Act.

When it’s pointed out that developers are simply suing the city of Toronto to get around affordable housing provisions, Harcourt says, ” I can’t comment on matters that are currently before the courts.”

Welcome to the condo conversion wars. enzom@nowtoronto.com

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