Sunday, November 23, 2014Cloudy 6°C
Arts, City, Fashion & Style

Hypocracy: Making the Case for 48 Abell

Posted by Ryan L. / February 7, 2007

john-abell-factory.jpg
Tear down an artists community to build an artists community? Why?

This is the long and short of the ongoing story of the potential destruction of what's know as The Queen-West Triangle - the area that includes properties to the south of Queen West from Gladstone Avenue to Dovercourt.

In particular, the plans to "re-develop" the site includes tearing down the historical factory cum artists haven known at 48 Abell, to be replaced a with low-income, high density tower aimed at, you guessed it, artists.

This story has received a lot of press lately, including articles in Eye Weekly, Global, Spacing Wire, The Torontoist, and CityNoise to name just a few.

"This big question seems to be 'why are the developers interested'? To us, the only answer seems to be money. To say that you want to create some artist environment [and] beautify the neighborhood, just sounds like a lot of marketing dogma". Says Matt Wyatt, one of the founders of the group Model 48, who's mission it is to try and save the building. "The irony is they are going to be tearing down artists' spaces that have organically developed in a way that they'll never be able to supplant".

And the story gets worse. Enter everyone's favorite supra-legal body, the Ontario Municipal Board. After the the proposal for redevelopment of the site was voted down by Toronto City Council; the three developers that have laid claim to the site (Baywood Homes, Veridoc Developments and UrbanCorp) appealed to the OMB, which overturned the city's decision and approved the destruction of 48 Abell.

"This was a totally unusual OMB case." says Model 48 member Sabrina Saccoccio. "There was a lot of cultural evidence presented - this neighborhood being culturally one of the most important in Canada. The judge didn't really hear any of it, and the decision was so bad that it has really called attention [to the fact that] the OMB is a failing system that doesn't represent what people in Toronto really want."

This most recent decision comes on the heels of negative press, and public calls for the building to be saved by local Councilman Adam Giambrone and Mayor David Miller.

"The decision was incredibly frustrating and disappointing," says Giambrone. "Not only for me, but for the community and City staff who had worked very hard on a strong case for the OMB that included park space and protection of the cultural producers and artists already in the neighborhood, among other things. Generally, people agree that some sort of development, including residential, is appropriate in the Triangle. But the decision gives the developers too much, and will overwhelm the neighborhood--especially when you consider that the three sites constitute only 40% of the Triangle, and we know more applications are on the way."

Giambrone has been a stanch supporter of the residents of the building, "I'm lucky to represent at City Hall a community that is so resourceful and engaged. They really set the bar for constructive engagement. Even when there hasn't been complete consensus between the City and the community groups, they had an enormous positive hand in contributing to the City's plans. I know it's been exhausting for them, but they've helped lay the groundwork that should help shape the community for generations to come."

He's even introduced a motion to have the building designated a historical site, thus saving it from the wrecking ball. While support for the motion seemed to be overwhelming, at the time of the actual vote, a number of key supporters were strangely absent from the room.

"Of course I can't speak for every Councillor, but I tried very hard to persuade them, with lots of community emails pouring in to all members of Council to back me up. I had really hoped that they understood the historical importance of the building, but clearly they didn't."

Draw your own conclusions.

The province has not been unaware of this issue either. Tony Ruprecht, MPP for Davenport, also opposes the decision and the clout the OMB swings. "This is the second time within a year that the OMB has thumbed its nose at the legitimate aspirations of our community in this case by destroying 48 Abell Ave. It is high time the city uses it's recently given powers to establish it's own appeal board board or appoint architectural review panels in order to stop monstrous developments."

But all may not be lost. It was indicated to me an during the interview that a new group of interested parties, from architects, scholars, city officials and more people of some import from all over the city has been formed to help raise awareness about the recent turn of events. It has also been rumoured that this group will push for Mr. Giambrone to re-introduce his motion to have 48 Abell designated a historical site.

This is clearly turning into a bell-weather event. We are seeing clearly divided lines between culture and cash. The outcome of this decision could set a new precedent in Toronto: one where the views and passions of a community can win out against the blind march of maximized profits; or one that proves no matter who you are, you can't stop "progress".

Because no one on either side is backing down.

UPDATE: I've just been informed by Mr. Giambrone's assistant and members of Model 48 that city council has voted to take the OMB back to court to appeal the decision. The council voted last night (February 6th, 33 to 9 and 42 to 1) to:

1. Appeal the OMB decisions to the Divisional Court if leave is granted by the court
2. Request that the OMB review its decisions
3. Authorize the Mayor to request a Minister's Zoning Order from the Province
4. Direct staff to continue to have discussions with the owners about settlements.

Discussion

10 Comments

Steve / February 7, 2007 at 12:31 pm
user-pic
As a resident of the building, I don't necessarily feel the Abell structure is worth saving. Yeah, I don't want a farm of condos either, but isn't there some middle ground? Couldn't something other than condos be built on the Queen West Triangle? Perhaps a giant park?

There was an interesting counter-argument to your rhetoric recently over on Torontoist:
http://www.torontoist.com/archives/2007/01/anger_over_hous_1.php
Sheryl / February 7, 2007 at 03:38 pm
user-pic
My understanding is that the building can't be given historical status because it's in such a bad state of repair that it failed the structural assessment.

I live in the area (Queen & Dufferin), and while I think the OMB does have too much power, I don't think this case is a misdirected abuse of that power.

I also think the city needs to decide what they want and stick with it. The so-called official plan calls for more density along major transit routes downtown to hold back sprawl. The only real way to do that is to build UP - so either they want to encourage new residential development downtown (and I don't see any of the proposed adjacent condo towers offering reasonably-priced artist space or below-market rent), or they want to allow themselves to be influenced by people who are all for development - just not near them.

There's no doubt that 48 Abell will change the face of the community - but why is everyone assuming that will be a bad thing?
Mark Dowling / February 8, 2007 at 01:55 pm
user-pic
Sheryl, those pesky structural assessments are just getting in the way of the Art! What is art if not done dangerously?

I would have thought right wingers on Council would have voted to reprieve 48 Abell since if it fell down on said artists Rob Ford would probably rejoice at any savings from Toronto arts grants (or as he terms them "handouts").
Susan / February 10, 2007 at 02:59 pm
user-pic
Great Article! You can really make things seem dire if you just play up people's fears. Maybe you left out the fact that Verdiroc is proposing to replace a section of the site at 48 Abell Street with 190 affordable housing units to be run by St. Clare's Multifaith Housing, because that might frighten people. Oh my, and 30-40 of those units are specially designed for the displaced "artists". Also, the development will happen in two phases to ensure that most of the current tenants at 48 Abell can move into the new building. Damn Developers just moving into the neighbourhood to make a buck on the artist's back. OH.....that arguement does work, because Verdiroc DOESN'T OWN 48 Abell Street. The lamp factory who has owned the building since the 80's does. And aren't they the same people that have started the whole studio rental business when their lamp business slowed down? I guess they have been laying low since the 80's waiting for the artists to push up the property value....Sneaky Buggers!

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the buiding is illegal..........
Kelly / August 18, 2008 at 12:22 pm
user-pic
Susan - one would assume that you work for one of the developers based on your comments. Those of us who actually reside in the area are not naive to the reality of gentrification. Fear? Not so much. But nice try. It's moreso the opinion of intelligent individuals who care about maintaining the character of Queen West. Add on to that, "developers" (I hesitate in refering to them as such) like UrbanCorp who profit off the backs of new home buyers by "building" townhomes that are constructual disasters. But yes, let's put our support behind the developers because we know that they are truly concerned with the interests of the community, right? Not only are they destroying the character of this neighbourhood, but they (I can only refer to UrbanCorp) are throwing together makeshift, poorly (understatement) constructed, profit earning townhomes that leave first time buyers distraught and broke. But hey, here's to the future.
VP / April 17, 2009 at 02:39 pm
user-pic
Good article. As a resident of the building (for 4 years) there are number of things I did not know about intill now. Whats this about the building structurally unsound? Im one of the few people who dosnt get into my unit through the actual building. I have to use the teenage wasteland of an alleyway (which I have grown quite accustomed too).

I would like to do what I can to save the building as I truly have a deep and passionate love for warehouses. Where else am I going to have 2,400 square feet for so cheap that down town to set up my green screen and motion studio?

I would like to know more about whats going on as the tower behind me is inches away from blocking out all of my precious sun.
Michelle / June 2, 2009 at 01:17 pm
user-pic
Actually, the building failed the structural assessment not as it stands but based on how it would be able to withstand having two towers incorporated into it with parking below grade. This is a tall order for a 123 factory or any historical building. As is, the structure is pretty robust.

If you ever have been an Abell resident, please get in touch with me! I am currently studying trends in artist geography based around this whole land development battle (and the gentrification) and wish to map out where anyone coming to Abell came from and where they have gone to...

michelle.van.eyk@gmail.com
update / April 29, 2011 at 01:36 pm
user-pic
it's over in sept 2011?
pwlkkjf / May 28, 2012 at 09:18 am
user-pic
just click here tGVcCHkiWxY go to this page IKhFricySNy www.discountcoachoutletonlineusa.com mNjGMlbZNnC louis vuitton online bBEZFitAgje www.cheapcoachhandbagsfactoryoutletonline.info
Metric replying to a comment from Sheryl / October 11, 2013 at 10:40 am
user-pic
Bullshit. This is a solid straight building designed for heavy industrial uses in an age when buildings were built to last. Any arguments against the structural integrity of this building are false, and represent hidden agendas.

Add a Comment

Other Cities: Montreal