Toronto council to vote on protecting China Lily factory

The great number


the number of properties listed for heritage protection by Toronto City Council since 2015 through a “batch listing” process that offers minimal justification. Heritage listed properties require City Hall approval prior to demolition and redevelopment

For a perfect example of the importance of municipal politics — even when many of the issues debated at Toronto City Hall may seem minor — consider an item on the agenda for Wednesday’s city council meeting.

This is a soy sauce factory. Seriously. Stay with me on this.

There is a two-story red brick former soy sauce factory on the southeast corner of Queen Street East and Leslie Street in Leslieville. It was built in the 1920s with additions over the following decades. Somewhere along the line it became the longtime headquarters of Lee Food Products Limited, makers of China Lily soy sauce.

The sauce taps dried up when the business moved to Scarborough in 2020. But Toronto’s heritage planning division wants to keep the memories alive, recommending that Mayor John Tory and council designate the property as a heritage site.

It’s a move that would require any developer who wants to build on the corner to work with the city to maintain elements deemed to have heritage value.

But long before the heritage report was published, Core Development Group had already announced plans to build an eight-storey, 132-unit rental apartment building on the site, submitting an application in March. Their initial designs would demolish the factory. City planning staff say there is even potential for affordable housing negotiations in the proposal.

Although the heritage designation, if passed by council, would not automatically scuttle all of Core’s plans – or the potential for affordable housing – it could certainly change them, adding significant maintenance and restoration costs. parts of the old factory.

For some housing advocates, this soy sauce factory has become a flashpoint for accumulated frustration with the city’s heritage department.

Last week, Mark Richardson, technical lead of housing advocacy group HousingNowTO, sat in on a meeting of the Toronto Preservation Board – the committee that reviews heritage reports before they go to city council – to blurt out some of that frustration. Fiery, he told board members to ‘shake your head and go check out some rental listings to see if you could afford to live in the neighborhood you live in today if you were 25 « .

“What are the priorities of our city? He asked. “Where are our limited number of planners directed to spend their precious time? Why do we have dozens of heritage dry cleaners on our main streets? Why are we even talking about designating a two-story factory building? »

His comment about the « dozens of heritage dry cleaners » needs some explaining.

Beginning in 2015, City Hall began approving what it calls « batch listings » of heritage properties. Long address lists are submitted and approved for legacy consideration, usually with minimal justification. Although these addresses are not yet officially designated as heritage properties, listing them means they are now subject to review by City Hall before redevelopment can take place.

To date, this approach has been used to list 1,918 properties, by my count. Most lot listings arrived in areas near future transit stations, such as Yonge and Eglinton on the east side of downtown and across Danforth Avenue.

Some of these properties could indeed be called historic. Others, however, seem to broaden the definition. There are relatively mundane storefronts with tenants like cellphone shops, cannabis dispensaries and, yes, dry cleaners.

In Richardson’s view, many of these heritage listings — and the decision to designate the soy sauce factory — are just additional roadblocks to building more housing in a city that badly needs more. accommodations.

So when the Tories and council consider the issue of the soy sauce factory in council this week, they won’t just be considering the fate of a single old building. Their decision could be seen as a statement of priorities. What matters more: removing as many barriers as possible to get more housing built in this city, or protecting the physical legacy of a soy sauce factory?

As someone who really appreciates old buildings and would also like to see a lot more housing built, I hate that it’s come to this. Heritage and housing do not have to be mutually exclusive. This is a forced dichotomy brought about by bad policies.

A heritage approach that was not a barrier to building new housing could offer things like reduced development costs to developers undertaking projects involving heritage preservation. This could reward and encourage projects that incorporate protected heritage features into new buildings, instead of imposing additional costs and red tape on them.

A good basic first step, suggested by Richardson and supported by some members of the Preservation Board: Any report recommending heritage listing or designation should provide an estimate of the costs associated with maintaining the property. If Toronto wants to be a city that values ​​heritage, it should at least be a city that understands the cost of preserving it.

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