Sites on Toronto heritage backlog list waiting for reports
(Written March 22 for Town Crier.)
A hundred years ago Lawrence Park was a garden suburb built on farmland.
Toronto’s population at the time: 376,538.
The fifth home to be built here back in 1910 was a dark red brick house at 110 Dawlish Avenue. On Jan. 11, 1911 Edith Spohn moved in to this home with her husband Julian Sale, whose family ran a leather goods store on King Street West. They had a gas stove but no electricity or paved roads.
Spohn and Sale’s home is one worth preserving, area residents say.
There’s currently a push to add this home, plus five others in Lawrence Park, to the city’s heritage property list.
Problem is, there are about 100 properties waiting for reports from an already-taxed Heritage Preservation staff and the historic Lawrence Park homes are only six among them.
City heritage staffer Bruce Hawkins says it’s hard to know exactly how long it’ll take for heritage reports on the six nominated Lawrence Park homes as there could be other properties higher in the queue.
“The backlog of processing (property) nominations exists because there is only one designated researcher in Heritage Preservation Services,” Hawkins said in a March 21 email.
But under-staffing can lead to a troublesome situation. Heritage staff members can be routinely pulled away to attend to other matters, and in that time a home not protected with heritage status may be torn down or redeveloped.
It’s a situation all too apparent to residents of Forest Hill’s tony Casa Loma neighbourhood.
The Maclean House on Austin Terrace was neither heritage-listed nor designated when the owner started making changes to the century-old former home of publisher John Maclean. What has followed since is a battle over the house between residents who are asking for heritage protection to save the home from demolition, and the owner, who is looking to re-develop the land.
It’s a situation Alex Grenzebach is hoping to avoid.
He is the main force pushing for the Lawrence Park homes to be recognized as herita ge properties.
“Listing six properties is just a drop in the bucket,” said Grenzebach, who is a director and former president of North Toronto’s historical society and the local preservation panel. “It’s in the cue. We were told it was a two-year wait (for a report).”
Despite the wait, Grenzebach
remains cautiously optimistic for the Lawrence Park homes’ future.
“I don’t think any of these six houses will be demolished,” he said. “Several of them are in (almost original) condition.”
But some million-dollar homes such as 79 Dawlish Avenue would have been torn down if the community and previous councillor Cliff Jenkins had not intervened, Grenzebach said.
Ideally, he’d like sections of Lawrence Park to be a Heritage Conservation District, but that’s a dream for another day.
In fact, preservation services staff isn’t accepting new applications for heritage districts because the city is the midst of an approvals process for new guidelines, Hawkins said.
“We expect to bring forward recommendations to council in June of this year,” Hawkins wrote. “Following that we will put in place a nomination process for new districts to be studied.”