[URBAN NOTE] “Why does Toronto give more protection to trees than it does to buildings?”
Edward Keenan’s recent column in the Toronto Star, drawing from the recent and most unexpected demolition of a historic building in Yonge and Eglinton, wonders why Toronto’s protocols for protecting old buildings are weaker than those used to protect old trees.
If you want to remove a tree from your property in Toronto, you need to submit an application, which will then prompt a site visit from an arborist to examine the tree. Unless it is seriously sick or already dead, a sign will be posted on your property alerting your neighbours, so they may submit comments on the tree and its proposed removal over a period of two weeks. There are more bureaucratic twists and turns to it, but at the end of the process, you may need city council to hold a vote specifically debating the merits of removing or protecting your tree. It’s easy to mock this, the mayor and 44 councillors from across the city weighing in on the fate of a single Silver Maple in someone’s backyard. But clearly, protecting the tree canopy is considered important.
If, on the other hand, you want to remove a building — say, a 110-year-old Beaux Arts landmark bank from a main street in Toronto, you just get a pro-forma demolition permit and then get your crew working as fast as you can to rip the thing down. Think about what will replace it later, deal with the public’s complaints after it’s gone, just get rid of it before anyone has a chance to tell you not to. Because clearly, historic preservation is considered not so important in this city of constant rebuilding.
That was the apparent message, delivered again, this week, when the former Bank of Montreal at 2444 Yonge St. — a building under official review as a property of heritage interest and value for inclusion on the list of heritage properties protected from change and demolition by the city — was unceremoniously torn down on Saturday morning Jan 21. A demolition permit had been granted by the city three days before.
Now, getting a “demolition permit” might sound like a formidable obstacle, but it is actually more of a formality. The city has almost no grounds to deny a commercial building owner a tear-down license, and in fact must grant one within 10-30 days of receiving an application. The only way to deny a developer such permission is if the building is officially listed in the “Inventory of Heritage Properties,” and getting a building listed there takes a lot of time and effort, since the city lacks the staff to review applications on their merits in detail.