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Reputable since 1955

In uncategorized on September 16, 2010 at 11:28 PM

 

The West Annex’s most iconic restaurant, the Vesta Lunch sits on the north-east corner of Bathurst and Dupont, serving up cheap and filling food to a diverse clientele, 24 hours a day.

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Royal St. George’s College and the uglification of Albany Avenue, and the history of RSGC development in the residential West Annex

In Royal St. George's construction on September 6, 2010 at 11:20 PM
Albany facade, gym entrance
This is what we were promised

Remember Royal St. George’s College promise to ‘repair the Albany streetscape’? Remember the seductive architects’ drawings, imagining the new, improved Albany gym frontage?  The brick facade, the peaked roofs, the faux-Victorian vibe?

Remember when it was all approved by the Ontario Municipal Board in their 2006 decision?

Well, RSG has now shelved those plans, indefinitely.   While construction on other parts of RSG’s plans will start in March 2011, the ’70s-era brutalist-style cement gym facade facing Albany is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Worse, RSG is adding a big grey stucco chimney-like structure to the Albany side of the gym, to house ducts for an HVAC/air-conditioning unit to be installed on the roof of the gym.

HVAC project at RSGC 2010

This is what we’re getting

Worst yet, construction has already started.  You’ve probably already noticed the noise, the big trucks (some travelling the wrong way up one-way Albany Avenue), and the blocked sidewalks as delivery trucks unload construction materials to the gym doors.

How could this happen when the OMB decision compelled RSG to enter into a site plan agreement, which was supposed to end RSG’s decades of ad hocdevelopment?

No one seems sure.  RSG obtained a building permit on August 19, 2010, describing the property as a ‘place of worship’.  The City’s Planning Department isn’t sure quite how they got the permit, given the site plan agreement.  But while the planner looks into all this, construction continues apace.

And long time neighbours shake their heads.  Just another episode in RSG’s land development history.

Originally the property of the Church of St. Alban the Martyr, the lands now occupied by RSG originally contained three buildings: the Church at 100 Howland Avenue, the Rectory at 112 Howland, and the Parish Hall at 120 Howland.

In April 1963 the Church applied to the City’s Committee of Adjustment for permission to use the rectory at 112 Howland as a private day school for not more than 100 boys. The Committee of Adjustment rejected the application.

So, the Church took the issue to the politicians via the Planning Board. The Commissioner of Planning said the College intended to use the“property temporarily only, for a period of about 10 years, while the school…finds a satisfactory (out of town) site for a permanent residential college.”

The report explained that private schools weren’t allowed in areas zoned residential because they “would interfere with the quiet enjoyment of neighbouring properties” and “could constitute a nuisance.” The report concluded that it would be preferable to establish the day school “in a more institutional area of which there are several in the same vicinity.” City Council ignored its Commissioner’s advice and passed a special by-law to allow “the use of premises known in 1963 as 112 Howland Avenue for private academic, philanthropic or religious school purposes.”

In 1964, St. George’s opened with 89 students. By 1970, enrollment had increased to 253.  Temporary somehow became permanent.  The student body spread to the other church buildings though they were still zoned residential. The brutalist-style gym got built at the back of 110 Howland on the strength of a building permit issued to 112 Howland.

In 1991, enrollment was 361.  Then headmaster John Latimer sought to reassure neighbours increasingly concerned about RSG’s burgeoning size and the consequent traffic it brought to the neighbourhood.  “We do not intend to enlarge the number of students.” he wrote.

By 1994 enrollment was 391.

In January 4, 1994, Mr. Latimer wrote again to neighbours about the proposed severance of Church lands to permit the sale of properties to RSG. “The Church will retain ownership of the church building itself and the lands on which it is located. The building will continue to be the home of the congregation of St. Alban the Martyr, your local parish. The purpose of this letter is simply to assure you that the effect of the severance and transfer of the facility to the School itself will not result in any change in use, will not result in any increased traffic and so far as we are aware, will have no impact on the neighbourhood.”

Two years later, when the size of the student body has swelled to 417, RSG was back before the Committee of Adjustments seeking to add a two-storey addition to the Senior School and the two-storey addition to the Junior School.  In granting the application, the Committee noted  that the purpose of the application“was not to increase the size of the existing student body, and that the existing traffic and parking problems would not be exacerbated by this proposal.” The purpose of the proposal it said, was to provide additional classrooms to replace existing portables so that they could be removed from the property.

The additions were constructed. The two portables were not removed. Enrollment swelled to 440 in 1998, and 465 in 2001.

Today, the next round of construction is premised on RSG’s promise to – yes, you guessed it — limit enrolment.  But this time says local City planner Barry Brooks, RSG has to keep their promise; it’s part of the site plan agreement mandated by the OMB.

But that site plan also says that the Albany gym facade is going to be beautified.  No big stucco chimney and no HVAC unit of the roof in the site plans.

You might want to ask local planner Barry Brooks, bbrooks@toronto.ca , and Councillor Adam Vaughan, councillor_vaughan@toronto.ca about that.