Around 130 Kensington Market supporters flocked City Council Chambers Tuesday night for a second public consultation with City of Toronto Planning Department staff and RioCan developers concerning a development proposal for a three-storey, 130,000-square-foot retail complex, replete with a controversial two-storey Wal-Mart, on Bathurst Street south of College.
RioCan representatives had pitched the meeting as a neighbourly gesture of outreach to the concerned neighbouring community, but Tuesday’s well-attended house of opponents to the proposed development proved a tough sell, with deputations extending an hour beyond the scheduled meeting time.
“We are here tonight not because we have to but because we want to,” said RioCan senior vice-president of development Jordan Robins to a chorus of heckles. He emphasized that RioCan’s requested zoning bylaw amendment regulates the use, and not the user, of the proposed project.
In an effort to curb community outcry, RioCan has established a website for the 410-446 Bathurst Street Project that includes renderings of the development’s Bathurst-facing exterior–notably absent of Wal-Mart signage–and expanded rear laneway.
“While we want to be a good neighbour, we are mindful and acknowledge that change can be unsettling,” reads the site, which was publicized by RioCan early this week. “Most importantly, we want to gather your comments and ideas about the proposed development on Bathurst.”
Mr. Robins emphasized RioCan’s intention to ensure that developments result in the net benefit of the surrounding communities, stressing the site’s accordance with the city’s official plan for mixed use areas , which provides that similar developments will absorb the majority of retail service space in the coming decades. The Loblaws complex at Queen and Portland, also a RioCan property, was brought forth as an example of a comparable development that, according to Mr. Robins, had not adversely impacted the surrounding shopping district.
“At the end of the day, we would like to be a good neighbour,” he added.
Community members in attendance remained unconvinced. An online petition against RioCan’s application for re-zoning on the proposed development site had already gathered over 84,600 signatures by meeting time, which were presented to Community Planner Liora Freedman with a flourish.
Former Kensington Market BIA co-ordinator Yvonne Bambrick quoted from the Toronto Pedestrian Charter’s pledge toward reducing car dependence.
“I’m wondering how 320 or so parking spaces in a car-centric suburban development model helps us achieve those goals for a walkable community, especially one that’s proposed to be put down in the middle of one of the most pedestrian-friendly parts of our city,” said Bambrick.
Martin Zimmerman, owner of Zimmerman’s Freshmart, expressed concern over the impact that a nearby big box retailer would have on his and neighbouring small businesses–perhaps the fiercest point of contention surrounding the development since it was first brought to the public’s attention .
“My family has been in the market for the last 60 years,” said Mr. Zimmerman. “I am fighting for my survival.”
According to Mr. Zimmerman, reverberations from the nearby Loblaws development at Queen and Portland were felt almost immediately by market denizens. He reported immediate sales drops and neighbouring shop closures in the wake of the store’s opening.
Other speakers reported concerns ranging from potential laneway blockage resulting from docked delivery trucks to traffic flow disruptions, to the detrimental impact of a Wal-Mart on the neighbourhood’s social cohesion.
“We’re fighting to preserve the values and ingenuity and creativity and vibrancy and passion and love that is Kensington,” said Ward 20 Councillor Adam Vaughan. “This is about fighting and protecting neighbourhoods.”