Queen's Park has lost its fight to preserve one of Toronto's most prized heritage vistas.
The Legislative Assembly of Ontario has been blocked from launching a court challenge to a controversial plan to build two condominium towers that will dramatically alter the postcard image of the historic building that houses the provincial government.
In a ruling released on Thursday, an Ontario court rejected the legislature's request to appeal a decision by the Ontario Municipal Board giving the green light to the project.
The OMB declared in its decision last March that replacing the Four Seasons Hotel on Avenue Road with 48- and 44-storey condo towers was consistent with provincial and city planning policies and rejected arguments that the project will undermine the views of the legislature.
But heritage experts have raised alarms about the project, saying the proposed towers will poke up from the gables of the 118-year-old provincial legislature, one of Toronto's best-known landmarks, and alter the skyline looking north on University Avenue toward Queen's Park.
The experts criticize Premier Dalton McGuinty's government for not attempting to block the condo towers and for not putting heritage legislation in place to protect Queen's Park from real estate projects that compromise the skyline surrounding such an historically significant building.
"Everybody agrees [legislation]should be there, but nobody agrees on who should put it there," said Catherine Nasmith, former president of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario. "That's the problem."
Government members did not seek standing at the hearing in 2009 before the OMB on the condo project. It was left to Steve Peters, Speaker of the legislature, to oppose the project at the hearing on behalf of the Legislative Assembly. He could not be reached for comment Thursday night, so it is not clear whether he plans to appeal the ruling to a higher court. He has said the condos will have a negative impact on the view of the legislative building.
Madam Justice Alison Harvison Young of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice says in her decision that the importance of the building "does not, in itself, render the legal issues of significant importance to justify granting leave to appeal."
The decision appeared to be just fine for Rick Bartolucci, who as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing is in charge of the file. Mr. Bartolucci was not available for comment, but a spokeswoman in his office said he is "satisfied that due process has occurred."
The real estate company behind the proposed condo towers, Menkes Developments, initially unveiled plans in 2007 calling for the demolition of the 31-storey Four Seasons Hotel and for it to be replaced with 54- and 48-storey buildings. But city planners rejected that proposal.