A major developer, the city, residents and Nestlé are squabbling over what to do with a patch of industrial land in the city’s west end.
Castlepoint Realty is proposing to build a mixed-use residential development next to the chocolate factory on Sterling Road – 45 new townhomes with live-work spaces, new office towers complete with urban agriculture rooftops, a public square, and revitalization of the heritage Tower Automotive building.
But Nestlé is not on board. In a letter to Toronto’s planning office, it expressed concerns over the introduction of residential units so close to its plant. Residents, however, generally support the bid by the developer to revitalize the desolate stretch of land.
You wouldn’t know there was anything worth arguing about by just passing through on Bloor Street. Rubble-strewn brownfields, dark alleys and former industrial buildings stretch a few square kilometres in Toronto’s South Junction Triangle neighbourhood, sandwiched between Bloor and Dundas, and sealed by GO train tracks on either side.
But there is life as well. A walk down one of those dark pot-holed alleys reveals parents picking up children from an aerial dance class, artists painting ceiling-high canvasses, and a man spray-painting a table for use in a cabaret number. Live-work lofts intermingle with family townhomes, auto-body shops lie a few blocks from the chic Zocalo bistro, and the smell of chocolate wafts from the giant Nestlé plant.
The site in dispute was home to Alcan – originally Northern Aluminum Co. – for more than 80 years. When it was constructed in 1919, the 10-storey building was among the tallest in Canada, and one of the first with an elevator. The city declared it a heritage site in 2005 shortly before then owner, Tower Automotive, went into bankruptcy.
Castlepoint purchased the plot in 2007 and partnered with Rio Tinto Alcan to clean up the property. The environmental remediation was “a great favour to the community,” said local business owner Heather Braaten. When plans for the construction of movie studios on the land fell through, the developers instead proposed a mixed-use site.
The trouble is Nestlé is concerned the factory that operates 24/7, with its noises, trucking, and smells, could become a source of friction with the new residents, said Sarah Phipps, the city planner handling this project. The “thoughtless juxtaposition of industrial and residential uses inevitably leads to complaints by the residential occupants,” Nestlé told the city, “in such a scenario, it is always the industrial user who suffers to a greater or lesser degree.”
At the last community meeting, in October, some residents countered that Ward 18’s other chocolate factory, Cadbury, has peaceably co-existed with its residential neighbours just across the street for many years.
The other problem is that Castlepoint’s development would mean the city loses more industrial employment land. Because of an overlapping study on this problem, the various stakeholders may have to wait up to a year for the planning department to conclude its report. “The city has a tendency to plan things to death,” said John C. O’Keefe Jr., a senior partner at Castlepoint.
Mr. O’Keefe said that Castlepoint has made an effort to hear the community’s concerns, hosting five or six meetings before submitting the application. At the recent meeting, Castlepoint chief executive officer Alfred Romano unexpectedly committed 10 per cent of the new residential units to social housing.
Castlepoint is negotiating this month with Artscape, a non-profit developer that subsidizes residential and work spaces for artists. The company has contributed below-market lofts to the re-development of the Distillery District, Liberty Village, and West Queen West, among other sites. Typically, Artscape mediates between private developers, artists and the wider community “to find a win-win-win scenario,” said CEO Tim Jones. Mr. Jones would not comment specifically on 158 Sterling, citing concerns over creating expectations too early in the negotiation process.
Whether the planning department ultimately recommends the project, in the end it will come down to a vote at City Hall late next year. The Ward’s Councillor, Ana Bailao, has not made a firm commitment regarding which way she’ll vote. This project “is going to be very interesting,” said Ms. Bailao’s constituency assistant, Anna Kral. “Because from what I’ve experienced, they are very hesitant about the residential. So you have to make a choice. Do we keep Nestlé or do we build up the community?”