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A City of Toronto planning report into redevelopment plans for Ontario Place says the propsed entry pavilion to the proposed spa and waterpark would block heritage views, while a planned five-level underground parking garage contradicts the government’s own policies.Therme Group

The province’s planned private-sector spa and waterpark at Ontario Place is too large and its proposed five-level underground parking garage contradicts the government’s own policies on reducing car use, City of Toronto planners say.

A new status report from the city, released Friday, finds a long list of faults in the province’s plan. The proposal would see the provincially-owned lakefront Toronto site’s West Island become home to a greenhouse-like 65,000-square-metre spa and waterpark, to be built by Vienna-based company Therme Group, that would rise 45 metres in the air.

According to a company document obtained by The Globe and Mail, Therme already offered to address some of the concerns raised in the city’s report in a meeting with the planning department this week.

But any changes made by Therme are unlikely to satisfy the local activists who have waged a concerted campaign against the entire idea. They argue the site should be rehabilitated as public parkland, and that the province should cancel its plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars preparing the site for development and building a new parking garage for 2,100 cars.

After criticism, European developer submits new Ontario Place design with more parkland

Meanwhile, the project, a key priority for Premier Doug Ford, faces a changing local political landscape. With the departure of John Tory, who resigned as Toronto’s mayor earlier this year after acknowledging an affair with a staffer, some of the candidates vying to replace him have come out against the plan.

Among them is former councillor Ana Bailao, who this week called it “ridiculous” to “subsidize a private company to build a spa at Ontario Place.” Another, sitting councillor Josh Matlow, is also opposed.

But the province could still use its powers to trump the city and scrap the normal approval process if a new mayor opposes the plan, or if it bogs down in appeals to Ontario’s land tribunal.

The city’s planning report says Therme’s proposed entry pavilion and attached enclosed bridge, which would allow customers to walk across the water to the island waterpark, would block “heritage views” of Ontario Place’s giant golf-ball-like Cinesphere and its “pods,” futuristic structures identified with the site since it first opened in 1971.

Meanwhile the proposed main spa building itself on Ontario’s Place’s West Island is “not scaled appropriately to the size of the island, diminishing the relative prominence of the Cinesphere and pods.”

Therme’s plan would remove the majority of the island’s “landscape heritage attributes,” and all of its mature trees, the report notes. Plus, the company’s design for the “public realm” surrounding its spa – six-metre-wide paths, gathering spots and a new public beach – is “insufficient in some areas and is not in proportion to the tall abutting building walls.”

The report says the facility is not far from transit links, including the province’s future Ontario Line subway, yet the proposal includes a large underground parking garage and a surface lot with another 650 spots. This fails to meet the province’s own planning objective of “transit-supportive” development, the report says.

(The province is already obligated to maintain a 1,200-spot lot as part of its lease with Live Nation’s Budweiser Stage venue at Ontario Place, which is also set to be expanded. The government has also proposed using the site for Ontario Science Centre exhibits.)

The city also says it has told the province it should do a full environmental assessment before it proceeds with the lakefilling and shoreline rehabilitation it has planned for the West Island, which could delay the project.

In a document obtained by The Globe that outlines a presentation Therme gave to city planners this week, the company says it is doing a “major redesign” of the bridge. It says it would make it transparent, to afford better views of the original Ontario Place, while improving public access.

Therme also says it will shrink its main structure by three to five metres on its north side to allow for wider public pathways. And it is “working on finding opportunities” to make the towering spa building itself shorter.

But the company rejects the city’s calls to move or dramatically shrink its entry pavilion, or carve up its main building into smaller pieces. It says both ideas “would not meet our guest experience strategy of seamless transition through areas” and would scupper its business model, costing it more money while “throughput targets would be missed.”

It says it needs its large entry pavilion to handle the 14,000 visitors it expects on peak days. The document includes projected wait times for Therme’s attraction: At 4 p.m. on a peak day in its fifth year of operation, upwards of 400 people will be in line with an average wait of 38 minutes to get in.

Cynthia Wilkey of the group Ontario Place for All, which has been fighting the development, says no tweaks to the plan are enough to save it.

“There’s nothing wrong with a spa,” Ms. Wilkey said. “It should be somewhere else.”

Therme had already unveiled changes to its plans last November in an attempt to address criticism, enlarging the proposed parkland, which includes pathways and a new beach, that would surround its $350-million facility.

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