North Rosedale is famous for fiercely guarding heritage properties.
To wit: More than 50 volunteers spent years digging up and cataloguing the back stories of all 917 homes in the area in their quest to get the neighbourhood special preservation status. Their efforts paid off, and in 2004 the city enacted rules that made it virtually impossible to alter a home in North Rosedale - until now.
In a surprise move this month, the Toronto and East York Community Council approved a glass-walled addition to 3 Old George Pl., one of only seven homes in the North Rosedale district with an "A" rating, which usually makes a property untouchable.
In fact, the acting manager of the Toronto Preservation Board believes the city has never before approved such a sweeping renovation to an A-rated property in Rosedale. Now some incensed Rosedalians are vowing to halt the project.
"The message here is that if this is happening to this house, every other house is toast. Nowhere is safe," says Alexander Younger, who lives with his wife Sarah and two young daughters at 1 Old George Pl. "Everyone who wants to redevelop an 'A' property will cite this example now and council will have to say yes."
Mr. Younger has vocal support from his neighbours, including Jane Smith, who lives at 4 Old George Pl., and happens to be the mother of Graham Smith, the architect who drafted the first reno plan for 3 Old George Pl. three years ago, then left the project when his clients asked for more square footage in mid-renovation.
Mr. Smith, who grew up in Rosedale, warned the owners, Toronto financier Morrie Tobin and his wife Gale, a lawyer with the real-estate division of Scotiabank, that their ambitious scheme would stir up a hornet's nest of protest.
"This is North Rosedale. People make it their business even if it's not. The first thing they do is call their lawyers," Mr. Smith said. "Just because you got past community council is not a fait accompli in any way ... As soon as the lawyers get involved, it all gets very ugly. It gets very expensive."
Mr. and Ms. Tobin, who declined to be interviewed for this story, purchased 3 Old George Pl. three years ago for $7.5-million. They hired Mr. Smith, of Altius Architecture and Design, to design an addition large enough to house the couple and their six children. At the time, Mr. Smith says, the 43-year-old house was about 6,500 square feet.
The house's concrete-and-steel frame was designed by John B. Parkin, a Toronto-born architect whose work includes modernist downtown buildings such as Toronto's new City Hall, his firm's renowned collaboration with Finnish architect Viljo Revell.
The "Parkin house," as neighbours fondly call it, has a 1960s modernist aesthetic. It's perhaps best exemplified by the large concrete bunker protecting the home from street view. Like its neighbours, the home is barely visible from the street.
Today, 3 Old George Pl. is a stalled construction site. Parts of the roof are missing and the wooden skeleton of the aborted renovation sits abandoned.
When he left the project, Mr. Smith recommended the Tobins work with his friend, architect Ajon Moriyama of Moriyama and Teshima.
The Tobins sent the Moriyama and Teshima design, which would bring the home to about 11,000 square feet through a front-of-home addition and second-storey above the garage, to the city's preservation board in September. They also sent a modified design - smaller additions that interfered less with the streetscape - that the couple hoped would satisfy neighbours.
Councillor Kyle Rae, whose ward includes Rosedale, and Councillor Adam Vaughan, who sits on the preservation board, say the residents were opposed to both designs. The residents say the meeting was confusing and they didn't fully understand their options. Either way, the board, which includes councillors, architects and private citizens with an interest in heritage, defied its own staff's recommendations and approved the grander design. "It was fairly startling," Mr. Vaughan said. "Kyle Rae and myself supported the compromise [design] The rest of the board opted for what they thought was the better design."
Last week, community council unanimously approved the design. "The community council dealt with a 'don't do anything or do something' situation. The design needs to go forward to maintain what's left of the heritage building," Mr. Vaughan said.
Going back to the drawing board isn't an option because the building would fall into further disrepair, he added.
But that explanation doesn't satisfy people like Ms. Smith, the Tobins' neighbour.
"To me it's just a shocking disregard for history and taste."