Councillor Doug Ford summed up the feelings of the majority of those gathered in Etobicoke Tuesday to debate the redevelopment of a local mall: "We're all in consensus, we're going to kill this thing."
After residents spent over six hours lambasting proposed residential additions to the Humbertown Shopping centre in Etobicoke's Humber Valley Village, the Etobicoke Community Council unanimously voted against supporting the plan when it comes before Toronto City Council next month.
"Too big. Too dense. Too tall," was the message coming from residents of Humber Valley Village as the council considered a proposal that would add 604 new residential units to the area, which is currently home to 1,600 dwellings.
First Capital Realty, which owns the land, is planning on converting the 60-year-old Humbertown Shopping Centre, a strip mall located at 270 Kingsway, into a mixed-use condo development. The proposed project aims to add five new buildings to the site, the tallest being 12 storeys, creating 576 condos and 28 townhouses, in addition to over 21,000 square metres of commercial space.
While the 3,200-seat auditorium at the Church on the Queensway didn't come close to being filled at any point during the meeting – which ran from just after 3 p.m. until past 9 p.m. with an hour break – 79 people signed up to speak. Most of those who spoke at the meeting were residents opposed First Capital's plan.
"The application should be rejected because the people who live here and who you represent strongly oppose it," Susan Riseley, a director of the Humber Valley Village Residents' Association told council. "We just don't support the level of intensification they want."
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who has previously spoken out against the proposed development, arrived at the meeting shortly after 7:30 p.m., briefly sitting in the audience before running outside to the parking lot to put "Rob Ford Mayor" magnets on cars. While walking between vehicles, the mayor expressed his dissatisfaction with the First Capital proposal, adding that he believes the Humbertown site is fine the way it is.
"This isn't downtown, this Etobicoke," said Mr. Ford, who lives in the Humber Valley area, as does his brother Doug. "Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with Humbertown .… We cannot let these developers come in and bully us."
Rob Ford returned to the audience, taking in the rest of the meeting, before addressing the audience saying he would do everything in his power to keep the development from being built.
Residents repeatedly came to the podium citing issues with the increased density that would come along with the 604 new residences in the neighbourhood. Both residents and councillors felt the development would bring on added stress to the area's roads, which they said are already congested, and schools, which they said are already overcrowded.
Many residents also expressed issues with the height of the new buildings – one of which would be 12 storeys, another 10, another eight – as the area has just one other tall building, a 17-storey apartment building near the Humbertown site.
"It's a little ambitious," Doug Holyday, Councillor for Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre, said of First Capital's proposal. "I think the people are right on this one, it would alter the neighbourhood."
Residents of the neighbourhood repeatedly said they supported some kind of development of the aging Humbertown plaza, however, they felt the proposed plan was not right for the community. The Humber Valley Village Residents' Association hired its own architect, who came up with a smaller-scale plan that would add 202 residential units, 158 condos and 44 townhouses.
The residents' association proposal came after the group felt citizens' concerns were not met during public consultations with First Capital. Niels Christensen, the association's president, is hopeful a compromise between the two sides can be reached.
"Why would they want to build something with such overwhelming opposition?" he said. "Maybe we can meet somewhere in the middle and have something they can be proud of and the community can support."
First Capital's proposal will come before city council June 11 and Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby, whose Ward 4 encompasses Humber Valley Village, is confident she will get support councillors outside Etobicoke.
"They tend to support the local councillor," said Ms. Lindsay Luby, a strong opponent of the First Capital proposal. "I don't know why anybody downtown or in Scarborough should really have an issue."
Following city council's decision, either First Capital or the residents can appeal through the Ontario Municipal Board. Ms. Lindsay Luby said the developers have given every indication they will take the matter to the OMB if city council rejects their plan.
First Capital vice-president Jodi Shpigel did not comment on the likelihood of taking the matter to the OMB. However, she did say her group was going to "consider all of our options," one of which being an OMB appeal. She added that it is unlikely the proposal will change again before a decision at either city council or the OMB.
"We're very confident with our proposal, we're very comfortable with it, we're quite proud of it actually," said Ms. Shpigel. "We think it fits right in with the community."
While the night ended with residents giving the community council's decision a standing ovation, they know their fight isn't over yet.
"We're obviously happy that everything we asked for has been approved by council," said Mr. Christensen. "But we're not naive enough to think that this is the end of everything."