More than 30 residents of Toronto's Cabbagetown neighbourhood are opposing the city's decision to build a splash pad in Wellesley Park, arguing that it is the antithesis of the area's Victorian heritage.
Their signatures are listed on a petition that long-time neighbourhood resident Randy Brown started when a large blue tarp was erected at 500 Wellesley St. E. The petition says the tent-like structure, which was installed to give shade to children on the splash pad, is a "gaudy embellishment which dominates Wellesley Street and the park."
"Great efforts have been made to retain the heritage nature of our neighbourhood and the colour of the awning is a flagrant violation," it reads.
The looming structure's colour is one of several complaints the residents have about the project, and their concerns date back to before the construction started.
"I was away on business and I came home and was affronted by this huge blue tarp. Oh my god, it's hideous," said Madeleine Lamont, who says the city did not include the community in the decision-making process. "I came in and I lamented. … I joined people on the street who were shocked and horrified."
Ms. Lamont worries that the splash pad will draw outsiders to the block, and parking will become limited. "We're already permit parking. It's like Cirque du Soleil has put up a tent at the end of our street. People are going to be driving here," she said.
Feeling left out of the splash pad's design planning has only worsened her frustration.
"Usually around here if you want to change anything on the front of your house, you have to go through the historical society and get a permit," she said. "We felt bulldozed, in a way."
However, Scott Weir, principal at Toronto heritage architectural firm ERA Architects Inc. and a member of the Cabbagetown Heritage Conservation District Committee, said the aspects of the splash pad that residents have raised questions about – with the exception of the tarp's colour, which the city has agreed to change to green – do not reflect a concern about heritage, but about design.
"My sense was part of this was about scale, whether the materials are the best thing for the space," he said.
And even if limited parking, a modest population of local children and the residents' lack of involvement in decision-making were valid heritage complaints, Mr. Weir said, it would not matter.
Whether parks must comply with guidelines set out by a Heritage Conservation District Committee is at best a grey area. "We haven't seen anything on this particular structure because the city thinks it doesn't fall under the auspices of the guidelines," he said.
Mr. Brown, who lives on Sumach Street, said the splash pad is inappropriate. "Nobody around here thinks it's necessary or even needs to be there because not that many kids come here," he said.
But Ivan Rusev thought differently as he stood before the splash pad's grounds, watching his 18-month-old son play in a sandbox in the adjacent playground.
"I'll be coming here," Mr. Rusev said, following the small boy to the grass. "So far, the only thing that bothers me is that it's still in construction."
Mr. Rusev didn't have to drive to get there, either. He lives on Cole Street, within walking distance.
Stephen O'Bright, who has been overseeing the project as manager of capital construction for the city's parks department, said that, contrary to what Ms. Lamont thinks, most people will arrive at the splash pad the way Mr. Rusev did.
"We're not building Canada's Wonderland at the end of the street," he said.
The spot will be where children in the area cool off in the summer, and is not expected to become a "destination."
The splash pad's construction is scheduled to finish in July.