Losing our religion
City needs to develop solid policy that governs development of church lands
Many churches in our area are experiencing a decline in attendance, and sometimes it results in difficult decisions for the congregation. Churches rent out space to community groups, sometimes merge with other congregations and, in some cases, sell the land.
When the properties come up for sale, they are quickly snatched up because the church lands tend to be large and lucrative to develop. Neighbours are alarmed that the redevelopment plans often include townhouses or six-storey dwellings.
Sometimes the redevelopment plans make sense, for example the redevelopment of St. James Bond Church into a seniors’ residence or St. Margaret’s Church into a townhouse complex. These properties were located on Avenue north of Eglinton and were sensitive to the residential area. The redevelopment of Deer Park United Church was ultimately approved but only after the building received a heritage designation.
There are other times, when the development plans make no sense. Churches on residential streets should not be treated in the same way as those on main arterial roads. Developers think that, because the lot is big, they can build a six-storey condominium in the middle of a neighbourhood. The City of Toronto does not have strong policies to prevent this from happening, so it can become contentious for communities and difficult for the city to defend controversial developments if appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board.
The latest example of this is on Chatsworth Avenue — a one-way residential street. There are small apartments close to Yonge and Chatsworth, but all the homes are detached single-family residences. Chatsworth is also on the ravine system, and the street overlooks a park. For decades the Church of Scientology quietly operated out of its church until it could no longer afford the upkeep.
The site was sold to a developer who cut down the trees without a permit and proposed a seven-storey condo. Although the city and the community are opposed, the developer has appealed the application to the OMB.
With the city lacking the appropriate policies governing the limitations of developing church lands, there is concern in the community that, if the proposal is accepted, it could result in similar developments in other neighbourhoods. Toronto City Council would be well advised to develop these policies before more churches are sold.
As neighbourhoods grow and change, the needs of a community will also change, but the communities also need to be protected against unreasonable development on church lands.
As councillor, Stintz faced down a bulldozer at Chatsworth site
KAREN STINTZ Karen Stintz is a former Midtown city councillor and former TTC chair. She lives in Ward 16 with her husband and two kids.