Los­ing our re­li­gion

City needs to de­velop solid pol­icy that gov­erns de­vel­op­ment of church lands

Richmond Hill Post - - Stintz On Midtown -

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.

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