Big box store stirs big concern in Leslieville

A resident of Leslieville says any move toward a big box store will be hard for his community’s well-being.

Close to 100 Leslieville residents gathered at the Ralph Thornton Centre at 765 Queen St.E. on Tuesday night. Some residents expressed concern over the proposed big-box stores planned for Eastern Avenue. Rob Bujold has lived in the area for 18 years. He feels the smaller businesses in the area – bakeries, art galleries and cafes – would not withstand a big box store just a block away.

“I stroll along Queen Street (East) all the time now,” Bujold said. “I’m concerned … these businesses are just getting on their feet and the community is just in a process of really transforming itself and just starting to get healthy.”

Brendan O’Callaghan, a lawyer for the city of Toronto, addressed the meeting. He explained that he had argued a good case against SmartCentres Inc. during a hearing before the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).
“The OMB is fair; we were heard and my fingers are crossed,” O’Callaghan said.

Since May, O’Callaghan has argued that SmartCentres Inc., a private real estate development company, should not convert three Eastern Avenue lots into mixed-use development. The lots amount to a total of 750,000 square feet of land.

Closing arguments were presented at the OMB in September. SmartCentres Inc. argued the development would fit in with the neighbourhood, but O’Callaghan said the company missed the point.

“It’s not about urban design and architecture,” O’Callaghan said. “This is not a case of how to make a power centre look like a business campus. This is about should it be a business campus (at all).”
If the OMB rules in favour of SmartCentres Inc., stores such as Wal-mart could potentially move in.

O’Callaghan said he argued that point during the hearing. He said that it all comes down to money. SmartCentres Inc. wants to convert the industrial property to retail space for profit.

“Industrial is high in demand for business for $400,000 an acre,” O’Callaghan said, “but if you convert to retail, it’s $800,000 an acre.”

Further, the residents became more nervous after learning that the Toronto Film Studio (TFS), at 629 Eastern Ave., will soon be knocked down. This as the TFS prepares to move to the Toronto Port Lands.

“SmartCleaners (Inc.) will go ahead with their demolition of the TFS,” O’Callaghan said. “That’s their right.”
Should the city lose the case, it would co-operate with SmartCentres Inc. in a site plan process. This in hopes the company would make the site appealing, by planting trees and erecting fences.

But until the OMB reaches that decision, Ward 30 City Councillor Paula Fletcher said she will at least try to keep residents informed.

“I think we’ve accomplished what we’ve set out to do tonight – to give everybody a full amount of information about the hearing – different positions at the hearing – and what some of the outcomes might be.”

Officials expect the OMB to make a final decision by mid-December.