Another Day, Another Unscrupulous Developer

Leaside residents are enraged that a buyer has purchased a historical, landmark home, and has sought approval to sever the lot into three parcels!

Fight the good fight, folks!

This from the East York Mirror this week:

A new owner of a heritage-listed Leaside home is holding an information session to let residents know about planned changes to the property.

Elgie Farmhouse, the prominent red brick farmhouse at 262 Bessborough Dr., is listed, but not fully designated, under the Ontario Heritage Act. The property’s new owner wants to remove the house’s north and south wings, which were added after it was originally built, and restore the front and sides of the building.

The owner also plans to relocate the home near the front of the property, and sever the current lot into three, with the farmhouse occupying the middle lot and a new house built on each remaining lot.

The new lots would be approximately 30 feet wide and would conform to applicable bylaws.

To change the design of the lot, at least one mature tree would be removed, and a number of new trees planted.

A rezoning application for the property has not yet been filed with the city. The meeting, held at the suggestion of Don Valley West Councillor John Parker, is for the benefit of interested community members, and is not a required meeting.

At the information session, residents will have the chance to speak with the property owner and architects about the proposed changes.

The meeting takes place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27 at Leaside Library, 165 McRae Dr.


 

So let me get this straight…

A developer, whose name is not known by anybody in the Leaside community, and who hasn’t worked in the area before, has purchased a magnificent, original, historical home, and now wants to demolish it and build three in its place?

Oh I know – he says he wants to “reposition” the house, but let’s cut through that crap and get right to the point: the developer wants to sub-divide the 100-foot lot and build three houses in its place, on a prime street, in a booming neighbourhood.

Fight it, folks.

Fight it, tooth and nail.

About ten years ago, another original, landmark house came up for sale in Leaside, and there was some discussion about “what to do with it.”

Residents were afraid that the farmhouse, which sits sideways on Heather Road (it was built before any of the other homes, and thus it’s turned diagonally when compared to the ‘newer’ homes built in the ’40’s and ’50’s), would be purchased by a developer or opportunist, and torn down.

As luck would have it, a former Toronto Maple Leaf who lived in the area ended up purchasing the house, and he and his wife worked to restore the home to its former glory.  The house is now a landmark of a different type; it combines Leaside’s history with a bit of a modern flair.  For example, the property is fenced-in with a very classic-looking cowboy-ranch-like wooden fence that is only waist-high.  It looks to me like something out of Wyoming or perhaps the time period when this house was built.

The problem with houses like the one on Heather Road, and the one at 262 Bessborough Drive, is that they’re not “designated” as historical under the Ontario Heritage Act, but rather just “listed.”

The house at 262 Bessborough Drive, like the one on Heather Road, and like another down on Sutherland (home to one of my childhood friends), is an original Lea home, as in the Lea Family, after whichLeasidewas named.

These houses are a part of the social fabric of Leaside, and I don’t think you can make any comparison to other homes in the area.  Look at the map of the house on Land Registry and you’ll see just what a magnificent and unique piece of property this is:

 

I talked to Patrick Rocca about this on Tuesday afternoon.

For those of you that don’t know Patrick, he’s the number-one real estate agent in Leaside, about 10-15 years running, but he’s also a resident who has raised a family in the area, in three different homes, and who has served on just about every community board and in every group.

“I can’t even believe it’s being considered,” said Patrick.  “It’s one of the most historical properties in Leaside; it just can’t happen.”

Patrick, like every other Leaside resident (including myself – growing up and walking by that house every day on my way to school), understands that developers are present in every neighbourhood, but believes this situation is different.

“This isn’t just a builder coming into Leaside to top-up a bungalow, or build a stucco box.  This is an unknown developer, looking to come in and destroy a part of Leaside’s heritage, history, community, and tear away at the social fabric of the neighbourhood.”

He added, “To allow this, would be archaic.”

The developer has petitioned for permission toremove the north and south wings of the house to restore the front and sides of the building.

What does that mean?  It means: Tear off two-thirds of the house so that two other houses can be built next door.

Have a look at the property as it stood in 1952:

That’s the original house (great cars too!) that rises two storey, and since then, the house has tripled in size.

The developer lacks any sort of tact or discretion, and his objectives are completely transparent.

I’m a capitalist, and I’m all for adventures in the nature of trade, but you have to draw the line somewhere.  Otherwise, there’d be no minimum wage laws, nor would there be any rules against dumping toxic waste in playgrounds, etc.

“Renovate the house; restore it.  Keep the integrity of the home, and thus the integrity of the area,” says Patrick Rocca.  “I will do anything in my power to fight this, personally.  That’s how strongly I feel.”

I don’t think he’s alone.

Here’s the notice, for all those interested:

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  1. Hugh Syme says:

    I am favored nephew to the 3rd, now deceased owner of the Elgie home at 262 Bessborough Drive. While it feels peculiar and invasive to think of my family’s home being “developed” (much less physically moved to the east on their property) … I think, in fairness, it wants to be observed that the 1970’s renovation to that original farm house (by my Aunt Mary Syme) was a substantial deviation, as was the subdivision to the original Elgie compound – (allowing for the construction of the hideous home to the north). To his credit, this new developer has the intention of truly “restoring’ the home to it’s original state (without the huge 70’s addition to the south … and the incongruous suburban-style garage to the north).
    I feel that, despite the diminished lot size (and the proposed 2 new homes flanking the Elgie/Syme house), we can find comfort in knowing that the Elgie home will be once again featured in a state identical (or not dissimilar) to the Elgie home my grandmother purchased in 1952 (for $25,000).
    I just hope they reinstate the original wraparound veranda from the old house — that would complete the picture!
    Notable is the fact that city council stamped the building permits in the 70’s for that radical (and incongruous) renovation and sizable subdivision that my Aunt then requested. Why, and how, can this same property be the subject of so many bored and meddlesome New Empire Loyalist “Leasiders”, when precedence has already ruled in recent history that change is the right of the owner, according to our city council in the 70’s. It was so for my Aunt, then — and it is so for the “unknown” developer, now. No contest.

  2. Veronica MacDonell says:

    As someone who grew up down the street (98 Bessborough) and walked by this house almost every day as a kid this is really disheartening.

    And while I can understand the other side of the issue, there are some things that are better left alone. Historic charm is becoming harder and harder to come by in Toronto and should be protected.

    Hopefully Patrick can lead the charge on this!

  3. Paully says:

    How many Leaside residents does it take to screw in a lightbulb? (an organically sourced green technology LED bulb, by the way)

    One – he holds it up, and the rest of the world revolves around him!

    1. Rob says:

      As a male, I take offence.

  4. Devore says:

    It’s Leaside, for pete’s sake!

    Density? Great, but not in my back yard. The developer is treating the property and neighbourhood exactly as it is: just another place full of 30 foot lots crammed with houses and basement suites.

    The previous owners didn’t feel like it was their duty or responsibility to preserve the “heritage” on a large lot. If the area residents feel so strongly about it, they should have gotten together, bought it through a joint company, and turned it into a public space, or a private clubhouse.

    1. Vlad says:

      Agreed. There are always NIMBYs who like to dictate what other people can do with their money.

  5. Frito Bandito says:

    The developer is not demolishing the house, he wants to restore it to its original design and relocate it while making some money on his investment. Isn’t he entitled to be a ‘capitalist’ after all? People in Leaside need to stop deluding themselves that they are of some sort of pedigree for living there. Get over it.

  6. Kyle says:

    I’m going to have to go with the majority on this one. Leaside is probably comprised of over 80% new builds or extensively renovated houses that look nothing like they originally did. There’s practically nothing “original” left in the whole neighbourhood. And in my opinion, many of the new builds and extensively renovated houses, done by builders and developers who are known in Leaside, are architcurally pretty god awful. So i don’t really see how putting up three new builds on 30′ lots is destroying the fabric or character of the neigbourhood. In fact, if anything i think it is only reinforcing the character of the neighbourhood.

  7. lui says:

    I have to disagree with you on this one David,why does a developer have to be well “known” in Leaside to buy and build here,does Leaside residence have better taste than non Leaside residence?.The current house is not a heritage house so on a legal footing the buyer can do what he wants within the zoning regulations.Have you seen the designs of the propose three house build even though it may not be to the Leaside standards maybe others who live beyond the Leaside borders love it.This is clear example of NIMBY by the rich folks.

    1. lui says:

      also Frank Gehry home on Beverley was torn down to build 12 Degree condo,it was about 100 years old to and he is one of the most famous architect in the world.That home has more history that this house in Leaside but dont have the nimbyism of Leaside to stop its destruction.

  8. tear down says:

    not architecturally pleasing or unique, so why save it.

  9. johnny chase says:

    The original Farm House is still in Moore Park I believe – on the corner of Glenrose and Welland. I can guarantee you that the house doesn’t represent the “fabric” of Moore Park. The people do. And the same with Leaside. The people make the fabric not the buildings.

  10. Geoff says:

    I’m torn on this one because I currently live on the street – note, I do not own the place, nor do I have money to own in Leaside, I’m looking after it for family out of the country for a year, and I’ve walked by here with the dog many times. I remember seeing it go on the market and reading another person’s thoughts:
    http://themashcanada.blogspot.com/2012/11/262-bessborough-drive-leaside.html

    I think that with the right developer, this could be done properly and still keep some integrity to the original structure. There has been so much building going on around us, much of it maxing out the space on each lot, that this could be done and still look better than many of the new stone and stucco places going up and selling for $2M.
    When I look at the pictures in the link I attached, I think some of the nicer pieces in the current structure stand a better chance of being kept in a smaller house, than someone buying and essentially gutting the entire place.

  11. ABB says:

    OK, after beating up David, I do give him points for passion.

    FYI to all, Here is a parallel case of a heritage home in Scarborough, right fro the 18th century, that was featured in October 2012 in the Globe and mail.

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/home-and-garden/real-estate/home-of-the-week-heritage-home-keeps-state-of-the-art-flourishes/article4620567/

    This is a home that deserves to have not one nail removed. Wow, what a gem.

    146 ST. ANDREWS RD., SCARBOROUGH

    Asking Price: $1.75-million

    Taxes: $4,721 (2011)

    Agent: Colin Byrne (Re/Max Hallmark Realty Ltd.)

    The back storyActually, this heritage home has two back stories. In 1802, Andrew Thomson, brother of Scarborough’s first European settler, David Thomson (after which Thomson Park is named), purchased a huge parcel of land. In 1839, his son, James A., acquired it and tucked this two-and-a-half-storey “Romantic style” farmhouse, known as Springfield, into a natural slope for heating and cooling purposes; because of this, the rear elevation reads as one-and-a-half storeys. According to the historical plaque outside, (placed by the Scarborough Historical Society in 1979) Springfield is the “oldest brick dwelling in Scarborough,” although the first storey/basement was built with local stone. Symmetrical window and door placements are somewhat Georgian, a wide, wraparound porch features decorative “trelliages,” and the original, freestanding root house remains.

  12. RPG says:

    SAVE THE CLOCK TOWER!

    You need to start a collection jar, like this:

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89-kml2qklg&w=420&h=315%5D

    1. AsianSensation says:

      Ha. Best reply on here.

  13. Optimist says:

    You’re all heartless bastards.
    This isn’t just some old house or some unique house. This is THE original house in Leaside. It’s the oldest, the first, and the most unique.
    If there are rules about no below-grade driveways, surely there can be a rule about tearing down THE original house in the area.
    And you can’t point to lack of municipal intervention since we all know how usleless most city councillors and politicians are.

    1. Ralph Cramdown says:

      There’s not much that’s original about this original house. Most of it isn’t that old. I don’t know what size the rooms are inside, or how much it costs to heat, but I suspect it isn’t what the contemporary buyer is looking for. For the exterior to be preserved so that everyone in the neighbourhood can feel proud while their dog craps on its front lawn, it would need a total gut. Would it still be original then?

      If Leaside wants to save this valuable thing, somebody should go door to door and raise funds sufficient to make the developer an offer he can’t refuse.

      1. ABB says:

        TODAY’S KEY QUESTION: Is Leaside dog poop of higher class and higher social standing than other dog excrement in Toronto? People living in Leaside would arrogantly claim ‘yes!’

        (it’s only 12 noon and we have a ton of action in comments today, let’s shoot for 50 replies!)

        1. @ ABB

          Hahahaha okay, okay, I get it!

          But it’s not about the class or exclusivity of Leaside, or the residents.

          It’s about one of the oldest houses in all of Toronto – 165 years old. Should it be demolished?

          Johnny Chase is right – the proposal conforms with all the other houses on the street. It’s not like the developer wants to build a 4-storey home with 80% coverage.

          I guess I’d just like to see a bit more of Toronto’s original history preserved.

    2. ScottyP says:

      If only it were the original house.

      Just compare the two photos provided by David. The original house is long gone.

      If, say, 20% of the original structure still exists, then I for one would be in favour protecting said 20%.

      Which, in a way, is what the developer seems to be proposing. Whether he will come through is another matter, and where productive discussion can lead to ensuring that the developer ends up preserving that which he’s proposed to preserve.

      Honestly, that may be the best that historians and community organizers can hope for.

      1. ScottyP says:

        You beat me to it, Ralph!

  14. ScottyP says:

    Sorry David, but I agree with the general consensus of the thread so far.

    First off (as Ralph Cramdown mentioned), the fact that the developer is unknown isn’t really relevant to your argument.

    Second (with a hat-tip to johnny chase), the fact that the house was merely listed as a heritage property begs the question: Why hadn’t a more extensive heritage evaluation been requested through the proper channels until now?

    Third (as ABB alluded to), the wording you used in your post seems to suggest an appeal to emotion rather than logic. This is somewhat understandable, given your strong personal ties to the Leaside community; we’re all human after all. But those of us who don’t reside in Leaside require a more logical explanation than Patrick Rocca’s assertion that the “social fabric” of the community will be “torn apart” should one big lot on the edge of the former hamlet become three smaller ones.

    Finally, looking at that photo from 1952, the house back then looked nothing like it does now. I’m no expert, but can a property that was almost unrecognizable a half-century ago demand heritage designation in the first place? I wonder.

    I used to walk by plenty of interesting properties on the way to school that are now long gone, having been swallowed by progress. At least with this proposal, a piece of the past is to be preserved.

    Concerned Leasiders are going to have a tough hill to climb here.

  15. Well once again, it seems popular opinion is contrary to mine. I definitely thought there’s be some nay-sayers (Ben’s comment about “rich people” is what I was expecting), but I didn’t foresee all the comments being against.

    Maybe I’m naive, or maybe I’m a bleeding heart. I live in the St. Lawrence Market area downtown where half the buildings are original, historic, and give the area character and a story. I love that the Ontario Heritage Act has ensured that Toronto’s history has been saved from the scrap heap.

    The house on Bessborough Drive is a part of Toronto’s history, not just Leaside’s.

    Why not tear down Fort York? Or sell Casa Loma to a developer?

    1. ScottyP says:

      That’s what makes your blog such an interesting read: It’s always full of surprises!

    2. ABB says:

      The entire character of that area is in flux. When people renovate or replace a 1940s vintage bungalow, they are contributing to the dramatic evolution of your old ‘hood.

      The developer’s proposal does not seem to be any different from the other 30-foot homes in the area. In fact, I would call it a visionary proposal because it seeks highest and best use of the large property. The later additionas appear to be somewhat tacky, so I would also state he is returning the original small home to greater glory than it has ever enjoyed.

      This proposal deserves to be approved, and you should retract the unfair and defamatory assertion that the developer is unscrupulous. You have MAJOR legal exposure with that false assertion hanging out in public.

      1. @ ABB

        Legal exposure does not equate to financial restitution.

        I’d love to see somebody spend $100K, chasing me through courts for six years, all because I used the word “unscrupoulous.”

        Call me a cynic (or the son of a lawyer, whose friends are all lawyers), but I believe the words “I’ll sue you” are the three most overrated words on the planet. Nobody really sues anybody in today’s society. People may send letter via lawyers, or maybe even file a lawsuit if they have the money, but how many “I’ll sue you” comments end up in a court of law?

        Honestly, I see your point, and it’s not without merit.

        1. ScottyP says:

          You just said that last part so that ABB doesn’t sue you.

          1. moonbeam! says:

            I totally agree with DF that ‘legal action’ threats are shallow and unrealistic … a lawsuit over the use of the word unscrupulous??

          2. ABB says:

            This is where bloggers get into trouble. Words do matter. No journalist would use that word in any responsible context. It brings disrepute to the person’s character, which most certainly is legal risk to their newspaper or magazine (it would be edited out before publishing, undoubtedly). Bloggers don’t have the benefit of training and education (or an editor) regarding their responsibilities as publishers. There are many examples of bloggers getting destroyed financially for making unfair and unsupported attacks against a person’s character.

  16. Ben says:

    I have no problem with this proposal. Historical preservation is a problem for out of touch rich people. Fighting this proposal serves only to protect the exclusivity of the neighbourhood, and does nothing to benefit real people with real problems. Choose your battles people!

  17. johnny chase says:

    So the developer want to turn the lot into 30′ lots like every other lot in Leaside? What’s the problem? The only people this will effect (and marginally at that) and the 5-6 other homes on the street.

    If Patrick think this house represents the “fabric” of Leaside, then why didn’t he make an application to have it designated BEFORE it was sold? This is nothing more than Patrick being opportunistic. I wonder how he would have felt if he actually had the listing. Hmmm.

    1. patrick says:

      hey johnny..opprotunistic?i dont think so….i had 3 buyers approach me with interest in this prop..i told them all the same thing…if you buy it,you will have a fight on your hands frm the community if you decide to touch it(i know this community obviously)..if i was opprotunistic,i would have encouraged 1 of the 3 to buy it and cashed my commision chq…not my style..:)and the problem is it effects more than a few homes on this street fyi,but thats a diff debate..:)…

      1. johnny chase says:

        Patrick – I’m glad you answered the call. By labelling you as opportunistic, I meant that this now gives you the opportunity to be a local hero for all the residents by leading the charge to fight the redevleopment. Even more people will know your name and your market share for Leaside will go from 30% to 50% (or 70% to 90% – you get the idea.)

        I know you could have sold this thing 10 times and then resold each home from the developer if you wanted to. And I realize you don’t need the money.

        My main point was: Why are you leading this fight now in a big public forum when you could have done it years ago quietly? Why didn’t you get together with the local community reps and identify the most historical homes in the area and have them designated 3 5 or 10 years ago? No doubt the publicity is good for your local business… that’s what I meant by opportunisitc.

        1. Ralph Cramdown says:

          Ouch!

          I guess it’s more along the lines of the Marquess of Queensberry rules to allow a developer to step up and pay a big redevelopment lot price, then screw him with a heritage designation, than to get the heritage designation in place beforehand and screw the seller.

          1. ScottyP says:

            I don’t necessarily buy the whole “heritage can be a benefit!” theory, but here’s one article from Canada’s Most Read Newspaper that claims it’s the case:

            http://www.thestar.com/life/homes/2012/02/10/the_hidden_value_in_heritage_properties.html

            Regardless of whether a heritage designation is a blessing or a curse, you’d have to think that the former owner of “The Original Lea home” would be aware of the distinct possibility of being slapped with one down the road.

            As is happens, the property was merely listed… in 2006. Since then, nothing but the chirping of crickets.

            The neighbourhood had their chance, as did Mr. Rocca. Time to move on.

        2. patrick says:

          johnny,very good question and i wish i could answer it …for starters i dont need publicity for my business..ive been in leaside for years and people know me…i am by far leading the fight fyi..we have a great rate payers assoc(lpoa)which i have served and leaside unite which i support…the truth is we (leaside residents)have never had our history attacked like it is being done now by a developer with this type of home…yes,developers have been fought for various reasons but what most people dont understand is the history of this home..this isnt a leaside thing..this is a toronto thing…and ur right,maybe we(the community) should have been more proactive..that being said,we were not,thus the fight..if that is opportunistic,so be it…

  18. Rob says:

    Impressive that the councillor managed to get his name on the bulletin five times along with his photo. Bravo!

    1. ABB says:

      That’s nothing, you should see how that idiot Chow gets her name and face plastered on everything in Trinity Spadina!!

      1. McBloggert says:

        ABB – be VERY careful about what you say. Do you know for a fact that Ms. Chow is an idiot? Have you seen her standardized testing scores? Has she stated that she is in fact not of sound mind? Would it not be more appropriate to say that she does not share or represent your views?

        Be VERY careful, I expect more from a person commenting on a BLOG post…

  19. ABB says:

    PS — The word ‘unscrupulous’ is potentially defamatory. You are implying improper motives, character and behaviours. It’s a very unprofessional comment for a blogger, David.

    The more responsible word is ‘opportunistic’ which does not make judgment about the character of the developer. Be careful, David. Be VERY careful about what you are saying.

    1. @ ABB

      When a developer makes some BS assertation that he wants to remove the north and south wings of the house to restore the original property, all the while, planning to sever the lot and build three houses, that implies improper motives to me. He should just come out and say, “I’m going to tear down the entire house, build three houses in its place, and sell them off.” That’s what he’s really banking on.

  20. Ralph Cramdown says:

    Oh the horror! An UNKNOWN developer, right here in Leaside! Since the known developers have pockmarked the neighbourhood with stucco boxes and iffy top-ups, maybe you’ll get lucky and get something of quality this time.

    You know what they say: If you liked it, you should have put a ring on it.

  21. ABB says:

    Why is this a problem when the monster house at 264 is so overpowering and dominant?

    Why fight this until you see whether the proposed designs for the 2 adjacent new homes are perhaps an improvement to the original streetscape?

    This may be a brilliant proposal. Or not. But you should not fight something blindly until all the facts are known.

    1. AsianSensation says:

      Based on the information at hand, ALL of us are giving our opinions. The day that our opinions must be censored is the day canada becomes Orwell’s nightmare.

      It’s not like David is Perez Hilton after all!!!

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