TORONTO -- The city says that it has reached an agreement with the Ontario government about the redevelopment of a listed heritage site in Toronto’s East Don Lands after a sudden move to demolish buildings on the site earlier this year raised an outcry from community activists.

In a statement released Friday, the city said that it now has an agreement in principle with the province on the Foundry site, located at 153-185 Eastern Avenue. According to the city, the province has committed to “conserving the cultural heritage value of the property,” though a heritage impact assessment also released Friday makes clear that the province still intends to proceed with a three-tower residential development that will require some demolition.

“The plan includes the retention of many features of the site and the demolition of others,” the city said in its statement.

The former industrial complex was once home to the Dominion Wheel & Foundry Ltd. Co., a prominent manufacturer of railway products in the early to mid-20th century. It consists of four heritage buildings and is owned by the Ontario government, but the buildings on the site have been listed on the city’s heritage inventory since 2004.

Community members passing by the site in January discovered per chance that the buildings were being demolished and launched a campaign to try save them.

The provincial government initially said that they needed to move to demolish the site quickly so that they could build affordable housing, but it was later revealed that just a small part of the planned redevelopment (around 30 per cent) would include affordable housing while the rest would be for market-value condos.

Community groups and the city launched a court challenge to stop the demolition and a temporary injunction was granted. A judge found Infrastructure Ontario failed to hold local consultations with the community, failed to provide a Heritage Assessment Report to Toronto in accordance with the subdivision agreement, and did not disclose publicly its intention to demolish the buildings.

Site meets criteria for heritage property

A cultural heritage evaluation report since produced by the province and released Friday found that the Foundry site meets the criteria for a provincial heritage property.

It noted that the property “is the only remaining representation of an industrial complex associated with the theme of railway expansion (1920 -1960) in the precinct and that it “contributes to the understanding of the development of the area in the first part of the twentieth century into an industrial sector in the city that displaced housing for the expansion of the railway industry within the precinct.”

A heritage impact assessment (HIA) also released Friday says that while the province can accommodate the preservation of much of the site, its vision would still entail the construction of three high-rise residential towers on the site and would require the demolition and removal of two ancillary buildings – the Office at 171 Eastern Avenue and the Warehouse at 169 Eastern Avenue.

The loss of those properties could be mitigated, the reports says, by the replication of the Warehouse façade.

The heritage impact assessment – drawn up to comply with the court injunction and to prevent the destruction of heritage assets insofar as the directives of a ministerial zoning order for the site allow – also recommends that the province takes a number of steps in the interim.

Those recommendations include that no demolition be carried out on the Cleaning Building, the 1935 and 1939 Machine Shop buildings and the 1940s additions to the west or north; that the province retains the services of a qualified heritage consultant to oversee its demolition; and that no demolition begins on the Warehouse until a plan that outlines its replication, documentation, and salvage has been submitted to the city.

Any developer who purchases the property from the province will have to agree to a Heritage Conservation Agreement that will be registered on title, the HIA says.

“The city and the province are committed to ensuring that any future purchasers of the property respect the vision for its redevelopment,” the city statement read Friday. “In the event that the property becomes privately owned, the city has the option to designate it under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act, as well as having the future owner enter into a Heritage Easement Agreement (identifying elements of the buildings that must be retained and what changes and types of development may be allowed), as a condition of future planning approvals.”

It is up to the city to decide if it wants to seek formal heritage designation for the properties.

Community celebrates win

Community activists have said that they are not opposed to building affordable housing on the site, but that any plan would have to maintain heritage components of the property.

In a tweet, the community group Friends of the Foundry applauded the deal

“We succeeded in preventing the complete demolition of the #FoundrySite!” the group tweeted. “The Province is now pivoting to an adaptive-reuse approach to the Foundry.”

The group thanked its supporters and called the deal “a big step forward.”

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents the area and took up the cause with the community, also hailed the agreement as a victory, tweeting out that “together we saved the Foundry!”

However in a further statement she said that while she is pleased about the outcome, legal action should never have been necessary to correct the “heavy-handed” approach of the province.

In a statement, Mayor John Tory hailed the deal with the province as a successful compromise.

“I want to thank the local community, city staff and the province for working together to come to a much better outcome for the future of the Dominion Foundry Complex,” Tory said in a statement. “The province has committed to conserving the cultural heritage value of the property and has taken into account feedback from the community and the City of Toronto.

“This path forward has ensured the outcome that I always had hoped could be achieved here -- we ensure more affordable housing is built and at the same time address community concerns around heritage and public consultation.”