By: Michael Ruskin
Many in our community think of SpringFarm Plaza, or as it is more commonly called, “Sobeys’ Plaza,” as the hub of our neighborhood. In the heart of the SpringFarm Ratepayers Association’s boundaries, the plaza is situated on the corner of Hilda Street and Clarke Ave. West. It is owned by RioCan, the largest real estate investment trust (REIT) in Canada.
In early 2016, RioCan held a public meeting to present a planned 22-story apartment building on their SpringFarm Plaza property. It was planned for the south east corner of the property and would be constructed above a large commercial podium. The plans would have had a seriously negative impact on the adjacent properties. It would have cast significant shadows, created increased traffic and intensified loading on existing infrastructure, in this quiet residential area. Affected neighboring properties include the Conservatory Condos, directly across the road, Yorkhill Elementary School, directly south of the plaza and nearby residential neighborhoods.
The quickly SFRA mounted a very powerful opposition to the proposed development. We presented an extremely well prepared and coordinated presentation to the City of Vaughan. We held many meetings with the Vaughan city councilors, several meetings with RioCan management, as well as with the city’s Planning Department and prepared significant written arguments. This resulted in Vaughan’s agreement with the SFRA, that the redevelopment should not go ahead as planned.
They say that “timing is everything,” and here it proved true, because it just so happened that the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) was stripped of much of its power, by the Province of Ontario, at this crucial juncture. Where the OMB previously held the capacity to over-rule individual city planning decisions in favour of development, it now lost that power. What would in all probability have previously ended up in an OMB hearing, ended up loosing its impetus.
In fairness, RioCan also recognised that the push-back from the community, led by the SFRA, was enormous and so they retracted. Towards the end of 2017, RioCan publicly announced that they would limit a proposed development to a single story retail store that they were considering placing on the north east corner of the plaza. At this time, Riocan has not filed plans for this building and if they were to file plans for what they have outlined, the SFRA would not stand in opposition.
This has to be one of the greatest success stories of its type. It is a true David and Goliath story and the SFRA has every reason to be extremely proud of this achievement. I am extremely gratified to have been part of the team that managed to achieve this success.