Could This Happen Again?
Yes we won this round but I must say that I was somewhat saddened by the lack of support shown by the councillors for the uniqueness and historical status of the Exchange District. When confronted with a developer with money, our passionate arguments about the look and scale of our beloved area did not seem to have much weight; nor did the thought of losing our National Heritage Site designation or did the potential impact on the film industry.
If not for the support of our Councillor, Vivian Santos, the result would have been very different. Councillor Lukes seemed to reluctantly support Councillor Santos. The chair, Councillor Gilroy voted for Councillor Santos’ motion but Councillor Klein voted against, indicating his support for a 145’ building in the Exchange.
We often refer to the Exchange District as the "hidden gem" but if we start hiding our heritage between tall modern buildings, the gems will at first be hidden, then eventually, lost.
My fear is what would have happened if our residents had not been at the hearing en masse? With 8 passionate speakers and 160 emails, we seemed to get our 'win' by the narrowest of margins. Clearly the developer thought he had a chance. Would a loss have been the start of the end of the Exchange District? I believe so. The precedent could have meant that in subsequent years, other developers could point to the 12 story tower and ask for 15 stories, or 18 stories. The same developer owns other parking lots in the area…
The National Heritage Site designation, from 1997, recognizes the whole Exchange, not any individual buildings. We often refer to the Exchange District as the ‘hidden gem’ but if we start hiding our heritage between tall modern buildings, the gems will at first be hidden, then eventually, lost.
I am thankful our community reacted quickly and spoke loudly this time. We might need an even louder voice next time.