Parish upset by St. Mike's condo development

  • March 7, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - Linda Cahill is just one of 1,400-plus outraged parishioners of St. Basil’s parish in Toronto, but she’s outraged on behalf of Captain John Elmsley, whose heart is buried in the wall of her church.

Cahill was one of more than 60 parishioners and University of St. Michael’s College students who showed up at a 9:30 a.m. Toronto City Council meeting March 3 to present a petition containing some 1,400 signatures demanding a delay to plans to erect two condo towers just out the back door of their church.

Despite the protest, council voted a day later 37-1 to approve the project. The college will realize $34 million from the deal.

The two towers will be 55 and and 45 storeys and will begin less than four metres from the handicapped access at the back door of the church.

“That’s not right,” Cahill told The Catholic Register. “Captain John Elmsley wouldn’t be too happy about that.”

Elmsley gave the land at the corner of St. Joseph and Bay Streets to the archdiocese of Toronto for a school and a church. The University of St. Michael’s College and St. Basil’s Church have occupied the site for more than 150 years. And Elmsley’s heart has been buried in a wall of the church since he died in 1863.

Pastor Fr. Paul McGill is now worried those walls could be threatened by two years of heavy duty construction within spitting distance of the church.

“This could really be very demoralizing for our parishioners,” said McGill.

McGill’s most serious complaint against city council is the city never asked the parish what it thought of the massive development.

“We have never in a meaningful way been engaged,” he said.

While there was a meeting in the church Dec. 3, it was merely to explain a done deal, said McGill. The Basilian priest described the plan to build condos on the green space and parking lot near the church as “the old boys club, back room dealing.”

Fourth-year St. Michael’s student Jenny Hood has the same complaint about consultation.

“The city also has an obligation to create a community consultation group, including all the people who are affected, including students and parishioners,” said the religious and community affairs commissioner of the St. Mike’s student council.

The fact that no parishioners or student representatives were invited to participate in the 11-member working group of city planning staff, representatives of Rattling Chain Investments Inc. and St. Michael’s president Richard Alway in the fall isn’t accidental, said Hood.

“That’s not forgetfulness. That’s a very decisive and deliberate omission,” she said.

The students and the parishioners want City Council to send the development back for further consultation, and this time they want their say, said Hood. The students have no objection to their college reaping a condo market windfall to finance programs and scholarship, but believes the students could improve the developer’s plans, she said.

“I can’t understand why they would want to exclude them,” she said.

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