Friday, February 10, 2012

Wesley Mimico United Church - 2 Station Road

Wesley Mimico United Church - 2 Station Road

In 2012 Wesley Mimico United Church will be celebrating its 150th anniversary.  

Unfortunately, the church appears to be celebrating its anniversary by proposing the demolition of the historic building except for the tower, and building a seniors residence on the property.  While seniors housing is a laudable goal it should not be at the expense of this historic building.  They have not yet made a formal planning application to the city but this is currently what they are contemplating, as far as I understand.

Wesley Methodist Church (as it was originally known) has a long history in Mimico.  The first church was built shortly after the property on Church Street (Royal York Road today) was acquired in 1862.  This building accommodated the congregation until 1922 when it became too small.  The congregation then began construction of a new church on Station Road at Mimico Avenue.  The old church building was then sold to the Town of Mimico and became the municipal offices and council chamber.

Wesley Mimico United Church is a significant architectural and historical building in the former Town of Mimico.  Contextually, as a church placed on a corner lot at a major intersection in the neighbourhood, Wesley Mimico United Church is a landmark in the Mimico community.  It is an integral part of the institutional corridor of Mimico Avenue with its public schools and churches.  Wesley Mimico United Church is historically, visually and physically linked to its surroundings.

The original church on this property was built in 1922.  The architect was the renowned John Charles Batstone Horwood, assisted by his son Eric Horwood.  As members of the congregation when the family was in residence at their summer estate on Mimico Beach, the Horwoods (father and son) would have ensured that the church was of excellent design and materials.  The 1953 addition to the church which extended it closer to Mimico Avenue was designed by Eric Horwood, JCB's son alone.

When I discovered what the church was contemplating I contacted them and informed them that the building is listed under the Ontario Heritage Act and suggested that they should be looking at all possible arrangements within the existing structure, including seeking tenants or co-owners for various parts of the building.  I suggested that they should be publicizing the fact that they have a church building for which they are looking for partners in order to reach any potential collaborators in the protection and preservation of this important structure.

The building is currently listed under the Ontario Heritage Act but really needs to be designated under the act in order to preserve this important building for the future.

Hopefully, the church will be open to any potential ideas that allow the current historic building to be retained while at the same time allowing for new uses.  This would allow the church to seek the new uses that they are looking for, while still retaining this historical and architecturally significant landmark building in Mimico.

As a "listed" building the heritage planning professionals at the city are undoubtedly researching the building to determine if it should be designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.  However I have ensured this review by submitting a formal application for the building to be designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.  The heritage planning professionals will now review the attributes of the building against the criteria in the act to determine if designation under the Ontario Heritage Act is merited or not.

What you can do

You can send letters/emails of support to the Etobicoke-York Community Preservation Panel.  These can be sent to: 
Chair Mary Louise Ashbourne
Etobicoke-York Community Preservation Panel
Swansea Town Hall,
95 Lavinia Avenue,
Toronto, ON M6S 3H6

email:  mashbour [at] idirect [dot] com

Please also copy local Councillor Mark Grimes.  He can be reached at councillor_grimes@toronto.ca.  If you could also copy me at mimicohistory [at] hotmail [dot] com that would be greatly appreciated.

A growing number of Mimico residents are coming together to protect Wesley Mimico United Church and persuade its congregation to stop explorations and development plans that involve the demolition of one of our community’s most architecturally and historically significant buildings.  You can visit their website by clicking here.

Update:  June 29, 2012

On June 25, 2012 the Church released a new design proposal that includes a redesign of the interior of the church within the existing walls, along with additions to accommodate future church, community and seniors housing.  You can view a slide presentation of the proposal by clicking here.  This new proposal is certainly more respectful of the building's heritage.  It will be important to ensure that any additions and alterations to the church buildings are complementary and not detrimental to this important community landmark.  Of course this is all preliminary and in the early stages of review.  However the movement from the original proposal to demolish the church except for the bell tower is encouraging.  

Update:  May 15, 2013

The Mimico Residents Association held a meeting on the proposed redevelopment of the Church site.  There was a question and answers session during which the proponent responded to written questions.  The Minutes of the meeting, including the questions and answers can be found here.

Update:  June 11, 2013

The development proposal for the Church is proceeding to the Etobicoke-York Community Council Meeting of June 18, 2013.  The Toronto Planning staff report provides preliminary information on the application and seeks Community Council's directions on further processing of the application and on the community consultation process.  A community consultation meeting is targeted for Fall, 2013. The statutory Public Meeting is expected to be held in the first quarter of 2014, provided the applicant provides all required information and addresses staff comments in a timely manner.

Heritage Preservation Services will be examining the proposal from a heritage point of view.  This includes the request to designate the building and appropriate interiors under the Ontario Heritage Act.  Having reviewed the application I have the following questions which I have passed along to Heritage Preservation Services:  

Alteration to Roof:

In the Heritage Impact Assessment they state that:  

“the proposed re-purposing of the building essentially conserves its heritage value to the community and does not remove or substantially alter its character-defining elements, with the exception of the lower portion of the Mimico Ave. frontage”.  

However they are radically altering the existing roof of the structure.  

The Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada published by Parks Canada which, as they note, is the document guiding the planning, stewardship and conservation approach for all listed (of which the Church building is one) and designated heritage resources in the City of Toronto; and which they used to assess the impact of the repurposing on the heritage elements of the building states on page 139:

“The roof is also an important architectural feature that contributes to a building’s form and aesthetics.”

With regard to any proposed alteration of existing roofs the Parks Canada Standard states the following on page 143:

Recommended:  Modifying or replacing a roof or roof element, to accommodate an expanded program, a new use, or applicable codes and regulations, in a manner that respects the building’s heritage value.

Not Recommended:  Constructing an addition that requires removing a character-defining roof.  Changing the configuration of a roof by adding new elements, such as dormer windows, vents or skylights, in a manner that negatively affects its heritage value.

The radical changes to the roofline that they are proposing “remove a character-defining roof”.  Therefore how is this consistent with and compatible with the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada?

Alteration of Main Entrance/Proposed Addition:

They are proposing to remove the existing front entrance to construct a new addition obscuring it and relocating it to the east side of the building.

The Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada published by Parks Canada states the following on page 132 with regard to additions or alterations to the exterior form:

Parks Canada recommends:  Selecting the location for a new addition that ensures that the heritage value of the place is maintained.

Parks Canada does not recommend:  Constructing a new addition that obscures, damages or destroys character-defining features of the historic building, such as relocating the main entrance.

While the report acknowledges that the addition in this location has an impact, it minimizes it.  How can they say that the proposal “will not detract from, but build on the character and significance of this heritage property” when the proposed addition on the south side of the building and the alteration to create a new entrance (even if original) are clearly not recommended by Parks Canada’s Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada

Proposed Addition to South Side of Building:

The Heritage Impact Assessment states that:  

“The new facade facing Mimico Avenue is designed to reflect this character-defining element, whereby the classical approach of three doorway arches will be recreated, repeating the symmetrical arrangement in an arcaded entrance.” 

Parks Canada recommends:  Designing a new addition in a manner that draws a clear distinction between what is historic and what is new

They do not recommend:  Duplicating the exact form, material, style and detailing of the original building in a way that makes the distinction between old and new unclear.

How can they say that the proposal “will not detract from, but build on the character and significance of this heritage property” when their design approach to the new south addition is clearly not recommended by Parks Canada’s Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada

Proposed Addition to North Side of Building:

There is minimal data available in the Heritage Impact Assessment on the proposed addition in the existing parking lot to the north.   With regard to new additions Parks Canada recommends in Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada:

Designing a new addition in a manner that draws a clear distinction between what is historic and what is new

They do not recommend:  Duplicating the exact form, material, style and detailing of the original building in a way that makes the distinction between old and new unclear.

Further Parks Canada recommends:  Designing an addition that is compatible in terms of materials and massing with the exterior form of the historic building and its setting.

They do not recommend:  Designing a new addition that has a negative impact on the heritage value of the historic building.

How has the north addition been designed to be consistent with these principles?

Alterations to the Interior:

The Heritage Impact Assessment states that the redevelopment approach includes:

“renovate the interior space completely, while conserving as many heritage attributes as possible”

What are the “many heritage attributes” and how will they be conserved as part of the complete “renovation” of the interior space which is essentially the obliteration of the existing interior and its replacement with parking in the basement and up to three stories of residential above?

Update June 12, 2013

The Mimico Residents Association has just posted the comments provided by Heritage Preservation Services (HPS) on the Church development proposal.  You can download them here.  HPS staff have identified the same concerns that I have expressed as well as additional ones.  

The conclusion of the memo states:

The current proposal demonstrates a level of intervention that cannot be supported by staff.  However, there may be opportunities to rehabilitate the building with modifications to the current proposal that would limit the impact on the heritage attributes. Staff is hopeful that these issues can be resolved through further discussion with the applicant in conjunction with a revised proposal that is consistent with generally-accepted heritage conservation standards and principles.  An objective and complete Heritage Impact Assessment should accompany any revisions to the proposal.  Staff will be recommending designation of the property at 2 Station Road under the provisions of Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act.

Update September 24, 2013

The city of Toronto Planning Department is proceeding with a report to the October 3, 2013 meeting of the Toronto Preservation Board recommending that Wesley Mimico United Church be designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act.  

A copy of the staff report with the detailed evaluation and rationale for the intent to designate can be found here.  Letters of support can be addressed to "Chair Saunders and Members of Toronto Preservation Board" and can be emailed to Janette Gerrard, the committee secretary at jgerrar [at] toronto [dot] ca.

Update October 4, 2013

At its meeting on October 3, 2013, the Toronto Preservation Board adopted the recommendation that Wesley Mimico United Church be designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act with a small amendment that removed the interior from the list of historical attributes.  The recommendation will now proceed to the next meeting of the Etobicoke-York Community Council on October 17, 2013 for consideration.

Update October 18, 2013

At its meeting of October 17, 2013, the Etobicoke-York Community Council unanimously adopted the amended recommendation from the Toronto Preservation Board that the city declare its intent to designate the Wesley Mimico United Church under the Ontario Heritage Act.  The recommendation will now proceed to the Toronto City Council meeting of November 13, 2013 for consideration.

Update November 13, 2013

At its meeting of November 13, 2013, Toronto City Council adopted the amended recommendation from the Etobicoke-York Community Council that the city declare its intent to designate the Wesley Mimico United Church under the Ontario Heritage Act.  

The next step is for the city to notify the owner, and issue a notice of the intent to designate the property under the Act.  If there are no appeals against the intent to designate the property during the appeal period (30 days) the City will bring forward the bylaw designating the property under the Ontario Heritage Act at a later date (usually a few months).  If there is an appeal then there will be a hearing before the Conservation Review Board.  The Board will hear evidence and issue a decision.  The decision is final.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for all your efforts in preserving historical buildings in our neighbourhood. We too are very concerned about the potential demolition of Wesley United Church. As performing artists and local residents, we see this beautiful church as having huge potential as a cultural/spiritual centre for the community. If it were renovated and modernized, a range of services and groups could rent the space - for example: yoga and dance studios, a performance venue for concerts, recital series, choirs, a market for local artists and artisans, perhaps the basement could be converted into smaller rooms and used for smaller rehearsals, offices or music lessons... there are so many possibilities. Of course it all hinges on money. There must be a way to make this happen!
    - Mary Bella & Michael Colvin

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    1. Mary and Michael: Thank you for this comment. I have thought that a potential partner for the church might be Artscape which could convert part of the structure into artists residences and studios while allowing the congregation to remain in the church.

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  2. For those interested, there is a "Heritage Tool Kit" document issued by the Provincial Government specifically addressing the preservation of Heritage places of Worship:
    http://www.mtc.gov.on.ca/en/publications/Heritage_Tool_Kit_POW.pdf

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    1. Mary: Thank you for the post. I am going to include the link to this Heritage Tool Kit on the links page.

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