A High Park area resident is on a quest to save several old, majestic oak trees on land slated for a condominium development at Bloor Street West and Oakmount Road.
Anila Sunnak, who lives nearby the site at Glenlake and Pacific avenues, is circulating a petition that calls on the City of Toronto and developer, The Daniels Corporation, to “stop cutting oaks in High Park eco-buffer zone.”
“Within a couple of days, we have almost 400 signatures,” Sunnak told The Villager last Tuesday, Dec. 4. “This is clearly an important issue for our area, but the petition has been signed by people across Toronto and further afield.”
The oak trees, nine altogether, are an important part of Toronto’s eco-system, Sunnak said.
“Why weren’t they built into the design of the development,” she said. “It’s really sad. We have to present the petition to the decision-makers and the Daniels Corporation.”
The oak trees are part of a big picture concerning the impact of development on High Park, according to Leslie Gooding, co-chair of the High Park Natural Environment Committee. High Park has grasslands with “islands” of black oak trees called High Park Oak Woodlands. This habitat is very rare.
“The High Park Oak Woodlands are the fourth largest such area in Canada. They are continentally significant and globally rare,” said Gooding. “It is designated a provincial Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI).”
The centuries-old trees, added Sunnak, serve as a pit-stop for migrating birds.
“We don’t even have the genetic heritage of these trees. The seeds don’t even exist anymore,” she said. “People in our neighbourhood are very concerned. The community will work to make this concern known to the developer.”
To make room for the proposed 14-storey, 378-unit residential and retail complex, the site that encompasses 1844 to 1854 Bloor St. W., 34 and 37 Pacific Ave. and 6 to 14 and part of 18 and 18A Oakmount Rd., has to be cleared. The long-abandoned houses were torn down. The trees remain standing at this point.
City council has approved the development, according to Daniels’ senior manager of development Neil Pattison. However, residents take issue with the building’s height and density as well as its ecology and are fighting the proposal at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). The OMB hearing wrapped up Nov. 23, but the decision will not be handed down for up to five months. Until then, the site will remain as is, said Pattison.
“We had an ecologist give evidence on the trees,” said Pattison of the OMB hearing. “These are black oak. They’re common species.”
They are not part of the nationally rare oak savannah that can be found in High Park, said Pattison.
Approximately one third of High Park’s natural environment is comprised of the rare oak savannah, an open, park-like landscape that includes widely spaced black oaks, scattered low shrubs and a variety of prairie grasses and wildflowers, according to the High Park Natural Environment Committee.
“Our site is not that area,” stressed Pattison. “It had houses on it since the 1900s. It’s not part of the black oak savannah.”
Daniels is keeping the street trees where possible and doubling the row of trees along Oakmount Road, said Pattison.
“The fact is, the site is an area for intensification. Bloor Street is an arterial road,” he said, adding the development site is situated between two subway stations.
“We have conformed to the City of Toronto’s Official Plan policies,” said Pattison.
Parkdale-High Park Councillor Sarah Doucette called the situation “a sad story.”
“It really is,” she said. “I’m the first to go to bat for trees, but there’s not much we can do.”
The city looks at each development site and takes into account the environmental impacts before making any decisions, said Doucette. The trees are not part of the rare black oak savannah, she said.
Nevertheless, petitioners have not been shy about sharing their opinions. Roncesvalles Village resident Abby Bushby wrote that the trees are key to the integrity of the community’s public space.
“The oaks in and across the street of High Park are of huge importance to the integrity of the public space and to the critical mass of a dense urban forest, which delivers great ecological benefits, including oxygenation and cooling of local streets,” she said.
“The buffer zone along Bloor especially is important to keep Bloor Street on the north side shaded, friendly for pedestrians, and preventing the Daniels development from usurping the public space of Bloor Street.