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In Toronto’s tony neighborhood of Forest Hill, there is a run-down century-old building.

Its dark-wood doors are surrounded by majestic stone arches, but the panes inside are missing or broken, with shards of glass protruding and open pieces covered in plywood.

For more than a decade, the complex stood vacant like this at 467 Spadina Rd. – and inside, says the new owner, is the skeleton of its former life as an apartment building from 17 units, with a framework and fireplaces for the old two bedrooms still visible.

This is what Avi Glina, founder of the real estate investment company SpiceCart, which bought the building last year, wanted to return it.

But because of an aborted plan, but approved by the city by a previous owner to convert the site into two semi-detached houses, the Toronto Building no longer legally considers it an apartment building. And current city rules say nothing larger than a duplex can be built on the site today, which means SpiceCart would need special exceptions to recreate the apartments.

Amid a citywide housing crisis, as officials and staff have come up with numerous proposals to increase housing supply, local councilor Josh Matlow laments seeing the sizable property downtown “serve rats rather than people”.

SpiceCart has asked to bend the rules, backed by Matlow and city staff, but over time and the value of single-family homes in Toronto has risen, Glina says they found themselves reconsidering their plans. The company postponed a hearing to August and recently put the property back on the market.

“I am an apartment type. I like having apartments, ”said Glina. But, he added, “if we wanted to do things like houses, which I could start tomorrow, it starts to make more sense … that we should just stop fighting and banging our heads against the wall to get apartments. “

No one seems to know exactly when the original complex was built. When listed in the city’s heritage register, an estimate landed between 1913 and 1924. The property, whose name “Monticito” is carved into its masonry, has hosted an assortment of tenants over the years; a 1960 directory lists a professional skater and university professor among the inhabitants.

It was last rented in 2006, according to city documents, with a mix of mid-range and affordable units. In the early 2010s, an owner initially proposed to increase the number of units to 31, but after public consultation revised the land to build two semi-detached houses instead.

To dispose of the old rental units in favor of the new plan, the landlord pledged to rent eight townhouses east of the Don River – two affordable units and six with mid-range rents. While the plan was given the nod from the city in 2014, with staff confirming that those eight units have since been kept as promised, the Forest Hill redevelopment plan was ultimately scrapped.

Years later, the dilapidated brick building caught the attention of Glina and SpiceCart.

“My passion has always been historic buildings,” said Glina. “I’m really looking at these types of buildings that may have been left to rot and I know what to do. ”

He had expected the Spadina property to be a more complicated project, given its age and history. But he says his team hoped to start construction soon after their purchase, and wasn’t necessarily aware of all the work it would take to turn it into an apartment building.

While planning staff believe the complex was originally built legally, today’s planning regulations do not allow this location. As the building predated the rules, it received an exception known as “legal status of non-compliance” – meaning it could stay put as long as the site was “in continuous use” as an apartment building. . The same exceptions were made for older churches and convenience stores in various areas of Toronto.

But making a major change to a legally non-compliant building risks losing its protected status. In this case, staff at the Toronto Building believe that the complex ceased to be an apartment building due to “substantial” construction work during the previous effort to transform it into two single family homes.

While SpiceCart argued in a request to the Toronto Adjustment Committee that the property had never been used as anything other than an apartment building, staff are now pointing out updated zoning rules, which allow a maximum of two dwelling units on the property.

This two-unit cap was imposed on the zoning area surrounding the Spadina building – a strip of land a few streets wide – sometime after it was built, although the city currently has zoning rules that aim to allow them. apartment buildings in the same Region. Any new development should also meet other city requirements, from setbacks to parking.

Both Matlow and the Planning Department have expressed support for the SpiceCart committee’s request for adjustment, supporting the idea of ​​returning the complex to its original use.

“This is an opportunity to introduce more housing to this neighborhood through interior modifications to an existing building,” community planning manager Oren Tamir said in an email.

Although Tamir told The Star that there had been no unusual delay in SpiceCart’s candidacy for the committee, Glina expressed frustration at what he described as an “internal bureaucracy.”

He believes the various city rules may make it “difficult” to build or restore rental apartments – but sympathizes with Matlow’s frustration at seeing the property unused for years.

“We are really trying to figure out what is our best step forward,” he said.

Matlow is simply hoping the site can be returned to a “liveable” and inhabited state after years of confinement.

“For the sake of the neighborhood and to put a residential building back on the market, I would like something to move forward there,” said Matlow.

“The fact that this building is derelict and out of the housing market is unacceptable,” he said.

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