TORONTO - “The project is botched up; the Communications Plan is botched up”, so said Toronto Catholic District School Board trustee, Maria Rizzo. She was referring to the Proposed joint-se facility envisioned by her Board and Villa Charities Inc.
That was arguably the most positive statement on behalf of the proposal uttered during the North York Community Council meeting June 13 - by anyone.
Consider that the first two intervenors, the Planner and the lawyer for the Developer, came across as cavalier and embarrassingly unprepared and to respond to basic questions. First, who owns the property? Second, why does Columbus Centre have to be demolished? Third, what would be the costs to refurnish the Centre? Fourth, why did they “circumvent the process” by going directly to the OMB with their plan the moment the Community started to ask questions”.
MPP Mike Colle was openly incensed by the actions of Villa Charities and the TCDSB. He advised the meeting that he had asked the Minister (of Education) to withdraw the $ 32 million set aside for building a New Dante Alighieri.
“No one supports this plan”, he said, “this is tearing at the heart of the Italian Community… Villa Charities and the TCDSB have put a gun to the head of the Community by going to the OMB”.
What followed was a litany of testimonials - some emotional, all thoughtful – attesting to the cultural value attributed to and evidenced by the history of the Columbus Centre.
Prof. Elio Costa, a contributing “founder” of Villa Charities, portrayed the proposed demolition as a “betrayal of the Italian Community and of the trust the Community had vested in the Board of Directors to address the issues of the Community”.
Lawrence Pincivero plead the case for designating the Centre as a heritage site, pointing to a long list of celebrities in the Arts and the estimated 700,000 “regular Canadians” who annually make the Centre a destination point.
Patrick de Marco referred to the plan as a “monstrosity” conceived by “barbarians” who have appropriated a public (community) asset for their own designs. He was also the first to allude to a $100, 000 entrance fee become a member of Villa Charities, and hence to qualify to be on the Board.
Ian Macdonald, an artist and member of Columbus Centre community, rejected the claim by Villa Charities’ lawyer that the site is dilapidated.
He regretted that the founders of 40 years ago surely could not have anticipated that “their dream would have been destroyed” and, with it, a truly “heritage site”.
Franco Misuraca suppressed his anger to voice disappointment that Canadian-Italian political representatives, with a few notable exceptions, were mute in the face of this [mis]appropriation by a few individuals driven exclusively by a profit motive. He slammed the TCDSB, a Catholic pubic institution, for siding with those private interests.
And so it went. Intervenors emphasized the numerous contributions made in kind, in dollars and donations to the creation of a public, living community asset. An asset the clownish spokesperson for the Developer was now describing as old, decrepit and dilapidated.
Vincenzo Gentile, who identified himself as one of the structural engineers commissioned in the 1980’s to build the unique structure that is Columbus Centre, objected to the description. He deplored the apparent, insidious “subterfuge and total lack of transparency” with which the development was proceeding, likening it to “omertà”.
A point, this latter one, re-enforced by Dorothy Pullan (?) … an educator/researcher who was astonished that the TCDSB would be allowing outside adults in its schools between the hours of 6am and 6pm.
She pointed out that a “shared-use facility between these hours runs counter to regulations; and, it would be a “fallacy to proceed” with demolition to facilitate a fallacious plan.
Christine Genowefe, another non-Italian intervenor, found it deplorable that the TCDSB was “piggy-backing” on a demolition proposal that she described as “ripping history out of our experience”.
Councillor Shiner, whose mother had participated in the construction of the Centre asked the obvious question of Trustee Rizzo: “Why not (re)build Dante Alighieri on the site where you already are?” Adding, for good measure that “this doesn’t make sense; it’s a bad plan!”
Other Councillors seemed in agreement. The Chair, Maria Augimeri, ceding her positive to intervene became impassioned – even angry- and forceful in outlining Council’s reservations to the Developer’s spokespersons.
The Columbus Centre “is not yours to sell; it is not yours to tear down … there are circumstances that are less than honest behind this application”, she said. “Columbus Centre belongs to the public; we funded it”.
Councillor Augimeri held out hope of salvation, as it were, adding that she had “no doubt that the place [would] be declared a Heritage site”.
Councillor Peruzza was perhaps equally strong declaring it “shameful that these trustees (of Villa Charities) operate as a single owner … people who use this as their own development playpen”. Yet, he added, “people (over the years) gave with no strings attached; what fools we are!”
Council voted unanimously to reject the proposal as presented, and for the Staff Report on the matter.
Toronto City Council will deliberate on it and the Amendments presented by Councillor Colle in its July meeting.
But the OMB, if and when it places the application on its agenda, will consider only the Planning Act implications.