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48 Abell Street (John Abell Factory)

Toronto, Ontario

The fight to save 48 Abell Street, a large 19th-century agricultural implements and farm machinery factory on Toronto’s Queen Street West, began as a community initiative to protect the character of a neighbourhood, but has grown into a controversy drawing into question the effectiveness of Toronto’s city planning process. The result has brought Toronto City Council and the provincial planning appeals body, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), into open conflict. The fate of the factory and the area looks bleak.

One of the few industrial buildings left in the area, 48 Abell has been a live/work space for about 80 artists for over two decades. The factory, along with other heritage buildings like the Drake and Gladstone Hotels, has been instrumental in redefining and revitalizing the area, giving it great potential as a heritage district.

In 2005, landowners of several adjacent lots in the area submitted proposals to tear down 48 Abell and adjacent buildings and fill the space with high-rise and low-rise condos that would be grossly out of scale with the area. To do so, the owners asked city council to amend the Official Plan and zoning by-law to allow for double the density and four times the height then permitted. The advocacy group Active 18 mobilized, and an area planning process and design charettes ensued.

All this came to nothing when in January 2007 the OMB ruled in favour of the developers. In February, Toronto Mayor David Miller and the majority of municipal councillors voted to launch a court challenge of the OMB decision to protect Toronto’s creative sector and reverse a precedent for other warehouse areas. The former factory has come to symbolize how the development and appeals processes are stacked against communities that wish to shape their own futures.

UPDATE: The site was demolished in 2011 to make way for a condominium tower.