The City of Toronto Ombudsman says poor communication and coordination, a lack of enforcement and inadequate project supervision by City staff helped derail plans for the restoration of the historic Mimico Train Station.
Ombudsman Susan Opler today released her office's report, Enquiry into the Section 37 Agreement for the Historic Mimico Train Station. The Enquiry looked into the City's role in efforts to restore the train station, which is currently empty, structurally unsafe and without many of its original heritage features.
The station was built by the Grand Trunk Railroad in 1916 and became part of the Canadian National Railway in 1923. It has not been used for passenger service since the late 1960s. A local community organization, the Mimico Station Community Organization (MSCO), formed in 2004 to restore the train station. MSCO moved the station to its current site in Coronation Park in 2007.
In 2008, a developer proposed to build a multi-storey condominium project near the park and the train station. As part of the City granting approval for increased density for the project, the developer signed a Section 37 agreement with the City under the Planning Act. The developer agreed to rehabilitate the station as envisioned by MSCO as a community benefit. As a condition of receiving Site Plan Approval for its development, the developer committed to providing the City with a Rehabilitation Plan for the station and a $650,000 Letter of Credit to guarantee the work would be done.
Ombudsman Susan Opler says that from the outset, the City was unclear on what the agreement required. “We found that when City Council approved the Section 37 agreement, Councillors and the MSCO were led to understand that the station would be fully restored. But because of poor communication and coordination of the project at the City, some staff believed that the only important work to be done was on the outside of the building."
The Enquiry found a number of other problems with how City staff handled the project:
• The City never asked MSCO for its input on the Section 37 agreement and did not keep it up to date on the status of the project.
• There was a lack of clarity within the City as to who was responsible for enforcing the developer’s obligations.
• City Planning staff gave Site Plan Approval for the condo project, even though the developer had not submitted the Rehabilitation Plan or the Letter of Credit required by the Section 37 agreement.
• Staff at the City’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation division (PF&R) then essentially left it up to MSCO to negotiate the Rehabilitation Plan with the developer.
The restoration of the Mimico Train Station is now at a standstill. The original developer went into receivership and the development lands were sold to a new owner. MSCO has dissolved. There is no current plan for the future of the station.
“The story of the Mimico Train Station” says Susan Opler, “is one of poor service to a community group and of the City falling short in enforcing its own rules, over almost a decade."
Ombudsman Toronto made 9 recommendations. They focus on improving how the City monitors Section 37 agreements generally to ensure that community benefits are realized and place a renewed focus on the future of the Mimico Train Station.
City Planning and PF&R have accepted all of the Enquiry's recommendations, and say they have begun to implement them.
The Ombudsman Toronto report, Enquiry into the Section 37 Agreement for the Historic Mimico Train Station, and an Ombudsman Toronto backgrounder are available at ombudsmantoronto.ca and on request.
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Ombudsman Toronto listens to and investigates people’s complaints and concerns about City administration and the fairness of City services. We are an impartial office that operates independently from the City, holding it accountable to the people it serves.