OMB ruling raises questions on state of historic Richmond Hill core

Board sides with Town of Richmond Hill on mixed-use building on Yonge Street

The Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) has sided with the Town of Richmond Hill and blocked an eight-storey, mixed-use building proposal in the downtown heritage core on Yonge Street, between Centre Street and Dunlop Street.

The OMB ruling on Nov. 9 found that the application “would serve to compromise the proposed urban structure” of the downtown core.

“We have to protect and conserve our heritage buildings and make sure that the feel and the integrity of our downtown core is protected, and it remains that way,” said Ward 5 councillor Karen Cilevitz.

“This building … was way off the scale.”

Richmond Hill’s Downtown Local Secondary Plan cites parameters for building within the heritage district and renovating structures with historical significance, including keeping a maximum height of five storeys and preserving its heritage characteristics. There is still much debate about this plan.

“It’s just mind-boggling that the town would want to [keep the height at] five storeys,” said Robert Salna, property owner of 10217 and 10225 Yonge St. “They can see that nobody is applying for five-storey buildings, so it’s not revitalizing any downtown core.”  

Ward 4 councillor David West said the municipality took into consideration the unique, narrow characteristics of that stretch of Yonge Street in building its development guidelines for the historic village. 

“The eight storeys [proposed] is higher than any of the church steeples that are a very key component of the downtown core,” said West. Regarding the issue of revitalization of the area, West gave the example of courtyards and laneways as opportunities to open cafés and restaurants, which would bring in revenue while accommodating the culture of the area. 

Ward 2 councillor Tom Muench said he “accepts the OMB decision” but is concerned about the message these restrictions will send to developers looking at Richmond Hill in terms of return on investment. 

“The problem with that is the current village is not relevant. We have challenges with regard to Yonge Street and the downtown being a walkable, livable area,” said Muench. “Imagine what that money can do to protect your heritage, to create great walkways, to create more sidewalks, to create more planters. It can do all sorts of things.”