Toronto Sun January 31, 2020 Bryan Passifiume
Toronto council’s deliberations Wednesday on a motion to move ahead with the expropriation of air space for a downtown park has left a city developer scratching their heads.
Approved at last week’s executive committee meeting, a motion to move ahead to acquire — and if talks go nowhere expropriate — 1.2 hectares of airspace over the Union Station Rail Corridor (USRC) as part of plans to develop Rail Deck Park.
The item before council involves air space city documents claim are owned by Toronto Terminal Railways (TTR) and CN Rail, but which CRAFT-Kingsmen Rail Corp. President Robert Sabato told the Toronto Sun on Jan. 22 actually belongs to them — despite claims made during Wednesday’s city council meeting by both the mayor and the city solicitor.
Sabato reiterated his company’s ownership of the airspace in a Jan. 28 letter to council, which came after one sent by CRAFT-Kingsmen lawyers.
Attempts by Councillor Jim Karygiannis to seek clarification on the matter were repeatedly halted by speaker Frances Nunziata, telling him Sabato’s letter is unrelated to council’s motion.
“You’re asking questions on land that’s not part of this report,” Nunziata interjected, cutting Karygiannis off as he was asking questions to CreateTO CEO Brian Johnston.
“It’s part and parcel,” Karigiannis rebutted. “In order for us to do that, we might have to adjoin some of the land.”
Nunziata replied, “It’s not.”
Mayor John Tory repeated the assertion in a later exchange with Karygiannis.
“It’s not part of what we’re talking about today,” Tory said.
“It’s not part of their property?” Karygiannis asked.
“It’s not what we’re talking about today,” Tory said. “We’re talking about a piece of real estate — air rights to the east of what’s talked about in that letter.”
“The land that was the subject of our letter was absolutely what was being discussed by the city today,” he told the Sun this week.
“The motion today was for part of the land that was within the parcel that we’ve been discussing in our letter.”
Already the owner of UCOR air rights between Bathurst and Spadina, CRAFT completed the purchase of air space east of Spadina in 2018 from CN and TTR, Sabato said.
That’s the same airspace highlighted in Appendix B of the report before council.
The purchases were made as part of plans to develop ORCA, a mixed-use development project that predates the city’s plans for Rail Deck Park.
Sabato told the Sun he dismisses the city’s claims that negotiations with the owners of the air space have “gone nowhere,” saying instead they never began.
A letter provided to the Sun by the ORCA project from Bennett Jones LLP on behalf of both CN Rail and TTR states that no negotiations have taken place between them or the city in regards to acquiring air space over the rail corridor.
In their letter to council, Craft-Kingsman presented four options to the city: enter into an agreement under Sec. 30 of the Ontario Expropriations Act, lease the air rights for $25 million per year, purchase the air rights outright for $340 million, or make additional air rights available to the city to enable establishment of a linear park.
Council’s motion passed unanimously.