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I got passionate mail – re 262 Bessborough

The flow of passionate email messages into my office concerning the dwelling at 262 Bessborough Dr. – situated immediately to the south of the Leaside High School yard – is testament to the strong interest that many Leaside residents have in the outcome of the development proposal put forward by the current owner of the property.

It also reflects some understandable confusion over some of the facts relating to the home and to the matters currently at issue. Accordingly, I thought it might be worth taking a bit of space in this month’s Leaside Life to touch on some points of interest in the matter.

When I first heard that the property was up for sale in late 2012 I asked to see the city’s heritage preservation file on it. I was surprised to find that there wasn’t one, apart from an entry on a list that had been put together in the late days of the Borough of East York.

I immediately requested that work be commenced with a view to having the home “designated” under provincial heritage legislation. This culminated in the identification of certain specific “heritage attributes,” all relating to the 1883 structure.

City Council formally confirmed its intention to designate the 1883 structure late last year, coincidentally the year of Leaside’s 100th anniversary.

City heritage staff enumerated various ” “heritage attributes” of the building and included them in their report in support of designation. One of them is its “specific location, setback and orientation”.

The significance of this particular attribute may turn out to be pivotal in the fate of the property. Concurrent with the designation process, the current owner (having acquired the property in 2013) brought forward a proposal to sever the property into three lots, remove the 20th century additions to the 1883 dwelling, reposition the dwelling on the middle lot, and build a new house on each of the other two lots to be created.

The proposal required a trip to the Committee of Adjustment for various approvals relating to lot severance and bylaw variances.

Here’s where the plot thickens.

Heritage preservation staff submitted a formal report this year to the Jan. 8 Committee of Adjustment meeting that considered the application. The report placed particular emphasis on the matter of the location of the dwelling.

Without expressing itself on the requested lot severance or variances in the abstract, the committee rejected the owner’s applications lock, stock, and barrel. The owner soon thereafter entered  a predictable appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

The owner also took a step that was somewhat less predictable. He submitted an application to “demolish” the existing home. Paradoxically, his stated goal remained not to demolish the entire structure; only the parts added in the 20th century.

As for the original dwelling, his proposal remained – and continues to be – to retain it but reposition it on the lot and restore features of the original structure that have been hidden from view since at least 1971.

The proposal to demolish is currently going through the steps at City Hall.

In early April it came before North York Community Council where, on my motion, it was rejected by unanimous vote. Next stop is the full City Council, where I expect it to encounter the same fate.

The question of demolition would thus appear to be on its way to the OMB. Which is where the question of redevelopment is already on file.

Bottom line: The matter of redevelopment of the property at 262 Bessborough Dr., and the matter of the treatment of at least one of the heritage attributes of the designated 1883 Thomas Elgie home, are likely to be bundled together and determined in a proceeding  that will play out at the OMB, possibly later this year.

Some history about the Elgie house

The existing home is comprised of essentially three components, each built at different times. All credible evidence indicates that the original dwelling was built in 1883 for owner Thomas G. Elgie. The portion at the north end was built in 1934 for then owner Margaret Bell.

Mary Linholm acquired the property in 1970, and her husband Sven built the south addition the following year. The Linholms made significant alterations to the north wing in 1990. The 1883 home still lives inside the modern additions, with some – but not all – features visible from the outside.

A mistaken understanding that the original home dates from several decades before 1883 has been given some circulation. This likely stems from the fact that the land was acquired in that era by Thomas G. Elgie’s father, whose name was also Thomas. Thomas Elgie (the father) built a home that predates the existing home, but it is long gone.

A modern record created by the Borough of East York refers to the original owner of the existing home as Robert Elgie – a brother of Thomas G. Elgie. Careful research, however, indicates that Robert actually lived on the adjacent property to the north – probably the site of the original Elgie home.

Having been built in the 19th century, the Thomas G. Elgie home predates the Town of Leaside and of course predates the existence of Bessborough Dr., which came into being as Edith Ave. with the creation of the town in 1913.

And whereas the current front door faces east and the property has for most of its existence carried a Bessborough address, the front door of the original home faced south and the property had an address on, believe it or not, Soudan Ave. (Maps from the time indicate Soudan as a significant roadway stretching from Yonge St. well to the east; Eglinton did not make it this far over from Yonge until much later.)