Core parking lot row brews
The prominent owners want council support for a zoning change which city staff oppose.
Some of London's biggest developers have been running, without city approval, a parking lot where a heritage building once stood, say city hall staffers trying to stop its use.
The Ridout Downtown Corp., whose members are a who's who of prominent businesspeople, have for more than a year owned the lot south of King Street across from the John Labatt Centre.
On Monday, they'll ask politicians on the city's planing committee to recommend a zoning change allowing the entire lot to be used for parking for at least three years.
The site used to include a building recommended for heritage designation -- the Ridout Tavern -- and a building on King that was one of the area's few remaining late 19th-century industrial buildings. Council voted, despite staff opposition, to allow demolition in May 2004, but that wasn't to allow a parking lot, staff say.
"There needs to be a clear message it's not acceptable to demolish heritage buildings in favour of parking lots," city land-use planning manager John Fleming said yesterday.
Council usually has supported that rationale since 1995, when it resolved not to let heritage buildings be torn down for parking lots, he said.
The battle over the King Street site won't be the first.
Three years ago, the property's former owner was convicted of illegally running a parking lot.
When the site was taken over by Ridout Downtown Corp., its members and some area businesses hailed the purchase and demolition as steps to redevelop a corner in a neighbourhood where taxpayers have invested a lot.
No wonder -- the members include Brayl Copp of Copp Building Materials Ltd., Glen Sifton of Sifton Properties Ltd., Andy Spriet of Spriet Associates, Vito Frijia of Southside Construction, Joe Carapella of the Tricar Group, Mitch Baran of Trudell Medical Group and businessperson Geno Francolini.
But city staff say a now-expanded parking lot has continued to operate without city approval, a claim Spriet doesn't deny.
"(The lot's) been like that 15 to 20 years . . . If (the city) wanted to stop parking, they had the power to enforce it . . . Don't expect us to enforce it."
A city official said yesterday staff agreed in the summer to allow parking -- pending a zoning decision -- restricted to a paved area on the site. Yesterday, vehicles were parked on gravel at the same location.
That was a mistake, Spriet said, caused by someone hired to run the business.
It makes no sense to oppose parking when the land might otherwise sit vacant, he said. "To say it's going to sit there and collect weeds is hardly progressive."
But staff see it differently, writing in a report that gaps in the streetscape hurt the JLC area while parking lots deter development. They point to former Smugglers' Alley on Clarence and Dundas streets, owned by many of the same members as the Ridout Downtown Corp.
That site has been a parking lot since 1999 and the owners plan to apply for another three-year zoning extension.
Spriet disagreed, saying patience is needed to hold out for development that will help downtown. The group recently rejected a major offer for the property because the buyer wanted to continue with a parking lot, he said
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