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Photos: James Bombales

A two-alarm fire broke out Monday morning at a pair of heritage properties on Wellington Street in downtown Toronto. There were reports of a small explosion and heavy smoke was seen billowing from two vacant three-storey semi-detached homes.

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Fire services were called to the scene, near Spadina Avenue, around 11:30am and crews remained on site well into the evening monitoring for hotspots. Extensive damage was evident from the exterior of the homes, where most of the second floor windows were shattered, and scorch marks could be seen on the brick facade.

Known as the ‘McLeish-Powell Houses,’ the property was built in 1888 and was listed on the City’s Heritage Registry as they were the last surviving houses on the stretch of Wellington Street now home to luxury condominiums and redeveloped office spaces. The homes were sold in 2016 and were to be a part of a new high-rise residential development called Wellington House by Lamb Development Corp. and designed by architectsAlliance.

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Sales of the project started in 2018 but initial buyers were released from their purchase agreements as the project did not receive the necessary approvals within the required timelines in the contracts. The original 23-storey proposal was rejected by the City, but the developer filed an appeal with the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) after making considerable alterations to the building, lowering the overall height to 17 storeys and reconfiguring the floorplates.

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That appeal was subsequently dismissed by the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) in February 2020. The LPAT deemed that the project still did not reflect appropriate scale, massing and street relationships citing, “The proposed building mass is simply too large, too high and too long for this relatively small lot, it has inadequate setbacks, and this results in a building that overwhelms its context, rather than providing for a harmonious ‘fit’ with its context.”

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