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U of T's Observatory Lands (Richmond Hill)

Doing right, in this case, will be to get the highest possible price for the land. That's what the Trustees or Governors or whatever the board members at U of T are called owe the university. When the real estate market is at its peak, you don't sit around waiting for some town bureacrat to wake up and do something. It's not the town's real estate, it's the University's.

NO, I said this upthread: It is NOT the university's land at all.
They held the land (owned by the Dunlap family) in trust until such time as they closed the observatory.
The board of governors was not stupid enough to close the observatory and let the family get the windfall from a land sale.
So, they have spent the last few years looking at legal options and negotiating with the family because, as you say, the real estate market has made the land very valuable.

While they were doing this they told the media, residents or anyone else who asked that nothing was going on and that it was business as usual when this was not the case.

Understanding this process - and that U of T manouvered to profit from the sale of land they did not actually own - is an important part of understanding just what has gone on here.

I'd like to produce the actual agreement the university signed with the family in the 1930s but, oddly, it is not easily accessible and even the Town of Richmond Hill does not have a copy on record.

Moreover, the university argued that this was an ACADEMIC decision so saying it was okay because it was profitable is ultimately disingenuous and not in support of the university's purported primary motives.

You may STILL think that it was the school's right to maximize its profit (despite being a public institution) but you should know the facts before making that argument.

(And Conrad Black is 100% right about what the town will do and Walt is 100% right about what will come next. The land is zoned institutional and will likely get at least some kind of heritage protection but that won't stop developers from saying Places to Grow means it would be a crime to leave such a juicy piece of land free of high-density development.)
 
NO, I said this upthread: It is NOT the university's land at all.
They held the land (owned by the Dunlap family) in trust until such time as they closed the observatory.
The board of governors was not stupid enough to close the observatory and let the family get the windfall from a land sale.
So, they have spent the last few years looking at legal options and negotiating with the family because, as you say, the real estate market has made the land very valuable.

While they were doing this they told the media, residents or anyone else who asked that nothing was going on and that it was business as usual when this was not the case.

Understanding this process - and that U of T manouvered to profit from the sale of land they did not actually own - is an important part of understanding just what has gone on here.

I'd like to produce the actual agreement the university signed with the family in the 1930s but, oddly, it is not easily accessible and even the Town of Richmond Hill does not have a copy on record.

Moreover, the university argued that this was an ACADEMIC decision so saying it was okay because it was profitable is ultimately disingenuous and not in support of the university's purported primary motives.

You may STILL think that it was the school's right to maximize its profit (despite being a public institution) but you should know the facts before making that argument.

(And Conrad Black is 100% right about what the town will do and Walt is 100% right about what will come next. The land is zoned institutional and will likely get at least some kind of heritage protection but that won't stop developers from saying Places to Grow means it would be a crime to leave such a juicy piece of land free of high-density development.)


Well, it's the University's right to get the best legal advice and put themselves in the most advantageous position. They are not requried to disclose their plans to the media. Whether they hold the land outright or through some complicated trust arrangement is largely irrelevant. It is the Universities to deal with and the Board of the University would be derelict in their obligations to the University if they did anything other than get the maximum benefit from it for the University.
 
Well, it's the University's right to get the best legal advice and put themselves in the most advantageous position. They are not requried to disclose their plans to the media. Whether they hold the land outright or through some complicated trust arrangement is largely irrelevant. It is the Universities to deal with and the Board of the University would be derelict in their obligations to the University if they did anything other than get the maximum benefit from it for the University.

I'd say that is a rather narrow definition of what a public academic institution's mandate is but your argument is a legitimate one, and one that has held sway.

Similarly one could debate about when public figures are "required to disclose their plans to the media," especially when asked point-blank and choosing to lie rather than answer....I have a differing opinion on that matter.

Personally, I am disappointed that the school has chosen to (apparently) exagerate the scientific/academic shortcomings of the site (ostensibly, the REAL reason for selling it) and chosen to be less-than-open in the process in the interests of maximizing profits.

You may believe it is their mandate to do just that as if they were Google or RJ Reynolds Corp. We'll just have to agree to disagree on that point since I expect/hope the obligations of a taxpayer-funded school of "higher learning" to be somewhat broader.
 
Anybody else want to negotiate?

Heh -- your description of U of T "negotiating" with the Dunlap family made me think of Bruce Willis in "Fifth Element". We still don't know all the details of this "open and transparent" process, but one of the Dunlap heirs has come forward to say that U of T bullied them into the agreement to sell. See the recent National Post story:

Donor's heir at odds with U. of T.
'Can't Put It Nicely'; Claims university forcing sale of observatory


From the article: Now Mrs. Robarts says that for 20 years she resisted pressure from university presidents who wanted her to let them sell the land and pocket the proceeds. She says she only agreed to the deal after the university asked the Ontario Superior Court to set aside her grandmother's wishes. The university had lined up her two brothers, David and Moffatt Dunlap, on its side by that point, she said.

I wonder when we'll see a substantive article on this issue in the Toronto Star, since Torstar CEO, Robert Pritchard is also a former U of T president.
 
Seems to me you could develop this land and keep a lot of it intact. Not knowing the site, here's what I created using the posted aerial view from Google Maps.

2128116638_ed79cdbd1c_b.jpg
 
Seems to me you could develop this land and keep a lot of it intact. Not knowing the site, here's what I created using the posted aerial view from Google Maps.

Ok, so my first reaction was "Wow -- you can draw rectangles". But there is more to it than that. The people who live here DO know the site. They have grown up around it and watched it regenerate for the past 70 years. You've drawn a road through where owls and dozens of other birds species live. It's not enough preserve a few trees for aesthetic purposes -- you need enough land to sustain life. Your rectangles would transform a quiet oasis where one can barely hear traffic into more of the same old sprawl. More cars, more traffic, more pollution. In the south east section of the property there are seeps since it is part of the Don watershed. The Don Watershed Regeneration Council thinks it needs to be protected. See DWRC letter.

If you zoom further out in Google Maps, you'll see there are already thousands more acres of farmland being scraped and paved over with more rectangles (see Major Mac from Keele to Bathurst). See "Cathedral Town" and dozens of other projects.)

Richmond Hill grew from 90,000 to 163,000 people over the past 10 years. That's enough for now, don't you think? Especially when experts are telling us to reduce carbon emissions or face the consequences of serious climate change.

Of course, there is also the moral issue -- that U of T apparently took the Dunlap heirs to court in order to force them to sell. See National Post story link upthread.

And, there is the impact on the surrounding community. Thousands of people have been speaking out with paper petitions, email lists, Facebook groups and letter-writing. Please have a look at this online petition to get a sense of what people think of U of T's plan: Online Petition.
 
Yeah I drew rectangls because they're more urban than curvy roads. Of course I'd prefer it be undeveloped (and that's totally in the town's control). But if it must be developed, you could minimize the disruption. If you're familiar with the site, develop your own site plan that does the best to save the best parts of the site.
 
Yeah I drew rectangls because they're more urban than curvy roads. Of course I'd prefer it be undeveloped (and that's totally in the town's control). But if it must be developed, you could minimize the disruption. If you're familiar with the site, develop your own site plan that does the best to save the best parts of the site.


It's not totally in the town's control. They're finding they barely have a say at all. Right now the land is zoned institutional and they have no intention of changing that.

They are also appealing to have the site designated a heritage site - that is a provincial decision.

And if a developer (or a consortium of developers) buy the land, make a proposal for development and have it rejected by the town, then it will go to the OMB - also a provincial body.

That said, I would not be surprised if your drawing bears some resemblance to what ends up happening (aside from Observatory Lane cutting through). I expect at least some of the land along Bayview to be developed and I would be surprised if most of the western half does not receive at least some protection.

We'll know roughly what will be happening soon but make no mistake - that is the hands of U of T, the development community and, ultimately, the OMB. Not the Town of Richmond Hill.
 
Fight to save Dunlap site coming down to the wire
`All we are asking for is time to put together a partnership to save the place'
Jan 30, 2008 04:30 AM
Phinjo Gombu
Staff Reporter


There's an air of uncertainty tinged with faint optimism in Richmond Hill these days, as the Feb. 15 bidding deadline approaches for the land that's home to the David Dunlap Observatory, site of Canada's largest telescope.

The potential sale of the lush 77-hectare property, on which generations have romped freely, has galvanized residents and politicians alike since the University of Toronto declared the land surplus last year and put it up for sale. The prime urban property is reportedly valued at $100 million.

Residents fear developers will snap up the wooded land and fill it with subdivisions, condos and big-box stores.

They're hoping Queen's Park or even the federal government might step in at the 11th hour and purchase the land so both the telescope and the natural features survive as part of a vital urban park in a sea of suburban homes.

In the past week, York Region and the Town of Richmond Hill have thrown up what barriers they could, passing bylaws and receiving reports that would designate swaths of the property as protected woodlot or culturally significant.

But despite pleas to extend the deadline, the University of Toronto is pressing ahead with a deadline for submissions. Spokesperson Ruta Pocius says changing the rules at the last minute would be unfair to some bidders.

There has been "significant" interest by as many as several hundred bidders, Pocius said.

The university believes the telescope has outlived its usefulness because of growing light pollution, but some academics and astronomers disagree. The public tours offered there, along with a chance for kids and adults to peer at the skies, are priceless, argue those opposed to the sale.

Rallies have been held, thousands of signatures collected and both local and regional politicians have expressed support for preserving the land for the public good.

Now, eyes are on Queen's Park, with hopes hanging on recent public statements by Premier Dalton McGuinty and Education Minister Kathleen Wynne, who grew up near the observatory.

"I do know the Dunlap observatory has a wonderful history, a wonderful tradition," McGuinty told reporters when more than 100 people protested at Queen's Park this month.

"I tell you, I grew up in Richmond Hill and the Dunlap observatory was very much a part of my background, so it's certainly something I would be willing to talk about," added Wynne, cryptically.

"All we are asking for is time to put together a partnership to save the place," said Marianne Yake of the Richmond Hill Naturalists, a group that has fought hard to preserve the entire estate.

Mayor Dave Barrow says there is an "obvious provincial interest" in the land, but time may be running out because the issue has only appeared on the province's radar recently. "We're asking (the university) to slow the process down to see if there is something that can be done," Barrow said.
 
The Star is playing catch-up with all the drama that has been going on.

More to the point is this more recent article in which the U of T has the hubris to ask the town to delay because the school thinks they're moving too fast and not properly engaging in dialogue.

http://www.yorkregion.com/news/observatorylands

Town tries to protect entire observatory site
Richmond Hill
Jan 30, 2008 09:38 PM
By: David Fleischer

If we can protect all of the David Dunlap Observatory lands, we will.

That was the message from Richmond Hill politicians Monday night when a report recommending cultural heritage landscape protection for the 190-acre site was approved, unanimously.

Councillors even went further than what consultant André Scheinman called for in the report. Instead of seeking protection for just 48 per cent of the land, the site’s west half, they will continue to compile a more detailed report for Feb. 11, aimed at justifying the need to protect the entire site.

Council’s decision won the approval of a capacity audience. Eight delegates spoke after the presentation of Mr. Scheinman’s recommendations, pointing out its shortfalls and asking council for full protection of the lands.

“The report, as it exists, contains a number of errors and omissions which I think are significant,†said Prof. Tom Bolton, who worked at the observatory for nearly 40 years.

It is a good start, but has many flaws, from its lack of information about architectural features to its arbitrary drawing of a boundary that would leave numerous springs open to potential development, he said.

The University of Toronto’s lawyer, Stanley Makuch, asked the town to defer its decision since his client had not had time to review the study.

“We are disappointed that (a co-operative) approach was not taken with respect to the cultural heritage landscape designation,†Mr. Makuch said, touting the school’s commitment to heritage.

“We believe that historic preservation is best achieved through mutual understanding, rather than through a unilateral process,†he said.

Mr. Makuch’s request did not sit well with town officials who rushed to complete their report because of the university’s imposed deadline of Feb. 15.

Since October, town officials and others have made it clear they need more time to present a proper response.

“We haven’t had the time to evaluate what your board of directors did in October.

“That’s why we’re rushing,†Mayor Dave Barrow said.

“For you to ask us for some time is . . . offensive,†said Mr. Barrow, offering to defer the town’s report only if the university delayed its closing date.

Mr. Makuch said he was not in a position to make such an offer.

At a Jan. 16 rally held by opponents of the land sale, university vice-president Catherine Riggall reiterated the university had no intention of extending the deadline.

Councillor Lynn Foster took umbrage at the suggestion the town hadn’t worked with the school, saying university officials repeatedly stood up staff at scheduled meetings about the site’s future.

It makes more sense now, she said, pointing to recently revealed information the university had been negotiating with the Dunlap family to force the sale for nearly 20 years.

Comments ‘insulting’

“It makes it insulting to me, personally, to have you come here and make those comments,†she said to Mr. Makuch.

The Richmond Hill Naturalists have contested the town’s intent to designate only a part of the lands, instead calling for full protection.

“This is a park, and this place was here to support the observatory,†said Richmond Hill Naturalists president Marianne Yake.

“Today, you can give our history a true voice, and we ask that you give it a 100 per cent designation,†Ms Yake said.


Replying to public questioning, Mr. Scheinman said the idea of seeking designation for all of the land was never far from his mind, but he had erred on the side of caution in recommending protection for the western half, where most significant features are clustered.

There could be significant aboriginal sites on the land, he said, and there is information about the area still to be discovered.
 
I'd leave this as is. What's wrong with protecting some of the land for a large scale future urban park?

I mean John George Howard, what were you thinking?
 
Good on Richmond Hill for doing all it can to protect the site despite the U of T's stupidity. I've never been more embarrassed about something the U of T has done. It's such a sham for them to ask for more time when they won't extend their own deadline. It's a shame on the University. And their attitude disgusts me.
 
Observatory protest goes sky-high

Concerned community members protest sale of Dunlap site, parkland
Feb 10, 2008 04:30 AM
Brett Popplewell

Beneath clouded skies and with snow up to their ankles, some 150 astronomers, naturalists and concerned community members gathered around the David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill yesterday to protest its sale to a possible housing developer.

Karen Cilevitz, member of the David Dunlap Observatory Defenders – a community group opposed to the sale – said she hoped the protest rally sent a clear message to the University of Toronto, which is selling the observatory and its 188-acre (76-hectare) parkland grounds.

"The observatory is of great historical importance to the whole of Canada, and the 188 acres of pristine green space is a thriving living ecosystem which acts as a carbon sink for the GTA," Cilevitz said.

Cilevitz and her group want the university to reconsider the sale of the observatory and the parkland and are hoping the federal government will step in and protect the site as a heritage site.

The 73-year old observatory was a gift to the University of Toronto from Jessie Dunlap, widow of David Dunlap, a one-time local businessman and amateur astronomer.

The observatory, with its 188 centimetre main telescope, was one of the largest of its day. But the university says its usefulness to astronomy has since been diminished by increasing light pollution from Toronto and by new technologies.

But local astronomer Dr. Tom Bolton said yesterday the observatory still holds tremendous academic research potential.

Cilevitz, an amateur astronomer and resident of Thornhill, says the Richmond Hill community and city politicians are all behind the preservation of the site.

Bryon Wilfert, Liberal MP for Richmond Hill, attended yesterday's rally and said he hopes the federal government purchases the land and the observatory and declares it a national urban park.
 
What's sickening is the Dunlap brothers who caved did so for the money.

Must be nice to live large now on grandpappies dime. May they both get their desserts.

-Moose
 

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