Why is the University of Toronto putting the historic David Dunlap Observatory, and the 75 hectares of parkland surrounding it, up for sale to the highest bidder? Well for one thing, despite support by the town through restrictions on lighting and emissions that might cloud its view of the night sky, urban growth around the observatory has reduced its scientific value. But the property is worth up to $100 million on the open market.
The town would love to purchase the property and keep it as a park but it doesn't have that kind of cash. The provincial and federal governments have shown no interest in assisting financially. So the town may be looking at other means to frustrate the university or potential buyer.
This week, council voted to designate the observatory and nearby administrative and residential buildings – including a 147-year-old farmhouse – as national historic sites. Its forest protection bylaw, in theory, would prevent development on tree-covered sections of the property. Council could also refuse to change the zoning on the land.
But those restrictions can be appealed: The tree bylaw is, in fact, under review by the Ontario Municipal Board. And the board would likely overrule any attempt to block a zoning change because the land, surrounded by housing, fits with the province's plan for intensification – putting new projects into areas that are already built up.