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Augimeri challenges Ottawa over future of Downsview Park

General view of Downsview Park on Keele St., Toronto. Councillor Maria Augimeri and mayoral candidate David Soknacki have expressed concerns about the federal government’s plans for the park.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

A Toronto councillor is asking Ottawa to hand over control of Downsview Park to the city, describing the federal government's handling of the park as "shrouded in secrecy."

Councillor Maria Augimeri told reporters Monday that she's concerned that the federal government – through its real-estate company Canada Lands Co., which runs the park – has plans to sell off more of the park than was previously agreed upon by the city. As a result, she said, the city should take ownership of the park.

"This park that you see behind me is the last remaining large space in Toronto made up of mature wood lots, open green space, recreational areas, and most of it has mass, massive potential," she said. "However, it seems that the federal government, all it sees here are dollar signs."

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In 2012, Toronto city council and the federal government agreed to sell off enough of the land to build 10,000 new housing units, but keep 363 acres of the approximately 572-acre park as recreational space.

Ms. Augimeri said that Ottawa has since expressed an interest in revisiting that agreement for potentially more development – but would not say why she believed this to be the case, beyond saying it was leaked to her. Her comments were made after reports last week suggesting that officials in Ottawa were concerned about plans for the future of the park.

The Canada Lands Co. did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

Of the 10,000 housing units, about 1,500 have already been sold as part of the Stanley Greene community being built on the west side of the park. Ms. Augimeri said that, even if Ottawa does not hand over control, she'd like to see the remaining five communities – and 8,500 units – halted.

"You don't do it to High Park," she said. "How can you do it to Downsview?"

Toronto mayoral candidate and former chair of the Downsview Park board David Soknacki appeared at Ms. Augimeri's side Monday to echo her concerns.

"By revisiting that agreement, that could further encroach on the public realm, and certainly encroach on the densities that are coming forward," he said, adding that he'd received the same information as Ms. Augimeri about Ottawa's interest in selling off more of the park.

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Mr. Soknacki disagreed with Ms. Augimeri on halting the remaining 8,500 units, however, saying that the sale of that land would go towards maintenance of the park.

Several Downsview-area residents also appeared at Ms. Augimeri's side Monday, saying they didn't want more development in the park.

"It's a beautiful park. Why do they have to ruin it?" said Maria Cutulle, who has lived in the area for 45 years. "We don't have any more big parks in the city."

Follow me on Twitter: @annhui

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National Food Reporter

Ann Hui is the national food reporter at The Globe and Mail. Previously, she worked as a national reporter and homepage editor for theglobeandmail.com and an online editor in News. More

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