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Merchants file $100M lawsuit over St. Clair transit project

By Megan O’Toole

The city is facing a new storm over the troubled St. Clair streetcar project, in the form of a $100-million lawsuit that casts a shadow over Toronto’s massive planned light-rail expansion.

Lawyer Stephen Edell, who is representing dozens of merchants and landlords along St. Clair Avenue West, yesterday issued the claim against the city, the province and the Toronto Transit Commission.

“The record of what happened on St. Clair is a clear and obvious one,” Mr. Edell said, citing “many besieged merchants on the street, many who are holding on to their stores by the flimsiest of margins, many of whom have lost their businesses.”

The claim seeks $100-million in damages and a further $5-million in punitive damages against the City of Toronto only. The named plaintiff, Curactive Organic Skin Care Ltd., is acting as a representative party for a group of commercial interests on St. Clair between Bathurst Street and Old Weston Road.

The claim alleges a “complete breakdown” in the St. Clair project’s co-ordination, leading to substantial delays that negatively impacted local businesses.

“After construction prematurely began, debate continued about project scope and design, resulting in the uncertainty and confusion caused by changes in project scope,” the claim alleges.

“Further, and in particular concerning St. Clair Avenue West from Bathurst Street westwards, chaos and inordinate delays resulted from a lack of supervision, the mismanagement of contractors … and conflict in the oversight and control of the project.”

Similar concerns were cited in a recent report commissioned by the TTC, which decided to review the St. Clair project as it launches Transit City, a $9billion plan to weave 120 kilometres of light-rail track across Toronto.

The claim alleges businesses along St. Clair West faced “repeated intrusions of a serious nature,” and notes approximately 200 commercial interests failed during the delayed construction, while others fell into financial peril.

The claim accuses the TTC of gross negligence in the construction and delivery of the project; the province of breaching its duty of care through insufficient oversight; and Toronto of public abuse of authority.

“The spirit and intent of Transit City has been betrayed by Toronto and the TTC … in favour of its secretly declared ‘war on cars,’” the claim alleges. Representatives from the TTC, the city and the province all declined to comment on the matter as it is before the courts.

The named parties have 20 days to respond on their intent to defend once the claim is served, after which class-action certification can be sought. Roughly 100 people have expressed an interest in signing on, Mr. Edell said, but parameters of the class action would be set later by a judge.

Initially pitched as a $48-million project for a 6.8-kilometre track, the cost of the St. Clair streetcar project soared past $106-million. Five years later, it remains incomplete.

Mr. Edell says the lawsuit was a last resort after a series of meetings with the city and the TTC late last year, during which the city ultimately advised it would not offer a settlement.

AnnaMaria Buttinelli, owner of the Curactive and Tulip hair salon on St. Clair West, says the project left her with a severely overextended line of credit; she has not seen a paycheque of her own for about three years.

“They put us out of business for three solid years,” Ms. Buttinelli said, noting the prolonged construction blocked vehicle and pedestrian traffic, significantly impacting her bottom line. “Who are these people that have the right to put people in debt and out of business like that?” Ms. Buttinelli asked indignantly. “It’s not like I can pack up and leave. This is my bread here.”