Farmers Market at Crossroads

There is much discontent at the Farmers Market with some traders threatening to pull out as mentioned in Adam’s recent article.

I paid a visit to the Market last week and yesterday trying to see the place with fresh eyes. Thanks to delays in constructing the John Street pedestrian bridge, the main approach is from Weston and John. Looking along John from Weston Road, there is nothing to indicate to pedestrians that there is a market. Incidentally, when will BMO fix their clock?

Yes, the Market is in full swing!

Yes, the Market is in full swing! Click to enlarge.

It’s not just the lack of visibility that’s causing the problem. People on the Weston Village side of John Street face a long trek to the market via King Street or Lawrence Avenue. Those using the car face a fight for a parking space and once in the car, there’s the temptation to just head off to the supermarket.

Communication with traders also seems to be a problem. I was chatting to one of the Farmers Market’s largest stall operators a week last Saturday and according to him, he had heard only rumours about next year’s move. “They tell us nothing”, he lamented. The trader, who has been coming to Weston for more than 30 years, was under the impression that the temporary move was to a Lawrence Avenue location.

He claimed that some of his fellow stall operators are still considering calling it quits as they are discouraged by the prospect of being squeezed into a smaller space in the much vaunted Weston Hub, with long walks to set up stalls and then for supplies as the day goes on. He told me that he has to return to his truck several times each day to bring out fresh produce – if the truck was some distance away (as it will be once the Hub is complete), he would consider moving elsewhere.

A panoramic shot from the 'Hub' boundary fence. The Vos Farms Egg Man is on the left.

A panoramic shot from the ‘Hub’ boundary fence. The Vos Farms Egg Man is on the left. Click to enlarge.

Looking at a panoramic view of the Market it is clear that it’s a bit of a mess with trucks parked alongside rows of stalls. Markets in more upscale areas such as Wychwood Barns don’t have supply trucks as part of the mix. While Weston’s Market can be considered charmingly old-fashioned or just messy, it does make life easier for many traders. They don’t sell much in the way of produce at Wychwood – perhaps because of the difficulties caused by the separation of trucks and stalls. Incidentally, all is not sweetness at Artscape’s Wychwood Artist Studios either.

Wychwood Barns.

Wychwood Barns. Click to enlarge.

Had we been able to turn the clock back (not the one at BMO), the City’s selling the Market’s current location to a property developer now seems like a move that should have been foreseen and stopped. The land could have become Weston’s civic square and a park as well as contain the Farmers Market, Hub and a community centre. That potential has been lost forever and much of the outdoor space will now be occupied by a 30-storey rental apartment building and podium. All accomplished with the enthusiastic support of Councillor Frances Nunziata and the 106-member Weston Village Residents’ Association. As they say, those who fail to learn from mistakes of the past…

Weston's BMO branch - where time stands still.

Weston’s BMO branch – where time stands still.

There does seem to be optimism among traders that the new (but temporary) location in the GO Station parking lot south of Lawrence will allow for a bigger space with more parking and better visibility from Weston Road. If that is a success, getting them back to John Street in two or three years might prove difficult if not impossible. In the meantime, Weston BIA Chair, Masum Hossein is looking for ideas that would improve the current year’s Market and thus encourage more people to attend (the Market is operated through the Weston Business Improvement Area).

Debbie Gibson from the B.I.A. sells Farmers Market fundraising T-shirts

Debbie Gibson from the B.I.A. sells Farmers Market fundraising T-shirts

Readers are invited to give suggestions through the comments section of this article or contact Mr Hossein directly.

The final word: Not moving

Frances Nunziata’s office says this about the market:

The move is temporary. As you know, the development on John St is being built with space for the Farmer’s Market. The Developer and Artscape have been meeting with vendors and the BIA to ensure that their needs are met in whatever the final design is.
The Farmer’s Market will be relocated during construction and will return to a vibrant space on John St once construction is  completed.

 

Farmers’ Market moving

The Weston Farmers’ Market will be moving, according to their Twitter account. They announced today that they “Just received great news. We will be moving after 30+ years to the main streets of Weston road in the new GO STATION parking lot.”

Your humble correspondent has asked for more details but he has time to write now while the family is asleep.

A new Farmers’ Market was supposed to be a fixture of the John Street development and the Artscape Hub. There had been plans to add stalls to the new market, but vendors were worried that there would not be enough space for trucks to unload produce.

The farmer I spoke to last week hoped that this would happen. I’m less enthusiastic. The new GO lot is not as pedestrian-friendly as the old one is (the considerable troubles caused by construction aside). The move will, however, bring good food closer to an area of high density homes of lower-income residents.

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T The market stalls are in dark red. John Street is at the bottom.

 

Some farmers considering leaving market 

Some of the farmers at the market are deeply worried about the new apartment development. One farmer I spoke to, who did not want to be named, said that he will leave the market when the development is complete. Weston has “put my kids through school and paid my mortgage” he said; still he is planning to wind his operation down in three years.

The current design of the proposed development will mean that the farmers can’t bring trucks near to the tables—essential, this farmer says, to doing his job. He goes in the truck many times every Saturday to fetch new produce, and he says it wouldn’t be feasible to run back and forth to a truck parked off site.

Daniel Winberg, a principal at Rockport, knows about the problem. He said

We (Rockport and Artscape) had a meeting with 7 vendors last Saturday (July 18th), including 3 that have large trucks. We have long known that truck parking is a concern and we are working on ways to address it.
To that end, we  continue to actively work with the BIA to ensure that the Farmers Market returns to the site, and recognize that the market’s success will be an essential component of the overall success of the John Street revitalization.


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Weston Farmers’ Market kicks off with official grand opening – for a thirty sixth year

IMG_2745 A walk underneath the dainty lights that hang across the flanking John Street buildings will lead you to the Weston Farmers’ Market, a weekly gathering of various venders and local businesses that not only offer a wide range of products, but a warm, contagious sense of community.

To launch their 36th year of running, they held their grand opening this Saturday.

Nestled in the Green P parking lot at John and Weston, the market has been running annually from May to in October, and is a well known tradition in the Weston community. Every Saturday, from 8 A.M. to 2 P.M, the lot flourishes with handmade goods, warm pastries, endless baskets of fresh produce, often with the accompaniment of live entertainment.

Left to right: Ira Quinsey (mandolin), Jeff Mayville (banjo), and Nathan Rae (guitar).

This week, an ensemble of a mandolin, guitar, violin, upright bass, and two banjos, named Big Monday, offered a live show of bluegrass tunes. Taking impromptu requests between their smooth triple harmonies, their upbeat melodies had shoppers tapping their feet as they browsed products.

The market includes several produce vendors whose fruits and vegetables, grown from Ontario and US farms, stretched across tables in a multitude of bright colours. Businesses specialized in maple syrup and apple-based products can be found selling various ‘apple butter’ spreads and sugary maple goods. Rows of potted flowers, garden plants, and herbs, can also be purchased at incredibly low prices.

Bakeries and dessert businesses, like CC’s Creations, sold homemade pies, cheesecakes, danishes, cinnamon buns, and much more. Huge loaves of bread filled wicker baskets alongside dried meats, for about $5 a loaf. Homemade jewellery and antique knick knacks glittered on the tables, drawing in scattered ‘ooh’s and ‘ahh’s from shoppers.

(I didn’t get the chance to get her name, or the name of her business. Perhaps I was too caught up in my pineapple mango smoothie. If anyone could send her info, I would be glad to credit her properly!)

To curb your hunger pains, Grandpa Ken‘s is your go-to. Scarfing down a legendary back-bacon burger on kaiser buns, sold for $4.50, are mandatory (unless you’re vegetarian). Grab a thick fruit smoothie made, conveniently adjacent to Grandpa Ken’s food cart, to wash down the delicious grease.

Many familiar businesses and organizations were also present. Speakers on behalf of the new Art Hub were present, along with an Urban Arts table. Peter Piper’s Pastry Shoppe, a resident of the Weston area, also made his regular appearance with superb cannolis and biscotti, among other baked goods. Humber Community Senior’s Services came down from Eglinton and Weston, selling an assortment of perennials and annuals (with a shocking two for $1 deal) to fund their programs, namely Meals on Wheels.

The warm smiles and immediate sense of community that comes from the farmer’s market give Weston a unique, lively flair – a nice contrast from the vacant lots and ‘For Lease’ signs that cover empty buildings.


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Today in Weston – Farmers Market official opening

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L to R: M.P. Mike Sullivan, Councillor Frances Nunziata, B.I.A. Chair Masum Hossein, ‘Elvis’ and M.P.P. Laura Albanese.

Weston’s politicians were out in force for the annual official opening of the Weston Farmers Market, now in its 36th year. Elvis was on hand again to serenade the crowd and many of the stallholders have returned with a few new additions. Artscape and Rockport Group have a combined table where patrons can get more information about the new Hub and 30-storey rental apartment coming in the next couple of years. Once construction begins, the market will move temporarily to the GO / UP Express parking lot.

It will be interesting to see if a greater exposure to traffic in the new location will draw more visitors to the market.

Weston Cultural Hub – The Issues Part 3

This is the last of a three-part series on the proposal to build a Cultural Hub in Weston.

Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

From Urban Land Institute.

From Urban Land Institute.

The story so far:

  • A Cultural Hub has been proposed for Weston.
  • Disused podium space at 33 King Street will be refurbished by developer, Rockport and leased to community groups at cost.
  • 26 artist live / work spaces will be attached to the 33 King Street podium
  • The old GO parking lot has been sold to developers Rockport
  • Rockport will donate $2 million to the cost of construction
  • Rockport gets to build a 30-storey 350-unit rental building (subject to approval)
  • The City will waive $13.3 million in developer charges
  • Artscape will contribute $2 million to the project and will lease the spaces for 50 years.
There is no shortage of apartment buildings in Weston.

There is no shortage of rental apartment buildings in Weston.

We are being told by almost everyone involved in this project that the only way for Weston to get money for its Cultural Hub is to allow the developer to build a 30-storey rental apartment on the site. The project is being framed as a ‘Wychwood Barns for Weston’. Let’s take a look at the two projects and see how they compare.

Wychwood Barns and Weston Cultural Hub – a comparison

Cost to build:

Wychwood: $19 million     Weston: $10 million

Tied to construction of high rise rental building:

Wychwood: No     Weston: Yes

City Financial Support:

Wychwood: $4.5 million     Weston: $0

Developer Charges Waived

Wychwood: Yes     Weston: Yes

Province and Federal Contribution:

Wychwood: $5.3 million     Weston: $0

Artscape Contribution:

Wychwood: $9.2 million     Weston: $2 million

Parkland Included:

Wychwood: Yes     Weston: No

Landscaping Included:

Wychwood: Yes     Weston: Yes

Farmers Market Space:

Wychwood: Yes     Weston: Yes

Heritage District Status

Wychwood: Yes     Weston: No

So there you have it. Although the City seems to be generously waiving $13.3 million in developer fees, according to Councillor Joe Mihevc developer fees were waived for the Wychwood project too. Incidentally, Councillor Mihevc thinks the Weston Hub plan is ‘terrific’ but hadn’t realized that there was a rental tower as part of the deal. He said it’s up to the parties involved to hammer out the best deal they can for Weston. He did speak well of developers Rockport saying they are based in his ward and are ‘good people’.

The Wychwood project received generous grants from Artscape, the City, the Province and the Federal Government while Weston, a Priority Neighbourhood is told that this is the only deal that can be obtained. Wychwood got a community hub without developer involvement while Weston’s hub is tied to a rental tower that will be the tallest in the area.

Weston residents are confronting some difficult decisions. There is a temptation to accept any form of development because change is felt to be better than the status quo. It is long understood that one reason for Weston’s decline was an excess of cheaply constructed and rather tall rental buildings. For years, Weston was a dumping ground for high-rise buildings, each one built to minimum standards and plunked down with the blessing of the City government of the day. City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat candidly acknowledged this at the meeting held recently but at the same time telling us that the current understanding with the developer is the best that can be done.

In the developer’s original apartment proposal, there was no podium, too wide a base and 18 storeys (perhaps the architect didn’t read the City’s Tall Building Guidelines). The developer was sent back for a redo and returned with the exactly the same rental space (300,000 square feet) and same number of apartments (350) only this time on 30 floors. The argument being that since Weston has lots of tall buildings, another one won’t hurt. At the information meeting, developer Jack Winberg was adamant that the building must be a rental and not a condo. With lots of rental units available in Weston at bargain basement prices, the community has no guarantee that this building will not become another low-income project (not that there’s anything wrong with low income housing, however Weston does more than its fair share to accommodate that sector of society).

The old GO Station parking lot, existing rental tower and unused podium.

The old GO Station parking lot, existing rental tower and unused podium.

There are no easy answers to improving a priority neighbourhood. Improvement requires encouraging a variety of housing types, support for businesses, improved transportation links and infrastructure that add to the fabric of a community along with strong citizen involvement. Most of all it requires money from all levels of government that isn’t tied to developers on a take it or leave it basis.

Yet another rental building in Weston will cement our reputation as a low income dumping ground as the temptation to fill the building with TCHC tenants will inevitably win out. This is not to denigrate people who need help with their accommodation but shouldn’t we try to achieve a balance of housing types in all areas of Toronto.

Finally…

Here is a quote from a paper written in 2009 by Former Chief Planner Paul Bedford that got the ball rolling in Weston.

  • given the relocation of GO train parking to the new station at Weston Road and Lawrence Avenue, embrace the opportunity to develop a town square concept forming the heart and central meeting place in Weston on John Street
  • re-use a portion of the vacant concourse area to the west of 33 King to incorporate an indoor component of the farmers market with outdoor stalls adjacent and on the west side close to parking
  • consider introducing a mix of functions into the podium of 33-35 King such as recreation, community centre, artist studio lofts, non-profit offices similar in concept to the Wychwood Barns along with a park and community gardens on east side of parking lot and on the green covered rail corridor deck with possible bike lanes
Wychwood Barns.

Wychwood Barns.

Bottom Line:

Some questions seem to be needing answers:

  • Why is there real money from all levels of government for a project in Wychwood yet none for a Priority Neighbourhood like Weston?

  • Why did Artscape contribute so much more for Wychwood Barns than its proposed contribution for Weston’s Cultural Hub?

  • Why is the Weston project tied to the construction of a new rental building when a project costing double was achieved without one?

  • Who owns the podium and parking garage at 33 King street and what is their interest / involvement / contribution?

  • How can Weston absorb yet another rental tower when we already have 32?

  • Should Artscape accept donations from developers?

  • What is being done about Weston’s long awaited Heritage Status?

Make no mistake; this project is a done deal unless people demand answers to these troubling questions. Yes, a lot of work has gone into this development proposal. Many city employees have spent a long time sorting out the details along with Weston Residents’ Association, Artscape, Councillor Nunziata and the developer. That doesn’t make it a worthy project as there are far too many unknowns.

Incidentally, Mayor John Tory will be speaking at Weston Memorial Jr. P.S. next Tuesday, June 2nd at 6:30. He may wish to hear what Weston residents think of this proposal.