Mount Dennis Library opens Sundays

As part of Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy, Mount Dennis Library along with these others, has been granted additional funding to allow it to be open between 1 and 5 p.m. from now until June. The idea is to be open on Sundays during the school year to support students who may otherwise have nowhere to study or access a computer.

Unfortunately, Weston’s beautiful Art Nouveau, Carnegie-built library will remain firmly shuttered on Sundays. At one time it was common for all library branches to be open on Sundays. The rot started with former Mayor, David Miller in 2007 when he needed to find some money in a budget crunch. Libraries have suffered ever since and workers treated more and more shabbily as the video below explains:

Readers may remember with a nostalgic fondness the random brain farts of former Councillor Doug Ford who once falsely alleged that there were more library branches in his ward (2) than Tim Hortons Coffee shops. Apparently that would have been a bad thing.

But meanwhile (emphasis on mean), Mayor John Tory still wants Toronto Public Libraries to cough up a 2.6% reduction in spending. Like the Ford boys, Tory believes the right-wing mantra that there is lots of waste in the system and that hard working taxpayers must be protected from increases. Instead, despite his protestations that services to the poor will be untouched, Tory will be passing the buck to the poor through increased fees, reduced service levels and a weaker library system. It’s not as if Toronto residents pay high taxes in comparison to their neighbouring citizens.

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Click to enlarge. From: www1.toronto.ca

Toronto’s property taxes are considerably lower than those of other municipalities. The result is great for the wealthy but because of a services squeeze, not so much for people trying to escape poverty.

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Click to enlarge. From: www1.toronto.ca

Toronto’s biggest expense is the Police Service and Board whose spending has steadfastly resisted all efforts to be reined in. The Toronto Public Library system is well down on the list.

The blue jays and the lions

Fresh buttery popcorn, steamy hotdogs, and an amazing game; that’s what baseball is all about! With the Blue Jays immense victories, Weston has never been closer to the vast culture of the city than it is right now.

The Weston Lions Club has been working with the Jays for an amazing 39 years and are a huge part of why going to see the Jays is so spectacular.

Ashley and the Jose army!

If you have ever been to the dome, you know occasionally they give out some amazing merchandise. But you may ask, who are these friendly people giving me these Jays gems? The answer to that question is the Weston Lions Club!

Jim and Jose

At the doors of the dome, members of the Lions give away everything from Blue Jays bobble-heads to Jerseys to bucket hats! Thousands of Torontonians, flood into the Rogers Center excited for the game and the giveaway. They are almost as ecstatic to get their presents as the Lions are to give them away!

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However, the Weston Lions Club wasn’t always down at the dome! 40 years ago, another Lions club was doing these giveaways! Unfortunately, they were unable to continue, but the Jays still wanted a community group to take over the deed. As soon as the Weston Lions heard about this, they jumped on board and took the place the previous lions left behind. Teaming up with the original Blue Jays fan club, and local teenagers looking to get their community hours; the Lions were down at the dome almost every weekend handing out Blue Jay’s goodies.

What the Lions are doing isn’t just for fun, however. The Blue Jays donate money to the Lions, for them to give back to the community. Over the years The Weston Lions club has raised over $600,000 for the Weston Community, by doing these Jay’s giveaways, and hosting many other fundraisers! They’ve managed to purchase 7 service dogs and have given countless scholarships to students perusing post-secondary education. The list goes on and on for the amazing work the local Lions do.

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“Working with the Jays is amazing. The best part about it all is seeing happy people at the dome all while helping the community and knowing what you’re doing is making a difference.” Enthusiastically exclaimed Jane Ross, past president of the Weston Lions Club, when I spoke to her about the work the Lions do.
She told me all about how people of all ages help out down at the dome. The oldest volunteers being in their late 80’s and the youngest in their early teens; the Jays and Lions alliance only ever does good for the community.
“we’re like the silent heroes of the community. Everyone knows about the money that gets put into the community, but no one knows where it comes from. This is where it comes from” She continued.
Interested in being part of this amazing team? You can contact Jane at: [email protected]

The Lions are always looking for more people to aid in their work with the mighty Jays, and getting to help Weston and see the jays in action? What could be better than that?


This post was brought to you by: Luisa Bada: Living in Weston and loving it

Transportation Meeting Report

Over 100 people attended the meeting which was an add-on by Councillors Nunziata and DiGiorgio to the relatively small number of information meetings held throughout the City. In addition to the councillors, MPP Laura Albanese and MP Ahmed Hussen were there.

MP Hussen stated that the Liberals plan to quadruple infrastructure spending and will respect local initiatives and not micromanage. He has put forward a Private Member’s bill to ensure that hiring needs are met so that local communities benefit through jobs and contracts when infrastructure money is spent.

Speaker 1 was James Perttula: Program Manager, Transportation Planning at City of Toronto. Speaker 2 was Jamie Robinson from Metrolinx.

Rather than bore you, dear readers, with the contents of their monologues, the information they presented is largely available through the links below.

The rest of this article will attempt to focus on significant questions posed by residents – these are more relevant to the Weston and Mount Dennis communities. Where answers were given, these have been noted.

Questions / Concerns:

Employment opportunities – Metrolinx has requested a community liaison plan from their contractor Crosslinx Transit Solutions that will be finalized soon. MP Hussen requested some hard figures regarding employment levels.

Is SmartTrack Planning route through Weston to Rexdale. Metrolinx is looking at a number of additional stations so it’s possible that a Woodbine station could be built.

Back-up power station. MP Hussen expressed concern to Jamie Robinson about emission levels. The station is designed to run on natural gas not diesel and so will not be so dirty. Modern non-polluting battery technology has not been considered. Jamie says he is totally open to alternatives. With that in mind, I have sent Mr Robinson this link. Other residents asked about a green energy supply instead. Mr Robinson countered solar would be totally inadequate to supply enough energy.

Parking at the new Mount Dennis Station. No plans at the moment for a parking lot – residents expressed concern about outsiders parking in the area and causing obstructions. The plan is that people will access the Crosstown by bus.

Another resident likes the Crosstown but thinks the number of stops should be reduced. Did not like the Scarborough subway, should be LRT instead.

This is a demographically poor area – will there be a zone system for fares on the new line? How far will money go in the new system? Answer the Crosstown will be integrated with the rest of the TTC system.

Another resident wondered about the jobs that 960 will be lost in the TTC due to Presto automation. Councillor DiGiorgio surmised that ticket collector jobs may disappear but employees would probably be retained and assigned elsewhere.

Concern about the timeline and completion date and related construction. The answer is that work will continue until the planned opening in September 2021. Councillor Nunziata pointed out that if the original subway plan had been implemented in 1995 we wouldn’t be having a problem with traffic today.

TTC is too slow and expensive. 20 km is considered local – why can’t people take the bus to the library without being charged the same as someone who travels 20km?

The LRT is going to cross Eglinton – why won’t the LRT move north through the spectacular station at Weston and service people along a loop to Rexdale. Answer: Additional stations are foreseen on the existing lines so that the enhancements that GO Transit is making will provide additional service to residents. This will likely not be at subway frequencies.

Are you going to build out the fourth track as part of SmartTrack? A: Trying to determine what infrastructure is required.

Is the problem that you can’t build the fourth track north of the 401 because of limited space – I thought that there would be room for four tracks but only three have been built. Is it that simple or would an expansion be impossible because the 401 is in the way?

Concerns that there will be express trains and local trains that would need an extra line.

An extra CP track has been negotiated. Is this true? You talk about the need for consultation but in practice you don’t – the generator and now the transformer have been sprung on the community without notice. A: We are committed to consulting with the community. The transformer will be located next to the generating facility.  The generator idea came from Crosslinx Transit Solutions – we had originally planned to have two separate connections to the electrical grid – it’s not carved in stone. “If the community doesn’t want it it won’t be built.”

Future of Eglinton Flats – what will happen there – how will transit impact the flats? A: Not answered.

Concern about Bombardier’s inability to supply trains on time as with the TTC streetcars. A: We’re confident that all issues will have been sorted out by the time the trains are needed.

We need to know what emissions will be given off from the generator? A: Agree that it’s very important – the Ministry of the Environment will decide whether emissions are appropriate for the area.

What about parking? – we need parking lots. A: (from Councillor Nunziata) when the development starts, then the city will come forward with the planning department and set up parking.

Q: What about continuing along Eglinton and turning up Highway 27? A: The Airport Authority is thinking of creating a transit hub at the Airport.

Q: Would love to take the UP Express to the subway with an integrated fare – it’s still expensive. Would like to see connections to mid-town rather than to downtown. A: We’re working on fare integration between TTC and GO. We’re also looking at fare integration across the GTHA but we recognize that the differences in fares are a disincentive to using transit.

Nobody wants the above ground section of the Crosstown, why not build it all underground?

We need to have commitments for frequency of use, hours of operation etc. We need to have a broader governing commission for all transit. What about green stations that provide their own electricity through solar?

How will light rail work along Eglinton past Scarlett – will  there be room to put it there? A: We have sufficient space along the corridor already to put the LRT tracks plus cycle path / trail. It would be similar to St. Clair except there will be two traffic lanes in either direction.
What are implications of putting the LRT tracks down one side rather than in the middle. A: Current plan is to run it down the centre. Also looking at looking at ways to mitigate traffic impacts.

Who are the private partners? Will there be an intensification and if so, why aren’t builders not paying more of the costs to provide transit? After all, they get money in their pockets. Also building parking lots simply encourages to bring cars into the area and park throughout the neighbourhood. A: (councillor Nunziata) Developers pay charges when they put up buildings.

Adjournment.

Sullivan: The Weston Cultural Hub

Now that the dust has settled after October’s Federal Election, I was curious as to how former York South-Weston Member of Parliament, Mike Sullivan was adjusting to the new reality of being a regular citizen once more. He agreed to an in-depth interview and we sat down last Friday over coffees in a busy Perfect Blend Bakery. We touched on four main topics that are being published over a four day period. The first topic was Fallout from the election.

The second issue that we discussed is the Weston Cultural Hub.

2. The Weston Cultural Hub

On the Hub itself and the political processes involved:

I’m of two minds (about the Hub).

There are several things that make me nervous about it. One is the extent that the councillor is trying to get local buy-in from community organizations. There are secret meetings between community organizations and the developer and they’re happening outside the public eye. The essence of what I can gather from this scheme is that Rockport gets to build a 30 storey tower without a parking garage so it’s significantly cheaper for them on city land that they’re essentially being given; and they’re getting money.

On the neglect of this corner of Toronto:

The current and former municipal administrations have not paid a whole lot of attention to Weston and Mount Dennis.

This part of the City of Toronto has very few if any city services such as community centres such as city offices -anything that is a community service.

In response to those who claim that the York Community Centre being built on Black Creek and Eglinton will meet Weston’s needs, Sullivan points out its remote and car oriented location.

The York Community Centre
The soon to be opened York Community Centre

The new community centre is not here (in Weston) – that’s a regional recreation centre – you have to have a car to get there – you can’t get there as a pedestrian.

There’s nothing up here and there hasn’t been and there needs to be. There are 10,000 people already who live in the various buildings along Weston road who have no city facilities and we’re going to add another thousand people or more to that already under-serviced group. Where are the city services that come along with this? We’re getting 8000 square feet of community space but what will be its purpose? We don’t know and it will be gone after 50 years.

Sullivan calls 33 King, ‘Weston’s long-term eyesore’ and says that it should never have been put where it was.

“(33 King) is getting the $10million in benefit – they’re getting to make their ground floor into public storage which was never said until late into the game – it is not an appropriate use for a residential neighbourhood despite what Jennifer Keesmaat says. In addition to getting redevelopment of live-work spaces paid for by somebody else that they’ll collect the rent on and city officials are bending over backwards to make it happen. There is absolutely no resistance from any city department or organization despite many perceived and real flaws in this project.”

Sullivan also worries about the increased levels of traffic produced by an extra thousand people who will live in the new 30-storey tower. Residents will park in the existing parking garage that empties onto King Street. He claims that traffic studies of the new Hub ignore the fact that a new 650 student school will be built nearby.

I asked (at the meeting) how it was that transportation services accepted completely without question (the report) provided by the developer which ignored an entire school. St John The Evangelist School apparently no longer exists according to that traffic study. So the answer that came from Transportation Services parroted the report from the developer which was that 33 King has the right to that many vehicles and ignored that there will be 650 kids where before there used to be 200 who will be coming and going at rush hour. …the ramp empties directly onto the street with no signalling whatsoever. I hate to say this but it’s only a matter of time before some young person  is injured or killed because of the dramatic increase in traffic that will come as the result of 370 units having parking in that building that they didn’t have before.

He is concerned that while John Street has been designated a place for Farmers Market vehicles to be parked, it is also a designated fire route.

(at the public meeting) I asked what’s going to happen to the Farmers market vehicles because Frances’ (Councillor Nunziata) plan is to turn the Farmers Market into a street market and so that the vehicles will be on John Street. But in one of the newest incarnations of the site plan, John Street will become a fire route. And therefore you cannot park vehicles on the fire route and that question’s not answered.

Another important issue for Sullivan is the lack of an easement to guarantee that pedestrian access will not be cut off by the owners of 33 King Street.

…the city is planning to make the laneways on the east side of 33 King into a pedestrian passageway. (Dan Harris asked) on several occasions if (the city) would require that to be an easement and the answer from the city is that the owners of 33 King will not give us that – well we’re giving the owners of 33 King $10 million – you’d think you could get an easement out of that, which would then make that walkway a permanent feature. But f they wanted to, the owners could put a fence up and block access at certain times of day. So there needs to be an easement and a re-think of whether we need 30 storeys.

Sullivan is also concerned about the precedent of such a tall building causing other, similar applications that will use a token ‘community benefit‘ to justify breaking the City’s planning controls.

Already other developers have put in feelers to the city about raising their proposed buildings to 30 storeys – Cruickshank apparently started asking the city about 30 storeys and and the owners  at 1775 and 1765 Weston Road who were talking about building low rise commercial in the front are now asking about 30 storey towers. Ms Keesmaat claimed that there would be no precedent as a result of the public amenities that were being provided – you can bet your boots that every developer worth his salt is going to say, “I want 30 storeys too”.  We’re going to have another 4 or 5, 30-storey towers with no services. I’m not opposed to the notion that an art community might be an interesting concept but I think you don’t sell your soul to get it. But I’m afraid that this notion of the 30 storey building and the loss of the Farmers Market is like selling our soul.

Tomorrow: Sullivan comments on Metrolinx

Selling off taxpayer assets.

This week (Monday) we will have a meeting concerning the land, some of which was donated to the town of Weston for what became Humber River Regional Hospital back in the 1940s. We will also have a residents’ meeting (Wednesday) to hear citizen input regarding the Weston Hub on John Street. In both of these cases, taxpayer funded entities sold or are looking to sell valuable public land to developers. The Toronto Parking Authority sold off the old GO Station parking lot with little fanfare and now HRRH effectively wants to sell its entire site to developer/s.

On the one hand, we have been told by Councillor Nunziata and others, it’s essential for a tower to be built as part of the Weston Hub on the GO site but according to Inside Toronto, she is quoted as being opposed to one on the hospital site,

“The people from the community are very concerned because it is an 11-acre site, it is zoned institutional and they were concerned the hospital was going to try and sell it to the highest bidder and build towers, residential, which they didn’t want.”

I would guess that those same citizens of Weston aren’t cheering about a 31– 30 storey* rental tower on the old GO parking lot but it looks like they’re getting one. Why is the HRRH site any less vulnerable? Answer: it’s probably not.

As the old saying goes, there is only one taxpayer. Why are (often hard fought) public assets compromised by the need for taxpayer funded agencies to raise cash? Surely our cities deserve better and more deliberate planning than this?

One more thing… Farmers Market traders have been concerned for a while that because their new site is so much smaller, they won’t have room for their vehicles. Superimposing the approximate new space allocation (black line) over a satellite view of the Market in full swing is quite telling and may explain traders’ anxiety. This much smaller space may work well with stalls selling selling pickled artisanal mushrooms and the like but it probably won’t be the same for many of our current traders who need their current freedom to spread out.

Farmers Marketl space allocation after the Hub is built.
Farmers Marketl space allocation (black line) after the Hub is built.

Parking may be an issue too as that will be in the lower part of the green space at the bottom of the image.

*Update: Etobicoke York Council minutes have changed (from the original agenda) to now state that the Hub rental apartment will be 30 storeys. Hopefully it was just a typo on the part of clerical staff.

Weston Cultural Hub – the issues, Part 1.

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

The idea of an artistic community sparking gentrification is an old one, well documented in many cities. The idea is that artists move into a run-down community, attracted by low rents. They enrich the area causing young professionals to move in, attracted by the cool vibe. Demand boosts property values and the area revives and gentrifies. Unfortunately, the artists are then priced out of the area and begin the process elsewhere.

Brewing for quite a few years has been the idea of a Cultural Hub that will spark an upturn in Weston’s fortunes. Like many good ideas it has several parents but a few individuals have been key in pushing the ideas along. More on that tomorrow.

Artscape is a ‘not for profit urban development organization’. It specializes in partnerships with the City of Toronto and (sometimes) developers to convert vacant or underused properties into cultural hubs. These are places where artists can live in subsidized live / work studios and at the same time, cultural organizations can rent space at a reduced cost.

Toronto City Council recently endorsed the plans to have our very own Cultural Hub in Weston. Let’s look at an Artscape project that is seen as a model for Weston.

Wychwood Barns

Wychwood Barns is in the affluent Bracondale or Hillcrest community of Toronto. It was built in 1913 as a streetcar maintenance and storage facility. After it was abandoned and sold to the city for one dollar, plans were made for its demolition. Councillor Joe Mihevc initiated the idea of re-purposing this heritage building. As always with such ideas, the process was long, involved and controversial but eventually with funding of $19 million the new Wychwood Barns Community Centre, including a greenhouse, beach volleyball court, leash free zone for dogs, artists’ housing, offices and green space emerged in 2011.

The old Barn building that originally stored street cars.
The old Barn building that originally stored street cars.
Inside the main building.
Inside the main building. There is community rental and office space upstairs.
One of the community organizations using a subsidized space.
The Children’s Art Studio. One of the community organizations using a subsidized space.

There is a well-attended year-round farmers market every Saturday that focuses on organic and sustainable produce. A waiting list of vendors applying to operate there is needed because of demand.

Outdoor Farmers Market stalls on Saturday May 23.
Outdoor Farmers Market stalls on Saturday May 23.

As mentioned, the project cost $19 million and was funded entirely by Artscape, the Federal Government, the Provincial Government, and the City of Toronto. Not one penny of developer money was needed for the project. The area around Wychwood is quite affluent with many streets of million dollar plus homes and but a single apartment building nearby.

The lone apartment building near Wychwood Barns.
The lone apartment building past Wychwood’s grounds and across the road at 580 Christie. As a co-ownership building, it cannot be converted into condos in order to preserve the rare affordable housing it provides for the area.

The impression of Wychwood Barns is one of purposeful activity. The place is a magnet for the area and affluence seems to be the order of the day. It is well attended with hordes of upwardly mobile young professionals, many with children in strollers. Outdoor market stalls sell what you might expect but also esoterica such as fancy mushrooms, sheep yogurt and hemp drinks (all organic of course). There is an art gallery, crafts stalls and even a theatre group engaging in loud, enthusiastic rehearsals in the main barn.

Could something like this work in Weston?

Tomorrow: Artscape’s plans for a Cultural Hub in Weston.

30 Storey tower concerns residents

There’s some good news and bad in the latest development proposal unveiled in last week’s information meeting hosted by Councillor Frances Nunziata. Well over 100 people packed the York West Active Living Centre where terms such as podium as it refers to the base of a tall tower and Woonerf were tossed around.

Since the move of Weston GO Station south of Lawrence, the parking lot has remained the home of Weston Farmers Market but is a bit of an eyesore and has lost its primary function. Over the last few years, residents have been involved in brainstorming the future of Weston and responding to subsequent ideas brought forward by developers and the city.

The Good

People power in Weston pushed the addition of a stop along the UP Express line. From that one act has come political respect for Weston residents, a commitment from politicians to spend money, quality planning for the future that involves residents and the unavoidable attention of developers who want a piece of the action. A business plan has been approved by the city for the development of land in the centre of Weston.

Lands to be developed not only include the old GO Station parking lot but the recently expropriated adjacent vacant land. Tied in with this will be an agreement with the owners of 35 King Street (late lamented home of Andrew McLean), Artscape and the City. The betting is that 26 subsidized living / work spaces plus creative programming and outdoor public space will encourage businesses and institutions to invest in Weston. Artscape will be given a lease to run the spaces for 50 years.

There will still be outdoor space for the Farmers Market which has been a diminished attraction in recent years, losing both customers and vendors. Hopefully the new digs will boost attendance.

A lot of ideas from the charette are still alive and the city feels that creating high quality public spaces is important as people walk through Weston to the UP Express. This pleasant environment will encourage them to linger and support local businesses.

place
The layout of the proposal – the footbridge and rail tracks are at the top right. Artists’ accommodations (brown) are along two sides of the existing building to the left. The original tower footprint is the dotted line.

 

place
The new tower footprint is the small blue square. The Farmers Market will be located near the footbridge ramp (stalls are dark red). Parking spaces for the Farmers Market will ease the parking on Weston Road at other times.

The Bad

Crowning the whole development like a single birthday candle will be a 30-storey residential rental tower. Apparently this kind of height is needed to make enough money for the developer the project worth while. Responding to a resident’s question, Rockport Group C.E.O. Jack Winberg, stated that a condominium development instead of a rental building would not sell in the current market. When asked if there is another tower of similar height in the locality, he mentioned the co-op building at 2100 Weston Road (it’s closer to 20 storeys).

The tower.
The tower.

As a sidenote, Mr Winberg’s company built Scarlett Heights retirement home along Lawrence and handily smacked down residents’ objections when the development was inevitably taken to the OMB.

The not so bad.

Chief City Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat mentioned that the original tower proposal was wider and had no podium. The latest version will have less of a shadow and a podium cuts down on the wind that tall buildings generate.

What Now?

There will be further opportunities to have input on this project and others but it is up to every Weston resident to get involved, attend consultation meetings and ask questions. Community input and the hard work of people and groups such as the Weston Village Residents’ Association have resulted in good things happening but vigilance will be needed to make sure that developers don’t cut corners or maximize their profits at the cost of a liveable community that we can all be proud of.