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.

Sullivan’s Bill

mikesullivan

Politics is a bit of a balancing act between public service and loyalty to your party. The taxpayer subsidizes the public service part and the party is supposed to take care of things like canvassing, advertising and fundraising. On the one hand, MPs receive government money in order to hire assistants and run their offices. This money also includes provisions for communicating with constituents on the work that they are doing. On the other, MPs are supposed to draw a firm line between partisan spending on things like canvassing and advertising (which should be paid for by the party) and helping constituents who come to them with a problem.

Some aspects of political spending are easy to categorize. For example, election signage and campaign leaflets should always be paid for by the party. The line gets thin when a party uses tax money to promote itself. For example, MP’s newsletters not only report to constituents but often paint the member in an unduly flattering light. The recent string of federal government TV commercials seem to be telling Canadians that the Federal Government is working hard for you and, by the way, it’s led by a wonderful, God fearing, military-worshipping Prime Minister and his talented Cabinet. In fine Canadian tradition, the Liberals did exactly the same when they were in office – not to mention AdScam.

In this grey and murky world, the NDP has been found guilty of spending tax money on partisan activities by the seven-member Board of Internal Economy, a parliamentary committee (controlled by the Conservatives) that has deemed the pooling of MPs money allocations (sent to create satellite offices in Quebec City and Montreal) to be partisan spending. The committee has presented the NDP with a $2.7 million bill that needs to be paid. While the Party is appealing the order to the courts, the NDP Caucus must cough up the money a.s.a.p. Naturally, Quebec MPs will be paying the lion’s share while most outside Quebec, like our own Mike Sullivan are being billed $1288.

Sullivan claimed to WestonWeb that the BOIE is an, ‘Ever-secret kangaroo court’ and that the truth, ‘Will be brought out into the open when we are in government. We followed all the rules. No partisan work was done.’ Whether or not the NDP is guilty, it is a moral and financial blow in an election year, and an expensive one for some Quebec MPs

In the meantime, those thinly disguised Government of Canada / Conservative Party commercials continue to help us understand what the government is doing for us annoy – and all paid for by the taxpayer. But that’s ok because the government is in charge and they would never lie to us would they?

Support Natalie, support great writing

Have I got a deal for you. You can

  • support great writing (i.e. not mine) and
  • feel great about yourself and
  • advertise on the only best blog about Weston

And you can do it for $30. What a steal, right?

You’ve met Natalie. She’s fantastic. She has been pouring hours and hours of writing into WestonWeb. She takes great pictures. She writes great stories. And, most importantly, she brings us a voice we don’t often see around here: young, vibrant, optimistic, smart, and awesome.

And she gets paid. By readers like you.

Natalie has a big heart, but I wouldn’t ask her to write for nothing. (Roy? He works for beer.) And that’s where you come in. Here’s the deal:

You give me $30. I’ll give every cent to Natalie, who will write a post about a topic she chooses. (Sorry–you can’t choose the topic.)

You get a link and a sweet little blurb saying something like this:

P&M’s is the best restaurant in town, and we’re moving to a new location. Eventually.”

 

And you get to feel awesome for giving just about the finest young person in town a good job contributing back to her community.

If you want to give more or less than $30, let me know. We can work something out.

Let’s do this.

I take Paypal, cash, cheques, and beer.

Already decided? Go for it. Click through. Or email, call, or text: adam (at) adamnorman.com, (647) 470-9229.



But wait. There’s more.

For $90, I’ll make you a great deal. I’ll put your ad over there on the left-hand side (rotating with the ads of other contributors so that people will pay attention to it) and you can sponsor three posts. I’ll run your ad for six months. And Natalie will get every cent.

That’s it!

$30—you are awesome. I love you. Your community will love you. You will put your name and/or establishment in front of thousands of monthly viewers.

$90—bulk deal. Three text ads, a graphic ad, and a huge “Thank you” from me and the community.

There’s some fine print.

The fine print.

  • If you decide to advertise, your ad has to be no less classy than the rest of the site (that’s not too classy, in case you haven’t noticed. But, you know, I’m not going to take advertisements from ‘massage’ parlours or whatnot.) I’ll refund your money if we can’t work something out.
  • The text ads can be, say, 40-or-so words long.
  • The graphic ads must be 160 pixels wide and 600 long. You can get them built on Fiverr.com for $5, or we can figure something out.
  • Your money does not buy you any editorial control. This part is important: You can’t choose the topic of your post.
  • This too is important, don’t do this if you’re counting on making a million bucks from new visitors. Only do it if it makes you feel good helping a local young person.

 

 

 

Pan Am Path extension officially opens

Urban Arts entertains the crowd.

Urban Arts entertains the crowd.

Another link officially opened today in a major step towards completion of the much anticipated Pan Am Path. This 84km path is being created by linking existing shorter trails and will eventually allow pedestrians and cyclists to move from Brampton to Pickering without encountering motor vehicles. After the ceremony, a Jane’s Walk took pedestrians along the path and a group of cyclists followed later. Bike Share Toronto (formerly Bixi) had bikes for those wishing to try the new link. Dynamic youth support organization UrbanArts provided music and an art activity for the celebration.

Urban Arts art activity.

Urban Arts art activity.

One of the more distasteful aspects of these events is the unseemly scramble for credit. Political representatives from all three levels of government were jockeying for position. Freshly re-elected MPP Laura Albanese announced a $400,000 grant from the Trillium Foundation to be spent on projects covering the length of the trail (strangely the Trillium Foundation site has no trace of this in their list of grants). Councillor Frances Nunziata announced (again) the $48,000 worth of exercise equipment to be installed in Cruickshank Park (well before the Council election in October no doubt). This money was extracted from several developers in exchange for Council concessions. Another guest speaker, Etobicoke Centre Tory MP Ted Opitz prattled on about his support for the path despite the Federal Government contribution of precisely zero to this project. It takes some nerve to remove protection from the Humber River (as the Tories have done) and then bask in the glory of others’ work. Then again, there will be a federal election by October 2015 at the latest. Right leaning mayoral hopeful Karen Stintz was in attendance but mercifully kept a low profile (until the ribbon cutting). Incredibly, our own MP Mike Sullivan told me he was not invited and therefore didn’t get to speak. Organizers from Friends of the Pan Am Path claimed there had been an oversight.

Brent Chamberlain and Frances Nunziata cut the ribbon.

Brent Chamberlain (Friends of the Pan Am Path) and Frances Nunziata (with scissors) cut the ribbon.