Major Weston Property Deal Being Cooked…Ramifications all round

Ever since Scotiabank pulled the plug on its Weston and Lawrence location, speculation has been mounting regarding the future of the corner site. It’s a bit of a historic building in its own right and might even be preserved in some form when redevelopment inevitably takes place.

When the discussions (Charettes) around planning for the UP Express were taking place back in 2011-12, the site was bandied about as having a possible future institutional use – perhaps a community college (George Brown) or a YMCA facility – later deep-sixed by the YMCA themselves. George Brown’s objection was that without all day GO Train service, the location would not be considered. Now that we have (a sort of) all-day service and as an added bonus the newly affordable UP Express, perhaps the college will reconsider but it may be too late.

Next door to the Scotiabank site, the Weston Park Baptist Church (WPBC) community has made no secret that they would be interested in selling up, together with their parking lot received as a donation several years ago. They also expressed an interest in being part of any new development of the site. Incidentally, the WPBC parking lot saved the Farmers Market’s bacon earlier this season when in spite of years of advanced notice, Metrolinx puzzlingly fell mute on permission to use the UP Express parking lot on Saturdays. At short notice, Weston Park’s minister saved the day and the market was able to operate on WPBC land until Metrolinx’s vast bureaucracy was prodded into spitting out the necessary paperwork.

Added together, these two locations plus any land that Metrolinx throws in, would form a site with considerable development potential. In the original Charette plans, it was deemed that the street frontages of any new buildings on Weston and Lawrence would be low to mid-rise while anything built further back from Weston Road near the tracks could go higher. Rumour has it that a deal has been in the works for some time and that once the details are carved in stone, the public will be invited to comment.

The site as imagined in 2012.

We all know by now that City building guidelines go out the window whenever a developer offers a few crumbs to the community so cynical readers will know to expect some tall residential buildings on that corner. Add a rubber stamp from the ever-so-accommodating Weston Village Residents’ Association (representing a tiny fraction of the thousands of people in Weston) and yet another golden opportunity will have been lost.

One side-effect of having the WPBC parking lot out of commission is that in 2018, the Farmers Market will be dragged kicking and screaming back to a much smaller space in the newly built and pristine Weston Hub. Unlike the current set-up, space will be at a premium so traders’ vehicles will have to be parked relatively far away. Traders are very unhappy about this. Removing the WPBC parking lot as an alternate site will reduce the possibility of a mutiny on the part of these traders, a feisty and vociferous bunch who have enjoyed increased sales at the more visible Weston Road location and are murmuring about boycotting the new Hub site. This lack of an alternative location will be a win for Councillor Nunziata who would have some ‘splainin’ to do if the ‘Farmers’ were able to boycott the new digs. It still remains to be seen whether or not the traders (some of whom are actual farmers) will be able to fit into the smaller spaces more suited to selling pickled condiments than pumpkins and unshucked corn.

Whatever happens, you can guarantee that the people who actually live, work and shop in Weston will be the last ones to be consulted or informed.

Weston Station Restaurant up for sale


Being of a cautious nature with a strong preservation instinct I have always resisted the temptation to wander into the Weston Station Restaurant for a meal or even a story. The building, at 1935 Weston Road in downtown Weston has had a checkered history but is now for sale and with that, the prospect of new ownership. Apparently there is 6600 square feet of floor space with 14 tenants upstairs (who knew?) and a restaurant and licensed bar downstairs.

The listing is on and can be yours for a dollar shy of $2 million.

Weston / Mount Dennis is gentrifying – in spots

There is an interesting article in the Toronto Star today that discusses gentrification, its effects and where it is happening in our city. The article looks at the change in household income between 2006 and 2015 in neighbourhoods across the city. While neither Weston nor Mount Dennis can be classified as gentrified – or even close (yet), there are significant increases in household income in many of our neighbourhoods.

Warm colours represent larger increases while blue indicates a decrease in household income.

Interestingly, Weston Village is a rare Toronto enclave where incomes have stagnated or even dropped over that 9-year period. That’s not to say that incomes there are low but they’ve not kept up with the rest of the city in that time. In contrast, neighbourhoods along Weston Road seem to have become more prosperous. There is a particular hot spot (+34%) north and south of Lawrence just west of Weston Road but it’s probably too soon to say if the UP Express has had an effect (btw, my neighbours love taking the 14-minute UP Express trip into Toronto for baseball games at the Skydome Rogers Centre.)

Many parts of Mount Dennis, have also seen an above average increase. Again, the 2021 opening of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT may be a factor in this but time will tell.


The results across the city showed an 18% average increase in household income. Check the Star’s article to see how your neighbourhood compares.

Ontario Government lets payday lenders off the hook

From Richmond Times Dispatch.
From Richmond Times Dispatch.

After dragging its heels for months, the Ontario Government has finally acted on a promise to do something about the huge rates charged by the payday loan industry in this province. As readers in Weston / Mount Dennis are painfully aware, these stores have proliferated in our communities and prey mainly on the poor, charging as much as 21% for a two-week loan; an eye-watering annual rate of 14,299%.

All of this was made possible in 2006 by the lovely Vic Toews, then Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the late lamented Conservative government. His bill made it legal for companies to charge more than (the then) usurious rate of 60% annually by giving provinces the power to regulate their own loan rates. Ontario opened the flood gates in 2008 and the payday loan industry hasn’t looked back.

The provincial Liberal government, instead of taking leadership, has listened to the Payday Loan lobby and rather than lowering rates drastically, they have decided to take the line of least resistance. They are quietly proposing that as of January 2017, rates for a two-week loan drop to 18% and then in January 2018, rates will become 15%, matching those of Alberta. While this is a good start, there is nothing in the legislation that addresses the dire plight of people forced to borrow at such appalling rates. 15% may sound better, but it is still 3,724% compounded annually.

Here is John Oliver’s take on Payday Loans.

Does Ontario have to go this route? Quite simply, no.

Quebec has taken the lead and they cap annual loan rates at 35%. As a result, there are no payday loan companies in that province.

That is the example that Ontario needs to follow and would help poor in our province dig their way out of poverty. In addition, some pressure on our hugely profitable banks and credit unions to provide loans to the poor would not go amiss.

If readers would like to comment on the proposed changes to the act, the Ontario Government isn’t making things easy. The contact page is here and a written submission may be sent via email or snail mail.

MPP Laura Albanese’s contact information is here and her constituency phone number is 416-243-7984.


Have your say about rental apartment licensing

When I was a young lad in some dim and distant past, rental apartment buildings were glamorous creatures. They were modern, had great views, lots of room and everything was included in the rent. Most had a sauna and outdoor pool. For gosh sakes they even had laundry facilities in the basement!

Then in the 1970s, the practice of subsidizing tenants in rental apartments was a cheaper alternative to building public housing. Poor people flooded apartment buildings and with rising incomes, middle-income earners began to abandon rental housing. For the most part, rental apartments became the domain of the poor and were synonymous with shabby conditions and health issues. Conditions steadily deteriorated and ten years ago, in Weston, the two towers at 1765 and 1775 Weston Road were in atrocious condition and the subject of bitter complaints. The federal government stepped in with forgivable loans and millions were spent upgrading rental buildings.

1765 Weston Road in 2012 (file).
1765 Weston Road pictured in 2012 (file).

Nowadays, renting is the only option for many people in the current real-estate market. While conditions have improved, many buildings are poorly maintained and it is felt that legislation concerning these buildings needs an overhaul.

The City of Toronto wants to hear from its citizens about licensing rental apartment buildings. According to the City,

The intended goal of the licensing framework is to build on the current Multi-Residential Apartment Building Audit Program by promoting best practices in building maintenance, strengthening enforcement of property standards violations, and improving tenant engagement and access to information.

The public and stakeholders will have an opportunity to:
• contribute to establishing goals and objectives for a licensing framework
• create recommendations related to current challenges and/or gaps in regulation; rules governing the operations of rental apartment buildings such as maintenance and cleaning plans; enhancement of the current building audit program, including enforcement of property standards; and improved public access to information about rental buildings, and
• submit their own recommendations for improving tenant living conditions.

The meeting for our area will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, August 24: Etobicoke Civic Centre, 399 The West Mall, Meeting Room 1/2/3, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Developers, start your engines.

Toronto’s new(ish) Police Chief Mark Saunders came to Weston / Mount Dennis on Tuesday with Mayor Tory to gauge community response to the re-alignment of police division boundaries along with the possible closure of 12 Division’s headquarters scheduled for 2018. (according to CP24)

In fact, according to the Interim Report approved at July’s Police Board meeting, 12 Division (along with several others) will disappear as it becomes amalgamated. How that process will work is rather vague.

The boundaries of 12 Division.
The current boundaries of Toronto Police’s 12 Division.

Here’s a look (below) at the affected Toronto police divisions according to CP24.

A look at the future of Toronto's police divisions.
Original map adapted by Roy Murray.

Saunders was no doubt hired with the understanding that the billion dollar police budget had to be trimmed, but like his predecessors has dragged his heels. John Tory, mayor of one of the lowest taxed cities in the country is currently asking for a 2.6% across the board budget cut to every city department so he can bring in ‘an at or below inflation’ tax increase.

It’s well known that when City budget cuts come, they disproportionally affect the poor along with areas where large numbers of poor people live. User fees go up, services get slashed and the TTC is ordered to cut back on crowded suburban routes. Mayor Tory is simply another slash and burn, subway loving member of Ford nation albeit with a better grip on P.R. (Ignore the bazillion acre park across the rail lands; it’s a distraction). The Mayor and his rich friends don’t like paying property taxes on their mansions and so the poor must bear the burden.

A satellite view of 12 Division HQ.
A satellite view of 12 Division HQ.

What’s a police chief to do? Learn from the fine example set by politicians and look for savings from people who don’t make as much of a fuss. The police station currently occupied by 12 Division is on a large piece of real estate with excellent highway connections. Wouldn’t it be a great place for a high rise apartment building or two? It even has enough room for parking. Dress the sale up as a ‘modernization of police services’ and police ‘becoming more accessible’ and you have the makings of a fine sales job.

Developers must be salivating at prospect of owning the site. Toronto City Council would smooth all hurdles out of the way and the sale of police assets would trim the Chief’s bloated budget for now while being framed as greater contact with the community. Win Win Win!

Some key words come in the Chief’s Interim Report executive summary.

In the months leading up to our final report, we will continue to look for responsible measures that can yield additional reductions, savings, and real estate returns.

and more tellingly, The full interim report says this:

Through the redesign of boundaries and facilities, we have identified up to $72 million in real estate that could be returned to the City of Toronto.

As we conduct the next phase of our work we will look for other similar opportunities.

A close-up of the property. Lots of room for a high rise and it even has parking. Photo from Google Earth.
A close-up of the property. Lots of room for a high rise, great road connections and it even has ample parking. Photo from Google Earth.

Given past knowledge of previous public asset sales, developers are no doubt lining up with proposals and part of the deal will have to include a crumb or two for the community.

Make no mistake, without a strong community response, 12 Division Headquarters will be sold.

It may already be too late.

Will this be a bad thing? Who knows. Tim Hortons across the street from the station will certainly suffer.

If the goal truly is to provide more contact with the community, then it may not be the end of the world although we don’t know how that will be achieved. Several storefront locations (if implemented) might be a better alternative than a large fortress of a building, but local residents will have to fight long and hard for these and we don’t even know what exactly is planned since the report is merely ‘interim’. There’s certainly no shortage of empty storefronts in Weston / Mount Dennis. A police presence might revitalize our communities. (Where will all those cruisers go?)

It might be a good idea for Chief Saunders and the Mayor to clarify how the consolidation process will take place and what steps will be taken to ensure that community assets are not being turned over to the private sector simply to protect property owners from a long needed tax increase.

People also need to feel confident that this is not a back of the napkin job like the Mayor’s fatuous SmartTrack plans and that we aren’t blundering into a chaotic future.

A kinder gentler Ford Nation?

Michael Ford.
Michael Ford. Photo from Twitter.

The death of former Toronto Mayor and Ward 2 councillor Rob Ford created a vacancy which was filled last night by his 22 year-old nephew, the former Michael Stirpe. Last year Mr. Ford legally switched to the more recognizable maiden name of his mother Kathy and hasn’t looked back since. He won a trustee seat in the 2014 civic election and now this.

The by-election wasn’t close; Ford was pitted against an assorted collection of mostly fringe candidates and swatted them aside with almost 70% of the vote. By-election voting numbers are usually low and this was no exception. Ten-thousand fewer people bothered to turn up compared to last time and indeed, in 2014, Rob Ford alone garnered more votes than all candidates combined in 2106.

Mr. Ford campaigning yesterday supported by former Tory MPs Julian Faction (R) and Ted Opitz (L foreground)
Mr. Ford (centre) campaigning yesterday aided by former Tory MPs Julian Fantino (R rear) and Ted Opitz (L centre). Photo from Twitter.

What can we expect from young Mr. Ford? Will he join the ranks of the Mammolitis and Di Cianos to be another right-wing vote on Council? The answer is probably yes. Mr. Ford presents as a thoughtful young man who appears to be in favour of social justice; yet, in spite of huge levels of poverty in Ward 2 that approach those of our adjacent Ward 12, Mr. Ford spouts the same idiotic mantra of lower property taxes. This is precisely the misguided policy that leads to cutting services that benefit poor people the most.

Only time will tell if Mr. Ford will learn the reality of Toronto politics and understand the need for local politicians to focus on maintaining services and providing opportunities for people to pull themselves out of poverty. Other desirable traits, sadly lacking in many councillors are to act for the betterment of the whole city, defer to good planning and help the weak.

Will he become yet another friend of the development industry and an enemy of services that help level the playing field for the less fortunate – or will he realize that keeping property taxes low only helps the rich and reduces social mobility?

There may be hope that he’ll be a thoughtful, progressive and hard-working councillor. Let’s focus on that for now.