A tale of two cafes.

For two years, not a few Westonians have been tormented by the promise of a new coffee shop and bakery coming to our part of the world, namely 1971 Weston Road. Month after month the same view of the exterior with little sign of progress is a bit of a metaphor for what Weston is – lots of promise but no action.

Future Coffee Shop?

Future Coffee Shop?

The thought of a casual stroll and entering a coffee shop to the smell of coffee and freshly baked croissants has kept me going (sad, I know). Two years on and while activity seems to have been ongoing inside the shop, little information other than ‘soon’ is forthcoming.

Interior view.

Interior view through a gap in the paper.

Contrast that with rumours a month ago that a Starbucks was coming to the (almost) neighbourhood. This location at Lawrence and Royal York had previously been the headquarters of the late lamented Blockbuster Video (who saw that coming?). One month later and voila, the place began serving this Wednesday. When WestonWeb visited on Friday the large outlet was occupied with plenty of people checking emails and ordering Starbucks fare.

New Starbucks location.

New Starbucks location.

The good news is that it’s only a brisk 16 minute walk to the new Starbucks from Weston and King. One can only hope that this will generate some action at number 1971.

If readers have any information about opening dates, please let us know.

Transit Plans – 1. John Tory

The top four Mayoralty candidates have released their transit plans. This is the first of a four-part series assessing these plans.

In a nutshell, current front-runner John Tory believes that above-ground subway lines are the best way to go. He proposes a line following GO train tracks where possible that will run across the city from east to west, passing through Union Station.

London has many of these – in fact 52% of London’s subway network is above ground. London has been building subways since the early 1860s – nearly a century before Toronto opened its first line.

Unlike London where new above-ground subways have been able to take over existing but unused railway lines, Toronto has no such advantage. New tracks must be added to current ones and, where none exist (along Eglinton for example), carved out of the existing landscape. Think of the disruption we are enduring here in the comparatively simple task of adding GO tracks to the existing line and right-of-way through Weston – imagine what carving out a rail corridor from scratch will involve. Unfortunately, the corridor along the north side of Eglinton (that Mr. Tory appears to think still exists) was sold off as surplus by the city in 2010 and is now a construction site for hundreds of new homes. Where Mr. Tory’s SmartTrack will fit along this route is anyone’s guess. And all of this will allegedly come to pass in 2021.

John Tory's Transit Plan

John Tory’s Transit Plan – click for larger image.

At its western end, Mr Tory’s SmartTrack line begins at the Matheson / Airport Corporate Centre (not the airport) – which connects to Mississauga Transit. It travels along Eglinton – until a few years ago, the planned route of the Richview Expressway. Once it hits Mount Dennis, the SmartTrack joins and heads down the GO / U.P. Express tracks towards Union. No mention is made of the U.P. Express or what his plans are to retain or modify the service.

Mr. Tory claims that the billions needed for SmartTrack will come from tax increment financing. This is the financial wizardry in which extra money is provided in the future by additional tax revenue generated by higher property values and therefore higher tax assessments along the new lines. Tax increment financing is how Rob Ford proposes to pay for his subways subways and more subways. ‘Nuff said.

John Tory's anticipated flow of passengers.

John Tory’s anticipated flow of passengers.

The Tory plan theorizes that passengers will be diverted from the east west and north-south subways and buses and use the SmartTrack trains from the west and east ends of the city to get to Union. This will provide, “congestion relief on the Yonge line for someone who lives in Lawrence Park or Leaside”.

Unfortunately, most commuters don’t want to go to Union Station. Only 260,000 do so daily and that’s using GO Train, GO Bus and subway combined. Bloor-Yonge is already straining with 420,000 daily passenger movements. Mr. Tory’s plan will simply add more pressure on this station from passengers hopping off SmartTrack and onto the Bloor Line in the West or East. Yes, the people of Lawrence Park and Leaside may be more comfortable but SmartTrack will add even more congestion to an already congested area. A downtown relief line is seen by experts as the only answer to this rapidly growing demand and Mr. Tory does not adequately explain how his SmartTrack will be an effective substitute.

It’s one thing to think outside the box and come up with a concept such as an above-ground subway. It’s another to believe that you and a group of your political advisors can ignore expert opinion and sit down with a map of the city and magically determine the fate of transit in this city for decades to come. The experts say that a downtown relief line is needed. SmartTrack is not an effective substitute.

With regard to finances, tax increment financing is fraught with peril. Extra revenue generated by such accounting sleight of hand is not guaranteed. This windfall would normally be taken into account to maintain and upgrade the city’s infrastructure so it’s not just free money.

Mr. Tory should defer to the experts (who spend whole careers immersed in the topic) before launching Toronto in yet another whimsical transportation direction with magical financing. The incumbent Mayor’s floundering has cost us dearly and set transportation in this city back by several years. Let’s not add even more delays and band-aids to an increasingly desperate situation. SmartTrack is the wrong track.

Federal Building apartments are ready.

Weston’s old post office, also once known as the Federal Building has had its upper floor renovated by developer Jack Morelli of First Avenue Properties and is now seeking tenants. Readers may remember that across the street, Mr. Morelli is building low-rise condominiums on the old beer store site so these renovations might be some clue as to how he views the neighbourhood’s potential. Readers may also remember that the ground floor of the building will be a medical centre opening next year. WestonWeb took a ‘stickybeak‘ on Tuesday morning during an open house.

Arriving a leisurely half-hour after the event had begun, WestonWeb’s south media team (Roy and Roy) found the front access doors to the apartments were still locked. Since a previous visit in July, even more windows at ground level have been broken. Not an auspicious start. Unable to cool off in a tantalizingly unopened fabulous new coffee shop, a quick scout around the back of the building revealed a door left ajar. A set of terrazzo stairs that have seen better days led to the top floor where a pair of startled agents sprang to their feet and introduced themselves.

First Avenue has gutted the top floor and installed 15 apartments in place of the old offices. There is a choice of one, two or three bedrooms averaging 800 square feet. All apartments and hallways have the same tiled flooring throughout and flat (not textured) 9-foot ceilings. A variety of layouts is available but unfortunately, First Avenue’s definition of a bedroom is sometimes an enclosed space with a door but no window. In one apartment, one of the alleged bedrooms was simply a windowless alcove – a feature described by the agent as flexible. When asked if a windowless bedroom was legal in Toronto, the agent went quiet. When pressed, another awkward silence ensued.

The entrance to Apartment 203

The entrance to Apartment 203

Kitchens are small with formica countertops. The appliances had not yet arrived yet but range hoods appear to be vented to the outside. Bathrooms are standard toilet sink and bath/shower combinations.

The kitchen alcove in Apartment 203.

The kitchen alcove in Apartment 203.

Prices for the apartments range from $900 for a one-bedroom $1050 for a two and $1200 for a three-bedroom. Water is included but heat and hydro are billed extra; heat being supplied via individual apartment furnaces through ceiling vents. Although no laundry facilities are provided in the apartments, a coin laundry room will be available. The lack of air-conditioning could be a problem in summer as windows are quite small. Each unit comes with one parking space.

A windowless bedroom.

A windowless bedroom in Apt 203.

Living room (L) and a bedroom.

The living room (L) and a bedroom of Apt 203.

While no-one will accuse First Avenue Properties of gentrifying Weston, it’s nice to see any reasonable development coming to a formerly empty space in a significant Weston building. Residents will occupy brand new walk-up apartments and have access to a variety of amenities within easy walking distance at an affordable price. The developer might however want to do something about the state of the ground floor exterior which continues to deteriorate.

UP Express fares continue to draw fire

While the downtown media is hammering on the as-yet-undisclosed UP Express fares, they continue to miss a larger issue.

A union representative for airport workers told The Star that the airport train “isn’t public transit, this is transit for the 1 per cent”. The editorial board wrote “Fares should be priced to encourage people to leave their cars at home and take the train, not discourage them from using something they’ve already paid almost half a billion dollars to build.” An online survey they conducted found that about 75% of respondents thought that fares should be less than $20; half thought $10 was reasonable.

We should be glad that The Star, Spacing, and other media continue to push for more information. It is long overdue. The real news, though, is this: Metrolinx will be running an unaffordable and unprofitable service. Even though we’ve already spend $500 million and fares will be unaffordable, you and I will pay for Metrolinx to shuttle the elite around.

This is madness.

The Liberal government hid Metrolinx’s ‘business case’ from critics before the provincial election. Critics like Rosario Marchese called on them to release the details, but the Liberals filibustered in committee to hide the bad news.

They had good reason to bury the body: the Auditor General of Ontario had already said that there is no business case. “If the goal was for the ARL to break even in its first year… Metrolinx would have to charge about $28″ for each trip, according to the AG. But 75% of Torontonians said they wouldn’t take it if it cost more than $22.50. Nor would 60% of visitors.

In other words, it looks like Metrolinx needs to charge more than the market will bear to pay for the service.

The Star has noticed that the UP Express is going to cost riders. They should now notice the cost to taxpayers.

UP Express Fare – Do The Math

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Those of us hoping for an affordable fare on the UP Express are in for a big disappointment and the reason is to be found in simple arithmetic.

Anyone checking the arrivals and departures at Pearson Airport (or living in Weston) knows that a lot of flights come and go daily. Last year Pearson handled 36,000,000 passengers. Let’s generously assume that half of them are in transit. That leaves about 9 million arrivals and 9 million departures. That’s an average of 25,000 daily. In addition, 41,000 employees need to come and go for a total of about 66,000 people daily in each direction.

What is the capacity of the UP Express to move people? Well, it’s nothing like that of a GO Train. UP Express trains will either have two or three cars, each car holding 60 passengers. If all trains could be the maximum 3-car format (they can’t) the hourly one-way passenger potential is 4 x 180 or 720. Again assuming an 18-hour operating schedule and an even flow of people, the maximum number that the train could move (assuming nobody used the Bloor or Weston stations along the way) is just under 13,000. Given the availability of trains with a third car and the other limitations mentioned, that number will be considerably lower.

The danger of pricing fares at an affordable level is that the trains would be wildly popular leading to overcrowding.

Metrolinx will therefore err on the side of high fares and carefully watch passenger numbers with a view to adjusting them later if necessary.

One more thing: many people have already figured out that the extortionate money grab by GTAA of $2.00 from each passenger in lieu of lost parking revenue is bogus. The vast majority of people arriving at the airport do so in taxis, buses and limousines. They would not be contributing to parking revenues anyway.

Condo development–an alternate view

My esteemed colleague, Roy, doesn’t like the proposed condo development at the former Beer Store site. Though I defer to Roy’s considered opinion on many things, about this I disagree; these condos are a fabulous idea.

The black-brick façade might be, ahem, an inspired choice. And three-and-a-half-storey, flat-top buildings are not my first love; they loom. These, though, are primarily aesthetic concerns, and I match plaids, so I’m no judge of beauty. The builder has every incentive to make the buildings attractive, and I trust that they will be nice.

I’m much more in love with the philosophy of the development. First, it’s a brownfield development, the very best kind. Nothing lovely was cut down, torn up, or demolished to make room for it.

Second, townhouses are affordable and create community.

And that is the best part of this new development. The way I see it¹, right now, Weston is two towns². There are the large, often unattractive, generally affordable rental buildings. With many exceptions, people in these buildings are passing through, and often don’t have a strong sense of community.

Then there are the single-family detached houses. They are lovely, old, expensive, and foster an almost cultish community. (I love the cult, to be sure, but nobody would say we are a diverse set of well-adjusted people.)

This new condos could bridge the two groups. The homes will be affordable. The many people who find a $650,000 fixer-upper a little insane³ will able to buy in Weston.

And we want those people. People who own have every incentive to make their community better. And people who own 500-square-foot affordable condos might just be more interesting, entrepreneurial, and—yes—fun than the rest of us.

These condos are the start of a new kind of building in Weston. They might also be the start of a new sort of community.

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¹That’s a nice way of saying “I have no data to back this up”

² With a huge number of exceptions.

³ i.e. sane people

Developer: How about 62 Stacked Townhomes?

Wednesday’s meeting to discuss the latest development proposals for the old Beer Store property at 2059 – 2069 Weston Road was deja vu all over again. The developer, Jack Morelli from First Avenue Properties and Councillor Nunziata met with residents last October and the proposal at that time was for 38 townhomes on the site.  

First the good news:

One of the developer’s other properties, the old Post Office building at 2050 Weston has found a major tenant. A medical centre (relocating from Mount Dennis) will occupy the entire 20,000 square feet of the ground floor next Spring. The upstairs will contain 15 new apartments.

Now the bad news:

After being sent back to the drawing board by various city agencies, Mr. Morelli has returned with a revamped proposal that now consists of 3 buildings occupying a smaller footprint but containing 62 condominium stacked town homes (a 63% increase) measuring between 500 – 1300 square feet. Each of the buildings will contain 24 underground parking spaces; one per townhome and 10 extras for visitors to the 62 homes. The townhomes will form a frontage along Weston Road. Once again, the city (represented by Natasha Lang) will study the plans to see if they comply with city requirements.

The developer stated that, ‘This is the new concept of town homes and it’s what people want’. He also justified building town homes instead of retail since it took such an effort to find a tenant for his retail space across the street, and besides, ‘There’s too much retail space in Weston anyway’, and, ‘Retail is out of the question’ (on the site).

Apparently the MCR (not R2) zoning on the site allows an 8 storey building on the property. This was repeatedly hammered home by both the developer and Councillor Nunziata. MCR zoning permits a retail ground floor that could form the exterior of the project along Weston Road in keeping with the rest of the historical ‘Main Street’.

All of this seems to be posturing. Mr. Morelli, like any developer, wishes to generate the largest amount of money from the site. He is not doing Weston any favours. To point out that he could put up an 8-storey building is an empty threat. If Mr. Morelli could make more money by erecting such a building, you can be sure he would do so.

The people of Weston will be left with this development for many decades. Townhomes will be a classic case of bad planning along Weston Road in the middle of a retail stretch. While there is a demand for housing, any city planner will tell you that developments need to fit in with their surroundings. As currently proposed, these townhomes will look like missing keys on a piano or the gap in a hockey player’s smile.

The Weston Road Frontage.

The proposed Weston Road Frontage.

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3-D view showing the street entrance of the development.

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Plan view of the development.

Mr. Morelli agreed to the formation of an advisory committee that would work to consider the wishes of area residents. This will be done in conjunction with the Weston Village Resident’s Association.