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.

GO Train service upgrade – it’s official.

As mentioned previously in Weston Web, an upgraded schedule to the GO Train service between Weston and Union stations has been announced by GO Transit beginning September 8. The service upgrade covers the middle of the day during weekdays. Weston Station will continue to sit idle during weekends but that will be handy for the new (temporary) Farmers Market location next year.

Inbound schedule.

GO Train Weston to Union schedule.

The return journey also fills in the middle of the day times.

Return to Weston Schedule.

GO Train Union to Weston schedule.

We can speculate about the reason for this unexpected gift from GO Transit and Metrolinx. Uncharitable folk might suggest that this is a way to dull the clamour to add stops to or lower prices on the UP Express. Here at Weston Web we recognize this as a truly magnanimous gesture that comes purely from the heart. Let’s hope that the lovin’ feeling will soon extend to weekend service.

Read the official announcement here.

Farmers Market Twitter Account Hacked?

Weston Web would like to sincerely apologize for the apparently false information we gave stating that the Farmers Market will make a permanent move to the new GO Station. Apparently it’s a temporary move for two years until the new space is ready for them at the HUB. But that’s a whole other story.

According to Weston B.I.A. which runs the Farmers Market, a hacker has taken over the Farmers Market accounts and is spreading this false information. Looking at the @Weston_farmers Twitter account it seems the hacker or hackers have carefully and systematically created entries giving helpful information and photographs of the market since last October. Check for yourself – it’s a very convincing account.

Here at Weston Web we can sympathize. Many a time we must have been hacked – in fact every single story you read with an error in it is possibly the result of an evil hacker inserting false statements into our otherwise pristine and truthful copy. Adam’s story on the Farmers Market could well have been one of those occasions.

From now on, please understand that whenever you see an error in Weston Web – even a typo or missing comma, it could be the result of a hack and not our fault at all.

Incidentally, when Weston Web contacted the @weston_farmers Twitter account to ask if they were real, the response came back, “we rep the farmers and vendors of the market. We promote the vendors of the market. From farm to table and local produce.”.

Damn you hackers.

Weston Station – a work in progress

Yesterday I took a look at Weston Station and two things are evident;

1. The station still needs a lot of work before it is complete.

2. It’s going to look very nice – a lot nicer than the old one.

Judge for yourself in these images.

 

 

Mayor Tory attends WVRA AGM

It was a full court press at the annual general meeting of the Weston Village Residents’ Association (membership of almost 100 apparently). Mayor John Tory had agreed to attend along with the president of Artscape, Celia Smith and all three of our political representatives. The meeting was no doubt sold to His Honour as an opportunity to bask in the approval and gratitude of residents. After all, aren’t we getting a wonderful new cultural hub?

Mayor Tory checks out the audience.

Mayor Tory checks out the audience.

The elephant in the room was a giant middle finger (ok enough metaphors) seemingly directed at the people of Weston in the form of a 30-storey rental apartment building; allegedly the unavoidable price of getting the hub. Despite organizers’ best efforts (I was in the second row yet somehow invisible when I raised my hand) a couple of awkward questions were asked about the latest tower proposal and judging by the spontaneous applause, a growing concern is shared by many in the audience. This latest rental apartment in Weston seems destined to become like the others (only taller).

The questions that still need answers are,

  • Was it necessary to sell the old GO Station parking lot to a developer? Why didn’t the negotiating team look at retaining the site and developing a decent Wychwood Barns type space with parkland and no 30 storey rental apartment building? Costs could have been amortized over years rather than all at once.
  • Who owns the podium at 33-35 King? (The largely unoccupied building that is about to be bailed out by this project.)
  • What did 33-35 King bring to the table to offset the costs of developing the hub since they stand to gain millions from this in rents, parking charges and a more valuable building?
The 'Podium' and parking lot - Who owns it and what did they bring to the table? Click for expanded view.

The ‘Podium’ – Who owns it and what did they bring to the table? Click for expanded view.

  • Was Rockport the only developer asked to submit proposals? If not, who else made proposals and why were they rejected?
  • Is the current deal the best the negotiating team could make? Who was on the negotiating team?
  • Metrolinx paid $1 million to be applied to the purchase of the additional land to the south of the TPA lot. The City ended up purchasing the lot in a separate deal. What will happen to the $1 million? Where is it now? Why was this information withheld from the public?
  • Were the highest ethical standards applied in making this deal?
  • Why is extracting information about this project so difficult?

Until the public gets answers to these questions (and others) we are working in the dark and cannot provide an informed consent to this project (if that was ever an option).

Let’s have some daylight on this, please.

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.

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.