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.

I Can Too Research.

Last week, an anonymous commenter responded to an article on the coming Liberal revival with the following comment:

Roy may not know this — research doesn’t seem his strong suit — but there was a fourth candidate contesting the Liberal nomination: A young, gay, Aboriginal man who actually lives in YSW. He had a very vigorous campaign going and was signing up plenty of members. But he was instructed by Trudeau’s minions to drop out. So much for a new, inclusive Liberal party. No thanks . . .

The blatantly truthful bit about my research skills (we have thick skins here at WestonWeb) was overshadowed by the possibility that this commenter, while lacking the integrity to come forward with his or her real name and email address, may actually be on to something. OMG, an actual scoop. With this in mind, I put on my ace cub reporter’s hat and contacted Riding Association President Ryan Ward for a comment. He quickly referred me to Liberal Party spokesperson Kunal Parmar who again quickly responded that for confidentiality reasons he was unable to reveal why the candidate had withdrawn. He stated that, “Anything to do with this individual is up to them. He will not be commenting further.”

Repeated attempts to contact the candidate by phone and email failed – even though as of July 15, a website still proclaims his candidacy. Obviously if he feels aggrieved, he’s not saying so.

So there we have it – pretty much a non-story but I promised a follow-up and here it is.

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.

Airport Express bus shutting down

Your Humble Correspondent does not know quite what to make of this, but it is an interesting data point: the Airport Express bus that runs between Union and Pearson will be shutting down this fall because it can’t make a profit.

The bus costs about the same ($27) as the train will.

That’s where the similarities end. Metrolinx says the UP Express will get 3 million riders a year even though the bus gets fewer than 200,000. A year.

According to The Star, construction has wreaked havoc on the bus scheduling and speed. But even at its peak, the bus only carried 400,000 people. And the bus would stop at many downtown hotels, meaning its riders would not have to catch a cab or haul luggage through slush from Union Station.

Metrolinx and the Liberal party long refused to release a business case for the UP Express. SNC Lavelin backed out of the partnership for fear of losing their shirts. The Auditor General has also been critical of Metrolinx’ plans for the UP Express.

YHC is a perverse man: Though the UP Express will cost zillions, and though it has long been a pain in our wonderful town, and though it will serve no discernable purpose, YHC has long been depressed that its completion will deprive him of material for this site. Though he is not bright, he brightened today at the thought that he will likely have years of—dare I say it?—slow-motion train-wrecks to provide him material.

 

Ontario strategically pushes the reset button.

Much to her own surprise, incumbent Liberal Laura Albanese handily defeated the N.D.P.’s Paul Ferreira and the P.C.’s Andrew Ffrench in what was expected to be a tight race. Across Ontario, the tumultuous events of election night will echo in York South-Weston for years to come. Across the province, voters rejected the P.C.’s confusing promises of harsh austerity, cuts to government jobs and corporate incentives while providing tax cuts for corporations. Andrea Horwath’s bizarre adoption of Tory style policies such as utility H.S.T. refunds, corporate incentives and a Ford-like respect for taxpayers confused voters and infuriated the base. These two odd approaches (which stirred memories of Mike Harris and Bob Rae) gave voters no other safe haven than the Liberals. In addition, only Kathleen Wynne was able to sound sincere when the camera lights were switched on. Wynne’s enthusiasm and confidence allowed voters to trust her messages of contrition for past Liberal wrongs, sound the alarm about the possibility of a P.C. victory and promises of better days to come under a Liberal government.

Across the province, it appeared that to many voters, the only acceptable platform (or the least unacceptable) belonged to the Liberals. In order to ensure the adoption of that platform (which the NDP had rejected), strategic voting was in the minds of many voters when they were marking their X.

One good thing to come of this is that having a clear majority will allow Kathleen Wynne to work on her agenda without needing permission from the opposition. Transportation issues that plague the GTA can get the attention they deserve. Hopefully a new Mayor and refreshed Toronto City Council can work with Wynne to straighten out years of neglect and idiotic council decisions.

Another good thing to come of this is that the P.C.s will choose a new and less extremist leader. Mr. Hudak ably demonstrated that ‘Tea Party Lite’ doesn’t work in Ontario. Ms Horwath, (if she survives as leader in the Fall convention) will no doubt be charged with returning the NDP to its core values.

Premier Wynne seems anxious to hit the ground running and wants to recall the legislature to sit through July. Ms Albanese has been given a large mandate to serve and we can only hope that she will use this to more forcefully represent the electorate in Toronto’s poorest riding. In the past she was able to extract concessions from the premier because of the swing nature of the riding. Now she has four years to demonstrate to electors that she will be a strong and responsive advocate and not simply another whipped government vote.

Candidates debate—and why I’ll vote for Ferreira

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Laura Albanese and Paul Ferreira were polished and careful at the debate last night. Andrew Ffrench, the PC candidate was, by far, the most fun to watch, though. He spoke without notes or polish, laid it all on the line, and said some funny things as a result, like when he said, seniors “take up a lot of space” in hospitals.

But in this race, Ffrench can afford to be the most fun: he has nothing to lose. Only Ferreira and Albanese are serious contenders.

Ferreira was sharp, sometimes aggressive, and fast. He hammered his opponents, and especially Albanese.

Albanese was very good too; she struck the right tone at the right occasion—with one, very notable, very disappointing exception.

But that one exception decides my vote.

On policy there was little to separate Ferreira and Albanese (and anyway, few people in the room were undecided. The different flactions clapped like they were on the set of Oprah.) Albanese and Ferreira agreed on auto-insurance, seniors’ issues, transit, pensions, electrification, small business, even sports.

They only really disagreed on history: the history of the Liberal party and of Metrolinx. Ferreira thinks, rightly, that Metrolinx is broken and needs to be fixed. Albanese thinks that it should be given a larger mandate.

The most interesting part—and the part that settled my vote—was about the gas plant scandal and the history of Liberal mismanagement. At first, Albanese answered to these issues well, and said contritely that her party could have done better.

But at the end of the debate she blew it. Ffrench mentioned, again, the wasted $1,300,000,000. Speaking over him, and out of turn, Albanese  “It’s over 20 years. And you promised it too. Done, done, done!”

Oh. No. No you don’t.

This was shocking. First, there is Albanese’s disavowal of the facts: Andrew Ffrench did not promise any such thing. He was not in government. Yes, all parties did promise to cancel the gas plants, but only the Liberals knew the true cost. They lied about it and tried to hide it in a shameful bid to spare themselves embarrassment.

And a billion dollars is a billion dollars whether it is wasted slowly or quickly. Those gas plants cost my family $500 in wasted tax money. I expect more than  “done, done, done”.

There’s also the implication.

I doubt that Laura Albanese had anything to do with the gas plant scandal— governments are big places—so she probably has little to apologize for. But, by the same token, its easier for her to distance herself from the scandalous waste by saying something along the lines of “Hey, my party did a stupid thing. I think it’s awful. But rest assured, I’m your representative first and a Liberal second.”

But that’s not what she said. Instead she implied that a billion wasted dollars (but hey, over 20 years) is not a big deal.

It is a big deal.

And, worse, she implied that wasting that kind of money is politics as usual. Maybe it is. It shouldn’t be. And I, for one, will tear up my ballot before I vote for someone who thinks it should.

So I won’t be voting for Laura Albanese.

With little to differentiate between the Liberals and the NDP in this election, I think it is perfectly reasonable to vote for the person you trust the most. I trust Paul Ferreira more than I trust Laura Albanese. He seems sharp, principled, and decent.

I only hope that he will acknowledge when his party is wrong. Ms. Albanese missed her chance.

I’ll be voting for Paul Ferreira.

 

 

 

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PS: Jessica Higgins, the Green candidate, didn’t show up for the debate. I emailed to find out why. She hasn’t responded.

The other candidates (an independent and a libertarian) didn’t show up either. Seriously, what do people get out of registering but not campaigning. Is it a tax thing? Honest question.