Reasons to be cheerful.

Adapted from Real Style Network.

As the New Year opens, there are some hopeful signs that 2018 will be better and more cheerful than 2017. Here are a few in no particular order.

Minimum Wage and Paid Vacations.

From today, the Ontario minimum wage moves from $11.60 to $14.00. While this may be a tough slog for small businesses, for a large number of people in Weston / Mount Dennis and millions in Ontario, a 21% rise in hourly wages will be a great boost to their personal finances. Contrary to the debunked Trickle Down Theory, when poor people get money, they spend it, increasing growth.

Prescription plan for under 25 year-olds.

This little heralded plan will genuinely improve the lives of millions of Ontario children and young adults by ensuring that most prescriptions and health care supplies are provided at no cost. These two measures from the Ontario Government will provide a much needed boost to our local economy as disposable income rises. Better yet, they were implemented before an election.

Net Zero

The ongoing Net Zero initiative from the impressively well organized and determined Mount Dennis Community Association. 

It can only get warmer.

Our spell of Alberta weather has no end in sight and is no doubt providing a bonanza to plumbers and furnace repair companies. Our days are already getting longer so can spring be far away? Besides, there are surprising benefits that come with cold weather.

Election year x 2

Here at Weston Web we love elections. Not only do we have a provincial election in June but a civic one in October.

Ontario

In Ontario, Kathleen Wynne will be looking to hang on to power for the Liberals, battling the Tories’ Patrick Brown and Andrea Horwath for the NDP. Locally we have Laura Albanese who has gained in confidence and competence over the years and will be a formidable opponent. She will be facing Faisal Hassan who worked locally in former NDP MP Mike Sullivan’s office and Mark DeMontis whose compelling story and hockey background may resonate.

In Etobicoke Centre, Liberal Yvan Baker will probably hold his seat despite his seemingly limited thinking skills. In Toronto last year, around 50 people were killed by people driving vehicles, yet in spite of data showing distracted driving to be the major cause of deaths, Mr Baker chose to target pedestrians with his private member’s bill.

Toronto

In Toronto‘s civic elections in October, Ward 2 will see Mike Ford handily re-elected while in Ward 11, Frances Nunziata will no doubt achieve the same result. The big story will be who will win the mayoral election and thus decide the future of the city. Doug Ford is already pulling rank on nephew Mike – Mike’s Christmas message was hijacked by Uncle Doug. Frances Nunziata will likely be speaker regardless of whether Tory or Ford win since she has a foot in both camps. The big question will be if a credible centre-left candidate can run and pull the rug out from under ‘Rob Ford in sheep’s clothing’, John Tory. The Mayor has already moved his talking points sharply to the left in anticipation and will be vulnerable to Ford as a result.

Another reason for optimism is that thanks to ward distribution, the three additional council seats may not be so friendly to Mayor Tory should he be successful.

Pedestrian and Cycling Safety

Councillor Nunziata’s Pedestrian Safety and Cycling Committee will soon be releasing their recommendations for Ward 11.

Weston Hub

The Weston Hub will see artists able to occupy their studio spaces in July as work continues on the 30-storey rental apartment tower, community space and rental storage facility.

Sewer Relining Ends

Sewer work will be ending this year along the Humber and peace will return, (hopefully in October) to our parks after years of clanking disruption from heavy machinery. Cyclists and walkers will appreciate having the Pan Am trail to themselves once more.

We’re Safer than Ever!

The Economist recently placed Toronto as the fourth safest city in the world after Tokyo, Singapore and Osaka.

OK readers, your turn. What makes you cheerful about 2018?

Five things that need to change in Weston / Mount Dennis. Part 5.

5. Planning and Development

Adapted from MasterMaq.ca

Council needs to listen to the experts.

Toronto Council consists of 44 councillors and one mayor, each of whom has a single vote when making decisions. There is a huge staff at City Hall which gathers information and makes recommendations to council on topics to be discussed. Smaller committees of councillors, generally appointed by the Mayor, study the issues, receive input from staff and the public and then make a recommendation which is forwarded to a general council meeting. Unfortunately many councillors have varying axes to grind; sadly for the people, the biggest priority of many councillors is getting re-elected every four years. As a result, fact-based decisions often happen by accident rather than by design. For example, the unnecessary Scarborough Subway, panned by experts both here and around the world, will be a costly blunder that Mayor Tory and many suburban councillors (including our own) fully support.

We need to make plans and act on them with support from the city and in conformity with the Toronto Official Plan.

Weston is still only in Phase 1 of its Heritage Conservation District status granted in 2004. Phase 2 was to be studied that same year. ‘Study’, in the language of Toronto politics means delay, in the hope that the issue will go away quietly (which it did). Apparently getting to phase 2 requires time, money and a huge volunteer effort. Rich areas have no problem raising money and help but a district like Weston / Mount Dennis naturally struggles.

There was an official set of plans drawn up around 2005 for some of the more historic Toronto communities. In Weston, developers were supposed to keep future building heights to around 8 stories in our area out of consideration of the historical context and the river’s proximity. Outside of special areas, the Tall Building Design Guidelines should apply but often don’t.

In 2009, plans for rehabilitating the Kodak lands were discussed. Former Toronto Chief Planner Paul Bedford held a planning exercise with his University of Toronto students to explore Weston’s potential and reported on his findings in 2010. That led to a Weston planning ‘charrette‘ back in 2011. The Mount Dennis Mobility Hub Study in 2012 was another planning session.

Some of the ideas that came out of these planning sessions were excellent but somehow the execution has been lacking; for example:

  • create a pedestrian walkway along South Station Street that would connect Weston Village with the GO / UPX station.
  • create generous and clearly defined pedestrian and cycling routes to the station
  • create more accessible access points to the parks along the Humber
  • Fix the uninviting streetscape along Weston Road

BTW, the Charrette didn’t get everything right. One of their key messages was that “Public investment will need to be provided by the private sector.”

It seems that many development deals are worked out in the back rooms before they reach the public. Public commentary then serves to make only minor adjustments. When the 30-storey Weston Hub was in the public commentary stage, people were told that the height was non-negotiable.

in 2016, more planning studies for Weston and Mount Dennis were announced that should have seen the light of day in 2017 but nothing seems to have transpired.

Weston and Mount Dennis are not less worthy of support than more affluent areas of the city but that’s not what happens. The Artscape project at Wychwood Barns received millions in funding from three levels of government. Our own Artscape development at the soon to be opened Weston Hub received a much smaller investment.

As mentioned previously, Europe has car free zones, attractive streetscapes and limits on building height. Our planning in Toronto seems to be centred around strictly regulating development and then accepting relatively small amounts of money to break the rules.

Finally, we have a mayor and his team who deliberately keep city coffers empty because they cannot see beyond keeping taxes at or below inflation. The mayor worries about millionaire homeowners becoming homeless because of property tax hikes:

“a lot of older and younger people counting on us to be disciplined will be forced from their homes, or find it unaffordable to live in the city, if we start taking 5-per-cent-a-year” tax hikes. – Toronto Star December 27, 2017

He’s conveniently ignoring the fact that older and disabled residents can apply for property tax relief. But that’s our current political environment. Facts mean nothing, there’s no money for the public good and it’s all about protecting the rich.

Today in Weston July 28, 2017

The Weston Hub is taking shape along John Street and the first couple of floors of the complex are in place. The John Street pedestrian bridge is visible on the right.

The ground floor of the concrete structure in the centre of the photo will house the artist live / work studios.

Artscape publishes Q&As

The Weston Hub / Common in a 2015 artist concept.

Artscape is a non-profit arm of the development industry that works with planners and developers to incorporate affordable artistic spaces into building projects. One project now under construction is in Weston and it will be known as Weston Common. Read more on this project here, here and here. A quick search through our archives will pull up more articles.

Recently, Artscape asked for questions about the new Hub and five of them have been answered already. Here they are:

Q: How high will the ceilings be in the Hub’s studio spaces?

A: The approximate ceiling height from the top of the finished floor in the studio spaces is 4.75m (15 feet and 7 inches). Because the ceilings in the studio spaces are open, this estimated height does not take into account any servicing (ducts, lighting, etc.), so practical height will be somewhat lower. 

Q: Is there additional storage available for occupants of the studios?

A: To ensure flexibility of use, storage has not been built into the studio spaces, and the studios do not include dedicated storage space elsewhere in the Hub. When thinking about the area of the studio spaces, also consider how to accommodate storage needs within that area. 

Weston Web Comment: There will be 3,897 m² (40,000 square feet) of storage space next door available for a fee. Perhaps some sort of discount could be negotiated for artists in residence.

Q: Does the Hub have parking?

A: While the Hub does not have its own dedicated parking, there will be ample parking available with easy access to the facility. The Hub is located immediately beneath the parking decks of a large parking garage at 33 King Street, and those parking levels will be directly connected by an elevator that will exit on to the outdoor public space next to the Hub’s entrance. There will also be a new 70-space TPA lot built next to the project site. Finally, the Hub itself will have a loading entrance, accessible from the driveway between the Hub and the railway corridor. 

Q: When might the studio spaces be delivered for fit-out?

A: Construction is proceeding on schedule, and spaces may be available for delivery to occupants as early as July 2018, but an exact date cannot yet be provided. The studio spaces will be delivered as open, flexible spaces, in a state that is suitable for occupation (flooring, lights, sprinklers, ductwork installed). If the occupant wishes to further sub-divide or fit-out the space, it will be at their own cost. Depending on timing, additional fit-out may be undertaken under Artscape’s building permit, or following completed of work on the Hub, under a new permit obtained by the occupant.

Q: Will the Artscape Hub be accessible?

A: Yes, the Artscape Hub at Weston Common will be fully accessible by Ontario standards.

Artscape looking for two tenants

Artscape is looking for tenants for two studios in the new Weston CommonThe rent strikes me as quite fair: about $1500 a month for about 1,300 square feet.

Interested applicants must be part of a non-profit arts or culture organizations and apply by  July 19th.

OMB revamp will affect Weston and Mount Dennis

The remaking of the Ontario Municipal Board may have profound effects in Weston and Mount Dennis. Under proposed rules, community members will be unable to challenge high-density buildings built within 500 meters of a transit station—such as the Eglinton Crosstown stop in Mount Dennis and the GO Transit stop in Weston.

The 500 meter radius would encompass much of the village of Weston and some of the developed parts of Mount Dennis.

The CEO of the Ontario Homebuilders’ Association told the Globe and Mail,

“I would imagine that ratepayer groups would be up in arms,” Mr. Vaccaro said. “It is almost like trying to find a way to shield the municipalities … by saying to them: ‘If you make that tough decision, you don’t have to worry about the OMB appeal. We’re going to shield you from your angry residents.’”

Map of Weston
500 meter radius in Weston–see update below
Map of transit 500m radius
500 meter radius in Mount Dennis

Weston had the controversial Weston Common project approved despite considerable community opposition, including by us at WestonWeb. The 30-storey building was mandated by Toronto planners adhering to tall building guidelines meant for downtown.

Under the new guidelines, similar buildings could be put up without appeal to the OMB  if they are first approved by City Council.

Update: Chris sent in a much better map based on the fact that the station is linear. 500m covers much more of Weston.

Janes Walk, Weston – May 6, 2017

Some of the 2017  Weston Janes Walk participants pose for posterity outside the new UP Express station. (Photo courtesy Cherri Hurst)

Close to 40 people braved chilly temperatures and cloudy skies to visit some key parts of our Weston neighbourhood. Organizers Cherie Hurst and Mary Louise Ashbourne led a well-attended Janes Walk today organized under the banner of the Weston Historical Society. The theme was one of renewal and there was a pervasive sense of a dynamic new Weston emerging after decades of decline and neglect. The tour started at the GO / UP Express station where local historian Mary Louise Ashbourne joked that Weston had suffered with lemons for years, but now, thanks to community activism, we were beginning to get some lemonade. Some of that lemonade takes the form of a fast, frequent connection to the airport or downtown for a cost comparable to the GO train.

Directly across the street is Frontlines where Executive Director Stachen Frederick welcomed us into the warmth of the clubhouse and described the large variety of programs for young people that are offered. These include a homework club, very popular cooking classes and a summer day camp. This year’s fundraising dinner at the Weston Golf and Country Club was sold out for the first time ever, raising over $20,000 that will help subsidize programming for the next year. Pizza from their cooking program was offered as an incentive to return following the walk.

Frontlines Executive Director Stachen Frederick talking about the extensive programming for youth. (Photo courtesy Cherri Hurst).
Cherie Hurst and Dave Bennett welcome walkers into the Weston Historical Society offices.

After visiting the offices of the Weston Historical Society (WHS) at 1901 Weston Road, Deacon John Frogley Rawlinson outlined the history of Weston Park Baptist Church. The church is involved in a new venture under discussion for several years that will combine church lands with the empty ScotiaBank building that will be preserved as part of the development.

Deacon John Frogley Rawlinson describes the Weston Park Baptist Church development. The mural behind him is of the old Eagle Hotel which once stood at the corner of Weston and Lawrence.

We crossed the road and walked north to 1976 Weston Road to Toronto’s longest running bookstore, Squibbs now celebrating 90 years of continuous operation and 84 years at number 1976. Co-owners, Mike Linsky and Suri Weinberg-Linsky greeted walkers and invited them inside.

At Weston Road and Little Avenue, Mary Louise stopped at the Carrying Place plaque (installed by the WHS) that marks the trail that ran along the Humber for hundreds of years linking Lakes Ontario and Simcoe, eventually hitting navigable water again at the Holland River. That would have been a tough portage as the navigable part of the Humber ended at the present day location of Bloor Street.

Mary Louise Ashbourne stops at  the Carrying Place plaque at Weston Road and Little Avenue. (Photo courtesy Cherri Hurst)

Weston’s old Federal / Post office building has been preserved and is now a medical building that has been equipped to serve the health needs of the community. Dr. James Crumney outlined the history of the building and some of its interesting occupants over the years including an RCMP detachment that kept an eye on postal workers via one-way mirrors.

At Fern avenue and Weston, Jessica Idahosa told the group about St John’s Anglican which is Weston’s oldest church having been in operation since 1856. It is now operated by the Victory Assembly under the leadership of Pastor Felix Ayomike whose congregation started out as a group of five people meeting in a private home. Incidentally, that’s exactly the way St. Johns began in 1856.

Moving along Fern Avenue, the Gardhouse home at 18 Fern and the LeMaire home at 57 George Street were occupied by prominent Westonians at the turn of the 20th Century. The Gardhouse home was saved from demolition as a result of WHS and community intervention.

Heading down George Street, Weston St. John’s School Community Social Planning Council co-chair, Dave Bennett outlined the huge amount of planning and work involved in rebuilding the school that will soon occupy the currently empty site. Because of expropriations needed for the UP Express, St John’s will be able to occupy a bigger site, hold more pupils and have a grass playground for the first time thanks to the Weston Tunnel cover.

Dave Bennett outlines the new St John the Evangelist school to be built on George Street. (Photo courtesy Cherri Hurst)

Heading down George to King Street, Artscape Research and Development Manager, Gil Meslin outlined the new homes and community facilities that will house artists and even the Farmers Market when the new Weston Common is scheduled to be completed in 2018.

Gil Meslin describes what the future holds for the Artscape Hub in Weston.

At the junction of King Street and Weston Road, our famous 103 year-old Carnegie Library still stands thanks to community involvement. It is a small but impressive building with is Arts and Crafts style and original detail.

The walk ended all too soon and was an exciting glimpse into the past, present and future of Weston, ending at the mural on the side of the Perfect Blend Cafe which like other such murals in Weston exemplifies the changes in our community over the past few decades.

The walk certainly illustrated that positive changes in Weston have been as a result of direct community involvement in the political process. Much of our history has sadly been lost but much has been preserved thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers.

We can only guess what future murals will look like but then, that’s up to all of us isn’t it?