Weston Cultural Hub asking for clients

Artscape is looking for tenants for the new Weston Hub. They are asking for “expressions of interest” from program providers and prospective tenants. 

It’s all a bit complicated, but they say that this is not a rental application. It seems to be an application to apply. Still, if you are interested, you should have at it.

Your humble correspondent would like to see a business lounge, drone flying area, indoor park, brewery, and bakery. You can call me a dreamer.

Sullivan: The Weston Cultural Hub

Now that the dust has settled after October’s Federal Election, I was curious as to how former York South-Weston Member of Parliament, Mike Sullivan was adjusting to the new reality of being a regular citizen once more. He agreed to an in-depth interview and we sat down last Friday over coffees in a busy Perfect Blend Bakery. We touched on four main topics that are being published over a four day period. The first topic was Fallout from the election.

The second issue that we discussed is the Weston Cultural Hub.

2. The Weston Cultural Hub

On the Hub itself and the political processes involved:

I’m of two minds (about the Hub).

There are several things that make me nervous about it. One is the extent that the councillor is trying to get local buy-in from community organizations. There are secret meetings between community organizations and the developer and they’re happening outside the public eye. The essence of what I can gather from this scheme is that Rockport gets to build a 30 storey tower without a parking garage so it’s significantly cheaper for them on city land that they’re essentially being given; and they’re getting money.

On the neglect of this corner of Toronto:

The current and former municipal administrations have not paid a whole lot of attention to Weston and Mount Dennis.

This part of the City of Toronto has very few if any city services such as community centres such as city offices -anything that is a community service.

In response to those who claim that the York Community Centre being built on Black Creek and Eglinton will meet Weston’s needs, Sullivan points out its remote and car oriented location.

The York Community Centre
The soon to be opened York Community Centre

The new community centre is not here (in Weston) – that’s a regional recreation centre – you have to have a car to get there – you can’t get there as a pedestrian.

There’s nothing up here and there hasn’t been and there needs to be. There are 10,000 people already who live in the various buildings along Weston road who have no city facilities and we’re going to add another thousand people or more to that already under-serviced group. Where are the city services that come along with this? We’re getting 8000 square feet of community space but what will be its purpose? We don’t know and it will be gone after 50 years.

Sullivan calls 33 King, ‘Weston’s long-term eyesore’ and says that it should never have been put where it was.

“(33 King) is getting the $10million in benefit – they’re getting to make their ground floor into public storage which was never said until late into the game – it is not an appropriate use for a residential neighbourhood despite what Jennifer Keesmaat says. In addition to getting redevelopment of live-work spaces paid for by somebody else that they’ll collect the rent on and city officials are bending over backwards to make it happen. There is absolutely no resistance from any city department or organization despite many perceived and real flaws in this project.”

Sullivan also worries about the increased levels of traffic produced by an extra thousand people who will live in the new 30-storey tower. Residents will park in the existing parking garage that empties onto King Street. He claims that traffic studies of the new Hub ignore the fact that a new 650 student school will be built nearby.

I asked (at the meeting) how it was that transportation services accepted completely without question (the report) provided by the developer which ignored an entire school. St John The Evangelist School apparently no longer exists according to that traffic study. So the answer that came from Transportation Services parroted the report from the developer which was that 33 King has the right to that many vehicles and ignored that there will be 650 kids where before there used to be 200 who will be coming and going at rush hour. …the ramp empties directly onto the street with no signalling whatsoever. I hate to say this but it’s only a matter of time before some young person  is injured or killed because of the dramatic increase in traffic that will come as the result of 370 units having parking in that building that they didn’t have before.

He is concerned that while John Street has been designated a place for Farmers Market vehicles to be parked, it is also a designated fire route.

(at the public meeting) I asked what’s going to happen to the Farmers market vehicles because Frances’ (Councillor Nunziata) plan is to turn the Farmers Market into a street market and so that the vehicles will be on John Street. But in one of the newest incarnations of the site plan, John Street will become a fire route. And therefore you cannot park vehicles on the fire route and that question’s not answered.

Another important issue for Sullivan is the lack of an easement to guarantee that pedestrian access will not be cut off by the owners of 33 King Street.

…the city is planning to make the laneways on the east side of 33 King into a pedestrian passageway. (Dan Harris asked) on several occasions if (the city) would require that to be an easement and the answer from the city is that the owners of 33 King will not give us that – well we’re giving the owners of 33 King $10 million – you’d think you could get an easement out of that, which would then make that walkway a permanent feature. But f they wanted to, the owners could put a fence up and block access at certain times of day. So there needs to be an easement and a re-think of whether we need 30 storeys.

Sullivan is also concerned about the precedent of such a tall building causing other, similar applications that will use a token ‘community benefit‘ to justify breaking the City’s planning controls.

Already other developers have put in feelers to the city about raising their proposed buildings to 30 storeys – Cruickshank apparently started asking the city about 30 storeys and and the owners  at 1775 and 1765 Weston Road who were talking about building low rise commercial in the front are now asking about 30 storey towers. Ms Keesmaat claimed that there would be no precedent as a result of the public amenities that were being provided – you can bet your boots that every developer worth his salt is going to say, “I want 30 storeys too”.  We’re going to have another 4 or 5, 30-storey towers with no services. I’m not opposed to the notion that an art community might be an interesting concept but I think you don’t sell your soul to get it. But I’m afraid that this notion of the 30 storey building and the loss of the Farmers Market is like selling our soul.

Tomorrow: Sullivan comments on Metrolinx

Dan Harris: Walkway is important

Plans are almost in place for the new 30-storey rental tower in downtown Weston. The second-last hurdle was easily stepped over at the November 10, Etobicoke York Community (EYCC) Council meeting when councillors approved the project with some minor modifications. Interestingly, one of those modifications was to double down on the proposal by prohibiting the current owners, Rockport Group from demolishing or converting any of the units into condominiums for 20 years.

A total of 432 units will be built on the site including 26 affordable live-work units for artists.

The City Planning Department broke its own urban planning and zoning guidelines in approving the building (8 storeys is the legal height limit in that part of Weston).

Weston Village as planners projected back in 2004. Note the conspicuous lack of a 30-storey rental apartment building.
Weston Village of the future as planners projected back in 2004. Note the conspicuous lack of a 30-storey rental apartment building.

Weston resident Dan Harris has written letters to Toronto’s Planning Department, specifically to Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat. (Readers may wish to check out one of her TedX talks in which she stresses the importance of providing residents information, analysis and evidence in order to generate ‘understanding’ of development proposals – around the 12 minute mark.) In his correspondence, Harris maintains that no rationale has yet been put forward that actually justifies the breaking of the current 8-storey height limit on Weston buildings. He is also frustrated by the glacial speed of and lack of meaningful responses to his objections. The only official reaction has been from the Community Planning Director for Etobicoke York, Neil Cresswell. Mr. Cresswell promised a further response would come last week but failed to deliver. Without the courtesy of rationale behind decisions, Harris maintains that it is hard to present any form of rebuttal.

While Harris is realistic about the project’s likelihood of becoming a reality, he is attempting to at least get a formalized pedestrian walkway between the east side of King and the new Hub. The City’s position appears to be that while the walkway is needed for traffic access and so will be accessible by pedestrian traffic, it will not be formalized through legislation.. Harris is concerned that if not legislated, pedestrian access may be blocked at some point in the future cutting off safe access from King to priority destinations such as the two schools in the area and even the Hub itself.

The ball is still in the Planning Department’s court. WestonWeb will alert readers to any responses.

 

Hub bill released: $13 million

The final tally for the Weston Cultural Hub has been released. City staff say they have a “unique funding approach”. The city, province, and developer are contributing $10.2 million toward the Hub’s building costs. A further $3 million will be set aside for operations.

In short, instead of paying fees for parks, recreation, and general community benefits, Rockport will be retaining the money for the Artscape Hub. Other money will come from the city, province, and the federal government.

When developers break density or height rules in Toronto, they pay into  “Section 37“. Rockport, in this case, is retaining the $1,600,000 they would normally have paid.

Other sources of money include

  • $4 million from from the feds and the province for affordable housing for the artists
  • $2 million from the sale of the parking lot
  • $1.2 million in forgone Parks and Rec development charges
  • $750,000 from Rockport
  • $500,000 uncollected for parks
  • A $500,000 grant from the Parks department

Some interesting facts are also in the report.

  • It looks to me like the live-work spaces and the Hub will not pay property tax or school levies.
  • Council earlier approved $1.6 million to expropriate 14 John Street, a long-vacant lot. Another $1 million is being set aside, I think, for compensation and remediation.

Artscape hopes to start with about  $3 million in the bank because the Hub will lose money. Rockport will contribute $1.25 million of this reserve, and Artscape is hoping to fundraise $1.75 million to cover the balance. After 15 years, the “City [may] be required to consider subsidizing operating costs”.

You and yours will be able to rent the Hub cheaply “for selected activities”, at a discount if you are part of a non-profit, or for the full rate for private events. Whatever you pay, you’ll be getting a deal, because revenues won’t cover costs. Artscape says the business plan shows them losing roughly $200,000 a year.

 

33 King, 22 John: a report and critique

The following is a guest post by Sophia Ilyniak, a graduate student at York University 

The Etobicoke York Community Council adopted the proposal to develop 22 John and 33 King this week. Most people who came forward to speak were in favour of the development, but many, of course, were concerned about the height of the tower.

Here, I want to focus on a few things that were brought up in presentations by those who spoke, beyond the wind-tunnel effect of the tower or its aesthetic effect on the skyline. But first, I want to explain where I’m coming from: I am a student at York University and I don’t live in Weston. I’m looking from the outside in, and so far, mostly from a policy and planning perspective. I think that the word “revitalization” is certainly another word for gentrification. “Densification” is one sure-fire way to gentrify a neighbourhood. Compensating residents with “community benefits” from the 22 John /  33 King development makes that easier.

Former MP Mike Sullivan was the only one at the meeting who brought up anything about the marginalized population of Weston. He said,

I’m in favour of the idea of creating artists live/work residences and making 33 King into a better place, but I’m not sure that a 30 storey building with 1,400 more people coming to live in Weston is exactly what the residents understand. Especially when the average income in the area of Weston Road and Laurence is only $15,000 per year.

He suggested that Rockport sign some sort of agreement to make sure local youth get jobs and/or apprenticeships for the building of the development. This was well-received by community council—they mentioned that Hammerheads, a group with local affiliations, could take this on.

Gary Alderson, Weston resident and former farmers’ market vendor, pointed out that the audience in the council chamber was certainly not a representation of who lives in Weston – “I don’t think we have any of the residents of King Street that are here that would say that they’d be against the height. What we have here is primarily land owners, wealthy land owners who live in the core of Weston which don’t seem be to against this kind of development.” [See Alderson’s comment below for clarification.] Whether or not this is the case, this statement stands as an important reminder of who has the time and energy to show up to consultations and Community Council meetings, as well as who in the neighbourhood might be called on for voluntary support.

Finally, the confusion around how the tower went from having 18 storeys to 30 was explained in a very simple way by Councillor Frances Nunziata. She said that it had been explained,

…over and over and over again. The reasons why this changed from 18 to 30 is what we’re getting – the community benefits were getting, the open space we’re getting, the cultural hub, the farmers market. That is the reason for the change in the height.

This is an agreement under ‘Section 37’ of the Ontario Planning Act. Section 37 agreements, which trade developer benefits for community concessions, have been controversial elsewhere in Toronto, as explained in the report “Trading Density for Benefits” published by the University of Toronto.

Councillor Nunziata ended her presentation with this:

I know it’s difficult for people to accept change. But if you want change, if you want to improve your community, you need to accept change. If you want to keep things the same, then don’t complain.

I think this is a problematic way of looking at an issue. Weston certainly needs investment—I cannot imagine who would not be in favour of that. But “complaining” or being critical of a development is not resisting change. If anything, those critical of a such a development are the ones most ready for real changes. Mike Sullivan hinted at a few of them: “I really hope that this ‘revitalization’ that everyone is talking about includes a community centre, includes all-day express transit, and includes enough jobs to go around.”

Investment into a neighbourhood that has suffered from structural disinvestment for a long time does not have to involve catering to big developers. If this is the first “Signature Initiative” of Weston’s “revitalization” plans, what are the rest going to look like? The problem is actually that this development is not changing much—it’s following the same formulas used downtown, which have ultimately produced the ring of increasingly concentrating poverty around it.

 

30-storey apartment, storage, artists’ space approved

To nobody’s great surprise, but many people’s disappointment, the Etobicoke York Community Council approved the development at 22 John last night.

The proposed development has divided the community. It will bring an Artscape-run live-work space for 26 artists, but will also bring a 30-storey rental tower, a self-storage facility, and disruption and diminishment to the farmers’ market.

Frances Nunziata tweeted:  “2nite’s EYCC mtg has brought us 1 step closer to the John St Development & Weston Hub! This is an exciting time for