Weston Development (29 Storeys)

At the Community Meeting about the proposal for the development at the Greenland Farms site (Weston and Little Ave.), the developer’s agent tried to justify the immense building on the basis of the province’s plans to increase development around ‘Major Transit Stations’.  Weston GO station (as long as we keep our GO trains) is such a Major Transit Station.  The new provincial plans (now called ‘A Place to Grow’) require a planned density of 150 persons and jobs per hectare (1/100 of a square kilometre) around GO Stations.  From the city of Toronto, this definition:

So, what does this mean for Weston?  First, the 500 metre radius looks like this.

The Greenland Farms development will clearly be within that circle which extends north to almost King, south to part of Sykes, east along Lawrence to Pine, and west to just into Etobicoke.

But the real question is, how much density do we need to achieve the provincial plan?  Do we really need to permit several 29 and 36 storey towers?

The answer can be found in the 2016 Census.  Here is a map of the west part of Toronto with densities in different colours – dark blue being the densest.

The Census data is in persons per square kilometre.  Weston is already the densest part of the west end, with the possible exception of part of Dixon Road.  And the densities of the areas closest to the proposed development are already substantially more than 150 persons per hectare, not counting any jobs which may exist.

By small census areas, here are the actual densities.

35204426 – West side of Weston Road, Little to St. Phillips – Density 153.3 persons per hectare

35204415 – East side of Weston Road, King to John to tracks – Density 181.73 persons per hectare

35204414 – North side of Lawrence to John St, Little to tracks – Density 177.57 persons per hectare

35204413 – South side of Lawrence, Hickory Tree to Weston Rd. – Density 292.12 persons per hectare

35204412 – South side of Lawrence, Weston to Pine and south to Denison – Density 69.19 persons per hectare

35204411 – West side of Weston Rd., Bellevue to Wright – Density 133.72 persons per hectare.

The 2016 census was before the building at 22 John was occupied.  So the density is already greater.  And the count does not include jobs, which takes the count even higher.

Weston is already plenty dense enough.  Developers cannot point to the provincial growth plan and claim a right to make it denser.  Even the legally allowed 8 storey maximum for development on Weston Road would significantly increase the density.

The city can and should say no to any more monstrous buildings in Weston. And defend such decision at the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (successor to the OMB) should the developers appeal.  Developers who thought we’d be an easy mark can think again.

Twenty-Nine Storeys and 240 Metres.

At the Jan 8 Community Council meeting, councilors accepted the report of the city planning department regarding the proposed 29 storey twin-tower development at Weston and Little Ave.(the Greenland Farms site). The report essentially said the plans were too much for the current zoning and official plan, but planning will work with the developer on amending the plans. Councillor Nunziata amended the motion to add that another community meeting should be held prior to any new reports about this development being given to the Community Council, with notices to land owners and residents within 240 metres of the development, at the expense of the developer.
Two Hundred and Forty Metres is not very far. It gets south to Lawrence, east to the train tracks, west to the park, and north to King St. No notices to old Weston, nor to the apartment dwellers at the twin towers, nor 5 Bellevue, nor 29 South Station. The councilor did reserve the right to expand the notice boundary.

City responds to the Weston Asset Management proposal.

After a public consultation, Toronto’s Planning Department has issued a preliminary report covering some of the issues regarding a mammoth development proposed for ‘downtown’ Weston. The site covers 1956, 1966, 1970, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984 and 1986 Weston Road and 1 Little Avenue. It covers several lots along the south side of Weston Road stretching from Little Avenue to the old Greenland Farms parking lot with a back access from Lawrence.

The report basically says that the proposal is deeply flawed.

There are only two recommendations from the report – one covers mailing costs for notifying members of the public and the other states, “Staff continue to work with the applicant to address the issues identified in this report and any additional issues that may be identified through the continuing review of the application, agency comments and the community consultation process.”

OK then, let’s get into the issues that have to be discussed (in no particular order).

Project Size and scale:
From the report,

“The proposed scale of development would result in a bulky, overwhelming presence which would not fit in with the surrounding area nor provide adequate transition in height to the surrounding properties, including: the existing 1 to 2-storey mixed use buildings fronting Weston Road, the existing taller buildings along Weston Road to the east, the 2-storey building directly adjacent to the south, and the rest of the Weston Phase 1 HCD and Neighbourhoods designated lands to the south and west. In its current form, the proposal fails to address the local and planned context in which it is situated.”It doesn’t get plainer than this. Staff are suggesting that the project be revised to a mid-rise building

Conformity to the Official Plan:
The location is a mixed use area and also an ‘avenue’. These are subject to lower density requirements but each case is different. Weston’s avenue hasn’t been studied yet but tall buildings are generally more appropriate downtown than along an avenue. A tall building is defined as being higher than the width of the street which is 27 m (equivalent to 8 storeys) at this location.

Breaching the Weston Plan:
Yes Virginia, there are guidelines for Weston. To read them is to wonder what happened to the dreams for the area and how they have been so downgraded and ignored for years. This should be one of the most important jobs for Councillor Nunziata – outlining the Weston guidelines to developers before they submit outrageous proposals like this. In fairness, because of interest in the project Ms Nunziata has asked the developer to expand the notification area – 5660 notices were mailed out for the last meeting.

Anyway, the Weston guidelines state that building heights along Weston Road should not exceed 8 storeys with podiums of no more than 3 stories – all nicely stepped.

Apart from the outrageous height of the proposed buildings the report was critical of cantilevering of the towers (overhang) which goes against a step-like terracing of building levels.

The report suggests that some stores on the site may be pre-confederation which may complicate matters. They also state that heritage buildings should be retained – not just their frontages. There may also be at least six residences already existing on the site.

Section 37
Section 37 is a controversial part of the Ontario Planning Act that allows developers to pay money to the City in exchange for turning a blind eye to poor design or crappy architecture. To quote from the city’s rules, “Good architecture and good design are expected of all developments, as a matter of course, and are not eligible (for) Section 37 benefits.” There is no set amount or formula – (it must be negotiated between  the developer, the City and the local councillor).  The money must pay for a community benefit. It can’t be used to upgrade sewers (for example) – this would have to be done through development charges. Read the Section 37 guidelines here.

Section 37 money at work in Mount Dennis (Nychtophilia). From Fiveprime.

Here’s what the city suggests be done with the Section 37 monies generated from this development:

  • Funding contributions towards Falstaff Community Centre, and/or the new large multi-purpose Central Etobicoke Community Recreation Centre as identified by the Parks and Recreation Facilities Master Plan and Implementation Strategy 2019-2038;
  • Funding contributions towards the revitalization of the Weston Library Branch and/or Richview Library Branch;
  • Funding contributions for new child care facilities and/or capital improvements to existing child care facilities; and/or
  • Secure a minimum of 465 m2 of flexible multi-purpose community agency space in an accessible and visible location at the ground floor of the proposed development in accordance with the City’s Community Space Tenancy policy.

Comment: Neither the Falstaff Community Centre between Jane and Keele nor the (unbuilt) Central Etobicoke Community Recreeation Centre are in Weston and have very little connection to our community. It would certainly suit Councillor Nunziata to spend the money at Falstaff as she is keen to endear herself to her new constituents with a bit of largesse.  Falstaff and anywhere outside the immediate Weston neighbourhood should be taken off the Section 37 table.

If Section 37 money is used to acquire community space in the new building, some clarity would be needed on the length of the lease and which costs would be covered?

It would be preferred if the project generates zero Section 37 money.

Shadows generated by the project:
The report asks that further studies be done because of the massive shadows that this project will generate with potential for shading Little Avenue Park and the project’s outdoor recreation area. Shadow studies during the winter months will be prepared and studied.

Wind Studies:
These have shown that uncomfortable conditions would be created, particularly on their own recreation space – which is too high up for the planners’ liking. Adjacent buildings on Lawrence would be negatively affected too.

Other issues:
Although the building is to be a condo; planning staff would like to see some affordable rental apartments in there too.

The proposed amenity space is undersized and should be increased.

Weston Road will need to be widened to provide the required 27m right of way.

On-site dog amenities with proper disposal facilities such as dog relief stations would be needed to alleviate the extra pressure on neighbourhood parks.

From Pinterest.

The applicant would also be required to satisfy the parkland dedication requirement through cash-in-lieu. This is because the developer has proposed to occupy all the space with building or paving.

Not mentioned in the report is the fact that the current right of way linking Weston Road to Lawrence Avenue via the Greenland Farms parking lot will be closed off by the development. This has been enjoyed for years.

Finally:
Without the recent strong negative response from the community, this project may have proceeded with minimal changes.

Let’s hope the developer responds with something reasonable.

What do we want?

Last week, I made a case that we should have a commercial relationship with all the new builders in Weston. They want to break the planning guidelines. I think they should pay to do so.

I also asked how you thought the (as-yet-imaginary) money should be spent. 59 people responded. Thank you! Here are the results. (They don’t add up to 59 because people could vote for more than one option.)

Many people noted that the new-new Farmers’ Market isn’t looking good and asked for a new-new-new one. That wasn’t the most popular option though: the most people voted for a YMCA-style space. I too think that would be just fantastic. Tied for third were a recreation space for young people and a scholarship fund. Damned fine ideas, if I do say so myself.

Peering into the data, I think we could safely say that a YMCA-style space would be just super, because it could provide all of the top options, as well as a few of the less popular ones:

  • Programming for youth
  • A stuff-bank for tools, food, clothing, and computers
  • Another, closer, and perhaps less popular gym
  • Perhaps even a community daycare, which we have been missing for six years

 

 

Some thoughts on development in Weston

I’m not opposed to development in Weston. Nor am I in favour. I think it’s a simple calculation: we should extract as much benefit from development as we can, and if we don’t get what we want, we shouldn’t be afraid to walk away.

Greenland Farms produce section (file).

The Greenland Farms development is a case in point. At their community consultation, the developer’s representatives made it clear that they would meet, but not exceed, community benefit agreements and environmental standards. They also made it very clear that this development was a purely economic decision for them. All for the good.

Let’s make it a purely economic decision for us. They want some things: changed rules and community support. Let’s make a deal.

They would have us change the planning guidelines. They also want to use the roads, the schools, the pools and the playgrounds.  I can’t see any reason whatsoever why we should let them without getting something in exchange.

Rockport provides an excellent inspiration. They consulted and made community benefits a large part of their building. They gave back. I’m sure they made a good buck, and all the power to them. But they realized that good community relations are good business—and the right thing to do.

What shall we ask for?

Off the top of my head:

  • An improved farmers’ market space
  • A community daycare
  • A YMCA
  • Better bike infrastructure, including better bike racks, lanes, and storage spaces at transit stops
  • A scholarship fund for Weston CI students
  • A clothing/tool/computer/food bank at Weston and Lawrence
  • Improvements to the library
  • A recreation space and opportunities for teens and youth

Right now, I get no sense that the developers have any vision for our community—and no, ‘regentrification’ is not a vision. It’s not even a word. Their vision is to make money for themselves.

If they don’t have one, we should sell a vision to them.

What are your thoughts?

29 storeys? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

People were upset when 22 John asked to build a 29-storey tower. People were upset when the Greenlands developers asked to build two 29-storey towers.

Now, the developers of 1821 Weston have asked to build a 36-storey tower that resembles, well, I leave it to you to decide, but the little black moustache at base doesn’t make me think the tower is a nose.

From the application

1821 Weston is just south of Lawrence on the east side. The developers would like to build 454 condominiums with insufficient parking.

location
From Google Maps

Another development is in the works on the Scotiabank lot, just north of there, at 1871 Weston, and a third is being planned just down the street at 1695 Weston.

Developer meeting report.

Apologies for the delay in writing this up.

There was a fair crowd at WCI on November 28 to hear the developer’s latest incarnation of a ‘Main Street Weston’ development site of 7 contiguous lots at Lawrence and Little that will set the tone for years to come. Frances Nunziata began proceedings by stating that the developer had been asked to purchase additional properties in order to justify the scale of development, hence the latest application which doubled the podium height and the number of 29-storey buildings.

The audience listened respectfully as City planner Rory McNeill began the proceedings stating that the city’s representatives were there to listen to people’s reactions and that nothing has been decided.

The reason for the meeting is that the developer has applied to be exempt from the permitted standards required for developers in Weston.

Weston is officially on an ‘Avenue’ which means that it is subject to certain styles of building. The Urban Design Guidelines for Weston (yes they still exist) call it a mixed use area which includes retail and residential uses. Weston Road building heights under the guideline are not to exceed 8 storeys with a street frontage of 3 storeys. The western portion of the site is a heritage area and that means visual impacts should be limited. Any new buildings should be ‘designed sensitively within the urban design context’

From the Weston planning guidelines. Click to enlarge.

The residential units will be market price condos. The lawyer for the developer was coy about what price they will go for saying it was too far into the future. He did say that he expected that the development will help gentrify Weston.

Audience comments:
  • The development is too large and out of scale for the area.
  • Appropriate development in Weston is not a bad thing.
  • Most tall buildings sit atop a podium that is set back from the street. This one cheats because instead of tapering, the towers spill out on a base that hangs over the podium.
  • There were mixed feelings as to the attractiveness of the development.
  • The proposed number of parking spaces is inadequate.
  • There will be greatly increased traffic issues for Little Avenue and Lawrence Avenue.

A few other random thoughts:

Toronto requires shadow studies (yes, I’m obsessed) on proposed buildings to figure out the shade they will cast on the surrounding area. The City only requires these studies for the ‘Summer’ months i.e. March 22nd , June 22nd and September 22nd. Incidentally, March 22nd and September 22nd are identical from a sunshine point of view. If green space is affected, the City requires readings for December 22nd (the date of the Winter Solstice when sunlight is at its lowest and solar noon shadows are longest). It should be noted that the shadows cast by tall buildings are at their longest between September and March. These are not pencil shaped buildings and even the podium is 12 storeys. In fact they are rather ‘slabby’ and their shadows will be considerable.

The parking lot that currently sits beside the old Greenland Farms and the current pedestrian and vehicular access from there to Lawrence Avenue will be closed by this development.

I was impressed by the people of Weston who attended – they listened politely with open minds as they gathered information about the development.

The developer through their lawyer says that a smaller version of this development will not be economically viable and keeping to the Weston Planning Guidelines is out of the question. If this developer can’t build within the guidelines, perhaps another one can.

This building will create additional traffic issues for people on Little Avenue which currently has restricted access from Weston Road.

The developer was told by the city (and / or councillor?) that purchasing adjacent properties would justify a larger scale development. Now that properties have been added, is there an obligation on the part of the City to grant the exemptions needed? If so, that is irresponsible.

The number of parking spaces is inadequate even by the most bicycle and pedestrian-minded among us. Weston is not downtown. Sadly, a car is needed to have a reasonable quality of life here and I invite anyone who thinks otherwise to tell us how they do it. The average Toronto household contains 2.63 people. The 592 residential units would likely be home to 1500+ people. The developer’s proposed 174 parking spaces for residents, seven (!) for visitors and zero spaces (!!) for retail is as the Brits would say, ‘taking the piss’ and is a transparent attempt to maximize profits at the community’s expense.

View the slides from the presentation here.

The person behind this development is Catherine Bertucci. There’s not much web evidence of her activity but she’s not popular with the Casa Loma Residents Association where a few years ago, she and a partner bought up Maclean House, a heritage building and according to the association,

“The property had been purchased by Catherine Bertucci and John Malcolm Todd via a numbered company and all they proceeded to obtain vacant possession by arranging for all tenants to vacate the premises.  Prior to obtaining any demolition or building permits the developers were advised of the heritage interest by the Community and City of Toronto Heritage Preservation Services.  While the legal process was underway to determine whether the City would official designate the property as architecturally significant, the developer proceeded to begin demolition of the property including the reckless destruction of many of the significant architectural details of John Lyle’s Maclean House – details that have stood untouched for 100 years.”

It’s still not clear if the developer intends to preserve the heritage buildings near Little Avenue or just the facades.

In conclusion, the developer wants to:

  • build and sell buildings nearly seven times taller than allowable,
  • not provide the required setbacks from the street
  • provide only 33% of the required parking for residents
  • provide no parking for retail stores (instead of 127 required)
  • provide only 40% of the required amenity space per unit

Every high rise along Weston Road began life as a beautiful concept drawing, sold to the community as a future architectural gem and a much needed improvement on the status quo. This one is no different.

There is no doubt that Weston needs development. It just doesn’t need this one.

Rory McNeil at the City Planner’s Office would like to hear from you regarding this development:

by email: [email protected]
by Phone: (416) 394-5683
by letter: City, Planner, Etobicoke York District, 2, Civic Centre Court, Floor 3, Toronto ON, M9C 5A3.