Another important development meeting.

This land will be developed at the corner of Weston and Lawrence. The old Scotiabank ‘wedge is on the corner and the church property extends to their parking lot currently used by UP Express commuters on weekdays. Adapted from Google Maps.

It has been a well-known ‘secret’ for some years that development is coming to the Scotiabank wedge site along with the Weston Park Baptist Church land at Weston and Lawrence. Rumours have abounded for years regarding this mega-site, painting all kinds of scenarios incorporating housing, a community / recreation centre as well as a replacement church. A new home for Frontlines was also mentioned in the rumours.

A ‘preliminary discussion’ meeting has been set up by Councillor Nunziata with the idea of ‘gathering input and ideas’.

WPBC entered into a joint venture with developer, Castlepoint Numa in June last year and according to their website the church was expecting to be shown proposals for the entire site by last fall. Based on that information,  I imagine that the ‘input and ideas’ stage has passed – but I then tend to be cynical.

Castlepoint Numa seems to be well regarded however, it was in the news a few years ago after one of their developments in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood failed, disappointing about 150 people who had paid deposits. The building would have been a ten-storey condo. According to the Star, one of the people left high and dry was none other than a son of Mayor Tory. Although the deposits were refunded, buyers were left several years behind in the ever rising tide of Toronto home prices.

Castlepoint Numa’s failed project in the Junction area of Toronto. From lowerjct.com

The explanation given for cancelling the project was Castlepoint Numa’s inability to obtain financing thanks (they claimed) to the city’s slow approval process. Read more here and here. There is evidence that Castlefield Numa may have done this more than once.

This will be another important community meeting that will help guide the development of our ‘downtown’. We all know that development is inevitable and probably a good thing if it results in a building that works to enhance Weston rather than detract from it (as so many have done in the recent past).

Date: Monday February 24
Time: 7:00 – 8:30 pm
Location: Weston Park Baptist Church; 1871 Weston Road.

35-storey development proposed for Mount Dennis

A developer has applied to the city to build a 35-storey tower on Locust Street, a short, dead-end residential street in Mount Dennis near Eglinton and Weston Road.

From the application

The tower would include 374 units, and would back onto Oxford Drive.

From OpenStreetMap

The developers will ask the city to change the planning rules for the area, which currently allow only buildings 4-storeys or shorter.  They argue that this is justified because the building will be near the new Mount Dennis Station.

The streetscape at present (from Google Maps)
The streetscape as imagined by the developers (from the application)

My take:

The developers argue—oddly, if you ask me—that the building “is appropriate and desirable and would fit harmoniously” within the area. That seems a little optimistic.

This would be the tallest building in Mount Dennis by a large margin, but will be on a tiny, dead-end residential street, on which two cars can’t pass if a third is parked. It’s far too large a building on far too small a road. It’s not appropriate, desirable or harmonious.

 

 

WVRA’s Dave Bennett interviewed

WVRA Chair Dave Bennett is interviewed in this 18-minute video by local realtor Louisa Bada and talks about the work that goes on at the Weston Village Residents Association.

A few points of note in the video:

The developer of the subsidized rental retirement building proposed for 2346 Weston Road has resubmitted a new design. Bennett says the senior building was to be a ‘mish mash’ of one, two and three bedroom apartments with only one elevator. Now it will have only one and two bedroom apartments along with two elevators and a, ‘floor for guests’ where people can stay overnight. (I looked for the guest floor in the city report but it only mentions 188 square metres (2023 square feet of community space)). There will be a walking path on the top of the building. According to Bennett, it will be a place where, ‘I would put my mother’. I’m not sure if Bennett is claiming credit for the changes.

Bennett, says the City’s 28-page report on the 1956 Weston Road (Greenland Farms) development is a, ‘daunting document’ but the WVRA will put a link to it on their site with their own highlighted notes. Weston Web covered the contents of the report on January 4th -for our summary click here.

Comment: It’s great to see the WRVA opening up about what they do. I’m sure they mean well and do a lot of good in the community but if they are to truly represent all the residents of Weston, their meetings and decisions should be public and transparent. This will avoid the perception that the association is being used by Councillor Nunziata to legitimize questionable developments to the detriment of the public interest. Daylight is a good disinfectant.

With that in mind, here are some suggestions for the WVRA:

  • Residents should be able to join online.
  • The Constitution, by-laws and meeting minutes should be online.
  • Meetings should be publicized and open to any member of the public – especially those where developers and other lobbyists are present.

Here’s the video.

WVRA addresses Greenland Farms development

In a letter to WVRA members, the chair of the organization, Dave Bennett, has made clear the group’s stance on the Greenland Farms development.

Bennett says:

Our hope is that the team presenting this development continues to work with our many local community groups to improve their design so that we can also support the development of 1956 Weston Road.

I read this is as a rejection of the development as it currently is proposed—a rejection in line with those at the community meeting and by the city planner.

In the email to residents, Bennett says, “both owners and renters [are] welcome to join and be represented. And we welcome new Steering Committee members regularly who express an interest in making Weston Village a better place to live, work and play.​”

 

WVRA in closed talks with Little Avenue developer.

From Citywatch L.A.

For some reason, the Weston Village Residents’ Association will be holding private talks with Weston Asset Management, the developer of the mammoth project at Weston Road and Little Avenue. Both the community, and city planners have been highly critical of the project but now the developer and Councillor Nunziata seem to want the stamp of approval (or approved alterations) from the WVRA. This is much what happened with the Weston Hub. The nod from the WVRA was seen as adding legitimacy to the project and cut the legs off opposition along with a push for improvements to the public realm.

I asked to be present at the meeting but a couple of roadblocks were thrown my way. Firstly, membership of the WVRA is open to Weston residents only. Fair enough, I don’t live in Weston Village (I live 100 metres away). Secondly, only the ‘Steering Committee‘ will meet with the developer so Weston residents will not be able to attend even if they decide to join the association.

That smells.

The WVRA represents a few dozen people at best. It is not a democratically elected body and should not set itself up as a self-appointed architectural arbiter behind closed doors. There was a public meeting where the developer heard from residents. Was that not clear enough? Perhaps it was too clear.

Chair Dave Bennett insists that the WVRA isn’t holding a secret meeting but if it’s unannounced and held behind closed doors by a select few, it’s quacking like a duck, it’s secret, and it’s wrong.

Six myths about high-rise apartments.

With a housing shortage in Toronto, there is a mentality that the only way to house more people in our city is through high-rise apartment buildings. Logically it makes sense to think that taller buildings provide more density.

Developers, planners and politicians seem to believe it too. Weston is one of the densest parts of Toronto and yet, developers only seem to be able to propose tall buildings for Weston. Politicians are supposed to look out for residents’ best interests but sadly, we don’t have adequate representation at City Hall and it’s cheaper for developers to build a tall building and walk away; especially if they’re allowed to cut corners. There are guidelines but these are often circumvented. Sadly, in the past, politicians and planners approved tall buildings in the name of efficiency. Weston is littered with reminders of this. Europe has seen the folly of high-rise buildings and is replacing them with lower and more humane housing.

Myth 1: High-rise buildings provide better density.
The centre of Barcelona achieves a density of 531 people per hectare – compare this to Weston, which has a paltry 292 people per hectare. Barcelona achieves its higher density with mid-rise buildings. Tall buildings need more floor space devoted to sway prevention, utility conduits, sprinkler systems and dry pipes for fire department regulations.  Then there are elevators – taller buildings require more.

The centre of Barcelona holds 531 people per hectare. From Apple Maps. Click to enlarge.
The 11th Arrondissement of Paris has 410 residents per hectare.

Myth 2: High-rise buildings are energy efficient.
High-rises don’t have a low carbon footprint. Glass is a lousy insulator and modern high-rises are covered in it. The best double glazing has an R-value of under 4 (R stands for resistance to heat loss). Triple glazing is better but still loses lots of energy and developers aren’t prepared to pay the extra costs involved. The bottom line: high-rise apartments are poorly insulated, have huge energy losses and are terrible for the environment. High-rise buildings have twice the carbon emissions of low-rise buildings. In fact, the taller the building, the more wasteful it is.

Street-level houses built before the recent focus on energy efficiency have walls insulated to a value of R-13. The higher the R-value of a surface, the better insulated it is). Nowadays, standards are much higher; (R-22 and up for walls) newer homes are much more energy efficient than older ones with far lower heating and cooling bills.

Myth 3: A high-rise is simply a vertical community.

Source: https://www.mdpi.com/2078-1547/10/2/34/htm

Weston is still a depressed area and placing additional high-rises in areas with disadvantaged residents is not a good idea. Research tells us that even with moderating factors (higher income, larger apartments, better amenities), high-rises are isolating, depressing and poor places to raise children.  Studies have shown that behavioural problems are greater in children who live in high-rises. There is also evidence that crime and fear of crime is greater in tall buildings.

Myth 4: High-rises provide more affordable accommodation.
We know that high-rise buildings are expensive to heat and cool but what about maintenance costs? Maintenance and utility costs approach $1000 per month for a two-bedroom unit in an older building. Elevators are highly sophisticated machines and expensive to maintain. They are regularly out of action in some older buildings. As buildings age, they need new wiring, boilers and air conditioners and this is expensive. Bottom line, high-rises don’t age well, or cheaply.

The apartments at 650 Parliament Street were closed for over a year after an electrical fire. CBC.Ca

Because of the numbers of residents, security is often needed to monitor people coming and going. In smaller buildings, people are more likely to spot strangers attempting to enter.

Myth 5: High-rise buildings provide a safer and better lifestyle.
Talk to people awakened in the middle of the night by fire alarms or who have been inconvenienced by power and water outages.  Accessing an upper floor requires a form of transit i.e. an elevator. If the elevators go out of service, it’s no fun lugging groceries to your unit on the 20th floor. To add to the quality of life issues, bugs and tobacco / vaping smoke and noise can often find their way into neighbouring apartments. Fumigating apartments because of bedbugs or other pests can be inconvenient and also puts residents at risk if the chemicals used are also toxic to humans and pets. This is less of a problem in smaller buildings.

From parenting.com

Because residents need to take a form of transit to get outside or to fitness amenities, they are less inclined to go outside; especially those on higher floors. Psychologist Daniel Cappon writes in the Canadian Journal of Public Health that high-rises discourage exercise because of the extra hassle in getting to the ground. He says that high-rises keep people away from, “neighbourhood peers and activities.” leading to life-shortening alienation and isolation that increases with the height of buildings. Children raised in apartments above the fifth floor were found in one study to be delayed in their development.

Myth 6: High-rises add value to a neighbourhood.
There is a reason that wind and shadow studies are performed when tall buildings are proposed. Adding large vertical slabs to a landscape creates wind tunnel effects that are unpleasant for people outside. They also create shadows that can permanently eliminate sunshine from an area. Architects try to get around this by putting thinner high-rises on top of a podium so that shadows are narrower and the wind is deflected at the podium’s base rather than at street level. Thinner high-rises have a lower density (see Myth 1).

As for aesthetic value, let’s face it, many Toronto condo buildings are just plain ugly.

Lastly, high-rise buildings with large areas of glass kill birds in huge numbers, especially if they are built along a migration corridor.

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.