Notting Hill condo development coming to Eglinton.

Plant World in May last year. From google.com

Remember Plant World, that sprawling 2-hectare garden centre on Eglinton with rather high prices but some spectacular and unusual horticultural specimens? It was operated in various guises by the Delworth-Reeves family from 1889 when, “Cornelius Delworth purchased a parcel of land on Richview Side Road (now Eglinton Avenue) in the outlying farming community of Weston, as an expansion of his downtown nursery operation.”.

Many green-fingered folk were dealt a crushing blow when the last customers were ushered out last September having been sold several years earlier. Yes, you could say their lives were uprooted.

The site from the air (marked in yellow). From google.com. Click to enlarge.

The large site was a tempting one for developers and the owners were probably made an offer too good to resist. In December 2015, purchasers Lanterra Developments submitted a site proposal for 5 condo towers on the site ranging in height from 18 – 33 stories with 1900 apartments and townhomes. The project was grandly named ‘Notting Hill Condominiums’ but don’t expect to see Hugh Grant or Julia Roberts anytime soon.

Lanterra’s 2015 proposal went over like the proverbial lead balloon with the Planning Department and people attending the community consultation in May 2016. Issues such as, density, school capacity, shadow and traffic concerns and compatibility with the neighbourhood (despite already being dotted with 16-20 storey apartment towers) were some of the objections raised. The developer was told by Etobicoke York Community Council to tone it down, sharpen their erasers and try again.

Later in 2016, Lanterra invoked the Ontario Municipal Board’s appeals process (an appointed body that prior to having its wings clipped by Premier Wynne was accused of rubber-stamping developers’ excesses). The developer wanted an OMB intervention claiming that Council was dragging its feet.

Instead of bringing judgement from on high and picking a winner, the newly relevantOMB mediated an agreementreleased in 2018 between all parties and the result was lower overall podium and tower heights, no townhomes, revised setbacks, lower density and a reduction to 1360 apartments. In addition, 25% of the apartments were mandated to be 2 or 3 bedrooms; the developer was to pay $3.8 million in (Section 37) community benefits including up to $800,000 in public art (oh dear lord).

 

According to Urban Toronto, the latest plan submitted in June has the number of dwellings at 1275 but Lanterra’s website says 1320. The OMB has reserved the right to step in again if needed but so far everyone seems happy. Ontario Liberals might call it a Wynne Win.

Artist impression looking south-west towards Eglinton Avenue West. From Lanterradevelopments.com

The mediated agreement was approved by Toronto City Council in 2018.

More details from Urban Torontohere.

View the condo sales pitch here.

Judicial review to go ahead.

A piece of good news has emerged from the life that was going on before COVID 19 hit.

As a reminder, in 2018, St Helen’s Meat Packers somehow managed to buy an 8-acre parcel of contaminated flood-plain land from the city after the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, normally fiercely protective of flood plain land, gave permission for its sale and use as a meat packing plant.

TRCA says that the land doesn’t help protect adjacent locations from flooding. Community consultation meetings became raucous affairs with St Helen’s employees ‘packing’ the meeting in matching t-shirts.

The cost for 8 acres of land in our fair city? $3.19 million.

Incidentally, Robert Bielak, president of St Helens is a Ford family friend and his wife donated (legally) to Ward 5 Councillor Frances Nunziata’s 2018 election campaign.

The site borders Rockcliffe Boulevard, a street where homes are flooded in severe rain events. The last hope for residents to stop the plant’s construction is a judicial review in which a judge will check to see if all protocols have been followed. Reviews are expensive but the $25,000 cost has been raised through a combination of public fundraising and private donors. Landscape architect Devin Tepleski organized the successful fundraiser. Incidentally, and in keeping with the councillor’s style of appearing to support both sides; one of  the donors to the fundraiser was none other than Frances Nunziata.

Frances Nunziata protesting in an Acorn march in October 2018. From CTV.

Read more here, here and here.

Report on Mount Dennis Eco Group meeting.

Megan DeLaire at Toronto.com has written a report on the recent meeting of the Mount Dennis Eco-Neighbourhood group. Mount Dennis through their community association has spearheaded a drive to make Weston’s southern neighbour into a net-zero community.

What is a net-zero community? The term isn’t clearly defined but in general, it’s a place where total carbon emissions are reduced to zero through conservation, by changing energy sources and by generating a surplus of non-carbon based energy that is used to offset carbon emissions. It’s a laudable goal and a determined group at MDCA has been pushing it for several years with considerable success. The gas-powered generating station that was to supply the Eglinton Crosstown with emergency power was nixed in favour of a large battery. This was thanks to concerns expressed by the MDCA and others that not only would the generator pollute the neighbourhood, it would also be used during times of peak demand, adding to local pollution levels..

It’s refreshing that all three local politicians seem to be behind this endeavour, MP Ahmed Hussein sent greetings by video message, MPP Faisal Hassan is strongly supportive and local councillor Frances Nunziata spoke to the audience. Nunziata seems open to supporting net zero in new buildings which is a good thing. This will be more expensive up front but the cost savings and lower pollution levels will last for the lifetime of a building. Check out this building in London Ontario.

From CBC.ca.

Read Megan’s report here.

What does a good neighbourhood look like?

From City of Toronto.

Developers have returned to Weston and Mount Dennis for two reasons:

  1. There is an opportunity to make money.
  2. See reason #1

The opportunity has arrived thanks mainly to government infrastructure spending, mainly in the form of improved transit. Developers are not benevolent entities so that’s why we have planning departments and civic government to protect us from their excesses.

Why have developers come here? The city is expanding and transit links have improved. The UP Express makes a trip to the airport or downtown quick and easy. The much awaited Eglinton Crosstown line will be opening in 2021 2022 and with good transit comes increased property prices and investment opportunities. The city will gain from the increased property tax assessments that new buildings and increased density will provide.

Win Win.

Unless…

We have all witnessed first hand the results of bad development. In fact Weston could be called the poster child for corrupt and shoddy development imposed on the community in the 70s and 80s. In addition, community housing has been allowed to deteriorate through bad management and constrained budgets. When Progressive Conservative Premier Mike Harris dumped responsibility for social housing onto the city in 1998 he promised that the transfer would be revenue neutral. Last year Ottawa announced funding to help ease the $1.6 billion repair backlog.

Anne Hidalgo has been the Mayor of Paris since 2014. The city isn’t perfect and they are looking at an idea that is gaining traction. The idea is that nobody in Paris should be more than a fifteen-minute walk or bike ride to everything they need in order to live well.

Adapted from: Le Paris du ¼ heure. From Paris en commun. Click to enlarge.

Clearly, if people could live close to everything they needed, life would be a lot better. People would be healthier thanks to exercise and reduced fumes from vehicles. Is this a possibility for Weston and Mount Dennis? We certainly have the parks, outdoor exercise opportunities and fresh air (given the constraints of local highway pollution). Access to a doctor / health care is probably reasonable (readers may wish to comment). The things our community seems to lack are cultural opportunities, good produce stores, a decent bakery (mmm baguettes) and a bigger variety of workplaces.

Charlottesville Virginia has become a walkable city. From c-ville.com.

It doesn’t help that in the past 20 years the bike network in York South Weston seems to have grown at the same rate as a sloth’s fingernail. Toronto routinely fails to spend its annual budgeted allocation on bike trails and lanes. In 2016, the City’s 10-year cycling plan was supposed to create 560 km of bike lanes and cycle paths. Two years later, 33 km had been built. The City claims it’s because of the environmental and other assessments that need to be done beforehand. I think it’s a lack of will. On this side of the pond, Charlottesville has made their city walkable. So it is possible if the will is there.

Rio de Janeiro’s version of Lakeshore Boulevard (oh the irony) is closed to traffic every Sunday. File.

We need to impress on politicians that traffic-clogged streets and car-dependent neighbourhoods are harmful to our health. Developers and city planners should be working towards the day when everything is within walking or cycling distance. This is why we as a community should be vigilant and not allow poor design, rampant greed or both to be the deciding factors in what gets built here. We need to be vigilant for the people who will make Weston and Mount Dennis home over the next 50 years.

Large crowd at WPBC development meeting.

The consolidated property. Adapted from Google Maps. Click to enlarge.

About two hundred people attended a veritable love-fest at Weston Park Baptist Church on Monday evening. The long anticipated meeting was arranged to get some feedback on the development of the iconic property that includes the old Scotiabank ‘wedge’ building, the church itself and its substantial parking lot next to the UP Express station.

Steve Rowley leads the meeting on behalf of the church. Click to enlarge.

The meeting started with a history of WPBC and its beginnings at the end of the 19th Century. WPBC stresses that it has chosen to stay in Weston during all these years and has helped the community during that time by setting up community support organizations such as the W.A.E.S. food bank and Frontlines youth centre to name but two. Watching the presentation of the church’s history gave me an impression of some compassionate yet canny real-estate horse traders with the long game in mind. To that end they did a considerable amount of homework before deciding on the developer, Castlepoint Numa – represented at the meeting by President Alfredo Romano and several staff from the company. Mr. Romano’s passion for the project came through loud and clear and it was apparent that this will be something special.

 

Some interesting information came to light during the presentation; in 2005, the church pitched purchasing and sharing the current UP Express station site (at the time a Chrysler dealership that was up for sale) to GO Transit, the predecessor of Metrolinx. GO turned them down but before a deal could be made with Chrysler, GO came back to the table and partnered with WPBC leading to the current property setup. Plans have been worked on for some time to develop the site and now the church is asking the community for input.

The point of the meeting was threefold: to introduce the community to the church and developer Castlepoint Numa (with whom they recently signed a memorandum of agreement) and lastly to get some ideas from local residents.

A few ideas were also proposed by the church, one of which was to extend an invitation to the YMCA to operate out of the new development. This has been an idea for many years now.

Some of the ideas for Weston from the charette held in 2011. File. Click to enlarge.
File. Click to enlarge.
File. Click to enlarge.

Developer Romano expressed his wish that there be a retention in some form of the two iconic buildings on the site.

Residents at the meeting were asked to ‘vote’ for their preferred options using supplied red dots.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

The church has promised many more consultations before anything is decided.

What does a good apartment building look like?

If you’re in the market for a condo apartment or just deciding whether a proposed condo will be good for the neighbourhood, here’s a look at the features a good apartment should have in the 2020s.

Weston and Mount Dennis are seeing a flurry of building proposals, most of which involve apartment towers. Weston is in the unenviable position of already having some great examples of what not to build. Hopefully we can learn from these examples and do better.

Apartment interiors:
A one-bedroom apartment should provide a minimum of 500 square feet of year-round living space, a two-bedroom apartment 750 square feet and a three-bedroom above 1200 square feet. A good open-plan layout with ample space and a fully-featured kitchen is the preferred design these days. Bedrooms used to be placed in their own section with a corridor. Nowadays, thanks to space constraints, corridors have gone and bedrooms are often scattered around the living room rather than in one area. Bedrooms should be designed to accommodate student study spaces.
There should be in-apartment storage space for things like a stroller or mobility scooter.
An in-unit washer and dryer is a major convenience.
Balconies can be a great feature of an apartment, allowing access to sunshine, fresh air and perhaps some vegetables in the summer.
Apartments should allow for flexibility so that they can adapt as a family’s needs change.

Noise and odour proofing:
Noise is a big issue in many buildings. Back in the last century I lived in an apartment building where my upstairs neighbour could often be heard using the bathroom – right down to the last squirt. Not great when you’re having dinner with friends. Hardwood / vinyl / laminate floors are preferred to carpeting these days – they’re better from a cleanliness and allergy standpoint. Carpets were once part of the soundproofing system for apartments and now that they’re passé, builders have to put more thought (and money) into keeping noises from escaping. This costs money. Sealing off apartments so that air is contained also helps with odour control. Unfortunately it’s hard to know how good a job builders have done until moving in.

Generous common / amenity space:
Amenity spaces help create a community inside a building by providing areas where people can meet and interact.

  • Lobbies that promote interaction
  • A play area for children
  • Day care facilities
  • Fitness centre / Yoga studio / Library / meeting room
  • Swimming pool / sauna
  • Storage
  • Ample parking for deliveries
  • Lockers where delivery people can leave packages for residents.
  • Large item storage lockers.
  • Secure / gated access
  • Pet friendly with accommodation for dog toilet needs to ease the burden on local parks.
  • Outdoor common space with wifi.
Click to enlarge. From https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2017/pg/bgrd/backgroundfile-103920.pdf

Parking:
Secure, covered and adequate vehicle / bicycle parking is a big deal. Parking is expensive for developers as the only way to provide it to dig. The more parking the more digging. Developers like to skimp on parking claiming there is less demand for it.  Weston is a long way from being a car-free community. Unlike downtown Toronto, we can’t walk and cycle everywhere for our needs. We don’t even have any decent bike lanes inn Weston. There should be one parking space per apartment otherwise the parking problem just spills out into the neighbourhood. Parking spaces can always be adapted for other uses once transit becomes adequate and the neighbourhood provides a better variety of retail and cultural experiences. Charging stations for e-vehicles should be provided.

Security.
Security costs money and having someone monitor residents and visitors is expensive but necessary for peace of mind.

Energy efficiency:
The cost of energy is likely to rise in the future. Keeping costs down is important along with eliminating the use of fossil fuels such as natural gas.

Electrically powered heat pumps are one of the best and most energy-efficient ways to heat and cool an apartment. More costly to install, they keep resident’s fuel expenses low and use less energy.  A 4-pipe heat pump system can respond quickly to daily and seasonal changes and will allow heating and cooling simultaneously in the various parts of the building (some buildings can have only air-conditioning or heating at any one time and the switch-over date is a contentious one).

Bottom line:
We can build bare-bones and quick profit dwellings that don’t adapt well to future needs or we can build communities where people can thrive.

It’s up to us and city planners to hold developers to account so that history doesn’t repeat itself. Toronto has written a set of draft urban design guidelines that considers the needs of children and families growing up in an apartment community. They are well worth a read.