Churchill once said that, “History is written by the victors”. An article in UrbanToronto.ca, (basically a public relations organ for the local real estate and development industries) tells a sanitized version of the background story of the soon to be opened Weston Hub.
The article’s author, Dean Macaskill, has been involved in Toronto real estate since 1980 and was with the company given the GO Station parking lot listing back in 2012. The land was put on the market by the Toronto Parking Authority and according to Macaskill, the 5 offers received on the 1.42 acre site were, ‘at rather depressed pricing levels’.
What’s not mentioned in the article are thoughts at the time that the land belonged to the old town of Weston and that it should not be sold. Also, unlike the wealthy Wychwood Barns neighbourhood which received close to $20 million from the City for their Artscape project, poor old Weston received essentially nothing.
The message seems to be that no one wanted to invest in Weston until this development came along and since that time, developers have been falling all over themselves to buy into our community. He neglects to mention that his listing stated, “Area Is Undergoing Significant Change With Other High Rise Condominiums Planned In The Immediate Area.” Also missing in action is any mention of the 370 rental apartments and 40,000 square feet of storage units that came as part of the deal. The 8000 square foot space devoted to the cultural hub seems rather ungenerous by comparison. Another unmentioned issue of contention is the tight space given to the Farmers Market .
Now that the Hub is nearing completion, we’ll all have to make the best of it and hope it’s a success – but it could have been so much better no matter what shine is put on it.
Just to cheer you up, here’s a Metro Morning interview with Artscape’s Tim Jones talking to CBC’s Matt Galloway recently on the same topic.
Political blogger Neville Park has created a chart of Toronto’s current council and has sorted members into a matrix of four attributes; Progressive (good)/ Conservative (evil) and Lawful / Chaotic. If your political leanings go the other way, simply switch the good and evil terms.
Interestingly our own councillor has been classified by Ms. Park as Chaotic / Evil and is lumped in with some kindred spirits in the bottom right. She states that Ms. Nunziata started the term off well but has, “…since backslid into ‘peevish substitute teacher’ mode”.
Park tells councillors who object to their placement to, “…vote and act differently”.
Weston and Mount Dennis residents may have noticed that our little corner of Toronto seems to be undergoing a boom in real-estate turnovers and new projects. The reason seems to be our newly acquired 7-days a week, frequent, rapid and reasonably priced transportation to downtown and the airport.
Instead of the usual condos, many new development proposals seem to be for rental apartments. The average rental accommodation vacancy rate in Toronto is 1% and Toronto Council is keen to have more rental accommodation citing a need for 8000 new apartments every year in order to satisfy demand. The Rockport apartments on John Street will be market rate rentals when they open next year.
There is a shortage of good quality rental accommodation because developers have focussed on condos over the last few decades thanks in part to rent controls and the higher cost of building rental apartments. Condo developers can pre-sell units before construction starts and therefore need less money. Rental apartments therefore have greater financing costs and in addition are taxed at a higher rate than condos. This is why there are some new financial incentives for rental builders.
The theory goes that good quality rental buildings will attract empty nesters and free up space in larger homes for families. More rentals will ease the upward price pressure on rents. This is clearly a laudable goal.
Unfortunately, City planners don’t care where they go. They no doubt have a quota in mind and they’re gonna fill it. Guidelines and restrictions seem to be routinely ignored along with a regard for the needs of a neighbourhood. Rental apartments have to be built and they’ll get built come hell or high water. The problem is that even with generous incentives, apartment builders may end up building as high and cheaply as possible.
A rental apartment building that is poorly built will not command market rents and will end up with a single demographic. It’s recognized that good neighbourhoods have a mix of people.
What to do?
There’s nothing wrong with good quality, well-run rental apartments. Back in the stone age I quite happily lived in a few – they were clean, had nice amenities and were state of the art for the time. Even though we have better tenant protections now, there is a danger that a cheaply constructed building will quickly deteriorate.
Councillor Nunziata and the relevant resident’s groups should therefore lobby hard for buildings built to a high standard that will appeal to a wide demographic.
Plus, new buildings don’t all have to be 25 or 30 storeys do they?
The proposed building at 1705 Weston Road is scheduled for opening in 2022 and as previously reported by Adam will be a 25-storey high-rise that will include a 6-storey podium. It will be a rental building. A total of 240 units will comprise 37 bachelor units, 98 one-bedroom units, 77 two-bedroom units and 28 three-bedroom units. About 1600 square feet of ground-floor retail space will front onto Weston Road as part of the development. A 3 1/2-level underground parking garage will hold 136 parking spots while above ground, 6 parking spaces will serve visitors and shoppers. 245 spaces for bicycles will be divided into 24 long and 216 short term spots with the remaining 5 for retail. With 104 apartments going without parking spaces; this would seem to be courting disaster but planners claim that nowadays, fewer people own a car. Unlike downtown, amenities at Number 1705 are not exactly to hand. The closest supermarket (the Real Canadian Superstore) is about 3 km away; 11 minutes by bus, a long walk or a very dangerous bike ride.
Here’s a view in purple of the actual site that was assembled by Stonehenge. It’s just under an acre and adjacent to the southernmost of the GO / UP Express parking lots so it will be handy for commuters who take either option; especially the GO. Four TTC bus routes are close by.
As with all such proposals, at least one community consultation will be arranged by Councillor Nunziata.
As can be seen in the land use designation map, the corridor along Weston Road is designated as an apartment neighbourhood. It remains to be seen what the community reaction to the development will be but the City is very keen to focus on intensification, especially around transit hubs. One question of concern might be that the building is a rental rather than a condo. The building may therefore inject more low-income residents into an area that can’t meet its obligations to the people already here. Also, because of the low rent expectations, the build quality may be proportionally lower than say a rental building in mid-town. This is where Councillor Nunziata will have to be vigilant if she is to improve the fabric of our community.
There is a wealth of supporting information on the project, from shadow studies to architectural plans available here.
This site is a compelling case for the future of transit oriented development. There is a crucial need for affordable rental housing and easy access commuting done the smart way. – Old Stonehenge site.
Incidentally, the company behind the proposed development at 1705 Weston Road is called Old Stonehenge. Company founder Michael Dobrijevic has produced several building projects and has been praised for their quality. According to the site, Mr Dobrijevic takes his inspiration from Stonehenge; interestingly, his site shows an image of Callanish Standing Stones (aka Scotland’s Stonehenge) on the Isle of Lewis more than 1000 km north of Stonehenge.
One more thing that should be of concern to all Weston residents…
“It is noted that none of the ideas and directions arising from the Weston 2021 Design Charrette have been brought forward in the form of amendments to the Official Plan, the Zoning By-law or urban design guidelines.” Bousfield’s Planning Document
This afternoon and tonight at the York Civic Centre, Budget Subcommittee members will hear public presentations on the 2018 Operating & Capital Budgets at the York Civic Centre, located at 2700 Eglinton Ave. W. on January 9, 2017. Included in the discussion will be proposed changes to user fees.
It will be interesting to see if the John Tory administration will continue to increase user fees to place more of the burden on users. If they don’t, it might indicate a leftward shift in time for next October’s election.
There will be two sessions; one beginning at 3 pm and the other from 6 to 8 pm.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
As we approach the year end, here are some things that seem to be holding us back locally. This is the fourth of a five part series.
As always, your comments are welcome.
4. The Democratic Process.
Next October will see city council elections for councillors and and mayor. Barring a cataclysmic upheaval, few seats will change hands in 2018. One positive note comes from the recent redrawing of ward boundaries to better reflect the changing population densities. The boundaries, in place since 1999 needed updating since ward populations had become uneven during that time. For example, downtown has many more residents thanks to the ongoing condo boom. This change was fought by the likes of Justin Di Ciano and Giorgio Mammoliti who presumably felt threatened by a more democratic redistribution. The OMB, (needing to act quickly and not known as a fan of democracy) in a surprising decision, rightly smacked down the appeal.
Ward 11 (along with only 6 others) will be unaffected as the population in our area has remained relatively static but four additional wards will be created in time for the elections; three of them in the downtown core. Downtown wards are often quite left leaning so the good news is that this may signal a more progressive council in the next term
We have a ‘first past the post’ system for all Canadian Elections including local council seats and mayor. A simple majority determines the winner. Unfortunately, the first past the post voting system favours incumbents and many people stay home, knowing that their candidate is disadvantaged. This is why we have so many career-politicians in Toronto. Some are elected term after term, often with the votes of a tiny fraction of constituents.
There is a better way. Ranked balloting allows voters to choose their first, second and third choices and gives more voting power to electors whose first choice doesn’t win. It also prevents fringe candidates from winning through a split vote. In the last mayoral election for example, Doug Ford could well have been elected if Olivia Chow had run a stronger campaign and split the centre-left vote between herself and John Tory. As an aside, other than bluster and the occasional ferris wheel popping up, one can be forgiven for wondering if anything would be different had Mr. Ford won in 2014.
It would seem obvious that anyone interested in a better democratic process in Toronto would support ranked balloting. The province is in charge of such legislation and would need a request from City Council to make the change. Sadly, our own councillor voted against studying the use of ranked ballots and effectively (with a group of other councillors) killed the possibility for the near future.
At council meetings, our councillor along with a cadre of nodding deputy mayors is obliged to vote the Mayor Tory line on most matters since she is Council Speaker and wants to keep her prestigious job. Sadly, this means that she and the rest of the Tory bloc often vote against the interests of Ward 11. The councillor cannot serve two masters effectively and it would probably be better for Ward 11 to have a councillor with no such conflicts.
As the saying goes, all politics is local. We are lucky enough to have local politicians who consult with the people on a regular basis on matters of importance. If we do or don’t like what’s going on, we need to attend the meetings and express our views. Shy folk can send emails or write letters but it’s vital that people express their opinions because no matter what the issue, you can be sure that corporate interests have already made their cases strongly and often.
Lastly one final thought: we need a better turnout for elections. In 2014, fewer than 51% of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot.
Part 5 of this series (The Planning Process) may be a couple of days what with Christmas festivities and all.