It seems as if the Ford government is determined to push through a couple of transit projects; one is the Scarborough Subway and the other is the westward expansion of the Crosstown line from Mount Dennis to Renforth Drive and from there link to Pearson Airport. True to their promises, Ford and Etobicoke Centre MPP Kinga Surma want much of the line along Eglinton to be underground and so a Request for Qualifications was issued on March 10 for companies to express their interest (and show their credentials) in the tunnelling. Six kilometres of the line between Scarlett Road and Renforth Drive will be underground.
An RFQ seeks interested parties who, if they qualify, will then be invited to bid on actual contracts.
The City has responded to a 36 storey proposal for developing this pair of properties on Weston Road just south of the UP Express station.
The consolidated property consists of a former movie theatre (Biltmore Odeon) now used as a place of worship (Bethel Apostolic Church) and a two-storey mixed use building.
The developer is BSäR Group of Companies with a mostly positive reputation with this exception where in 2017, BSäR pleaded guilty to four counts of recovering possession of a rental unit unlawfully and was fined $14,000. Like many developers, BSäR has a minimal web presence. Established in 2007, its Principal is Tarek Sobhi and its President is Tyler Hershberg. The architects are Turner Fleischer.
Spoiler alert – BSäR wants to erect something too large for the site and build closer to the tracks and neighbouring properties than Metrolinx and the City would like.
Some lowlights highlights of the proposed building:
10,000 square feet (approx) of communal indoor space spread over 3 floors
10,000 square feet (approx) of communal outdoor space on the podium roof.
At grade retail on the first floor.
74% 1 bedroom or bachelor
16% two bedrooms
10% three bedrooms
City Planning Staff Concerns:
Maximum allowed floor plate for tall buildings is 750 square metres; developer wants 820 square metres.
Minimum allowed setback from property lines is 12.5 metres; developer wants to shrink to 10 and 7.5 metres.
There will be strong shadow impacts on the UP Express station plaza.
The development may limit the potential of future development on adjacent land.
Rooftop communal area would be subject to uncomfortable and unsafe wind levels.
There should be fewer bachelor and one bedroom apartments and more two and three-bedrooms.
Section 37 money.
(Section 37 money is a ‘fine’ paid by developers in exchange for crappy architecture or overbuilding on a site.) Here’s where the City thinks the money should go:
Affordable housing or the securing of purpose-built rental housing at mid-range or affordable rent level categories.
An on-site day care facility or funding for one.
A contribution towards the revitalization of Weston Library.
A contribution towards the replacement of the Falstaff Community Recreation Centre (not even close to Weston).
Improvements towards local parks.
Other concerns from the City:
Planners haven’t been told if the BSäR Group are building rentals or condos. They would like a range of affordable rentals / ownership units.
Is the old Biltmore Odeon Theatre worthy of a heritage designation? Planners intend to find out.
Dog relief stations will be needed to ease pressure on local parks.
Staff have told the developer to revise the proposal so that it is more in keeping with the City’s guidelines.
At the moment, City staff are sending notices about this development only to people living within 400 feet of the site. If you would like to comment or to be added to the mailing list, contact City Planner Rory McNeil at: (416) 394-5683 or, [email protected]
The discount program that knocks $1.50 off fares for commuters transferring from the GO or UPX to the TTC with a Presto card will end on March 31. The provincial government has ended funding for the program, which went over budget.
The program was started by the Liberal government in 2017. Its cancellation may hurt Weston more than most, because our best connection to downtown is on the UPX or GO trains.
The province paid $18.5 million a year to offset the cost of the discount for both transit agencies, but the current Progressive Conservatives say the funding was designed to be temporary. A three-year agreement on the subsidy is set to expire in March 2020.
Metrolinx considered raising fares on the UP Express because it is too successful as a commuter line, according to the Toronto Star.
If you’re new here, a brief recap: the UP Express was designed to be an executive-class ride from the airport to downtown. There were jazz bands, an in-ride magazine, cheese and wine pairings, and a fashion show. I’m not making this up.
It should have been a scandal up there with e-Health and the gas plant bribes.
Everyone said it would lose money, including the private partner and the Auditor General. It went on to lost not just money, but gob-smacking amounts of money—more than $50 per rider.
But, before the line completely bled out, the Liberals dropped fares, making it a swish ride downtown for the proles like you and me. We get first-class service on a cattle-class budget. Unfortunately, the first-class airport passengers get cattle-class service because we get our sweaty pits right in there.
The good news: the UP Express now loses about $6 per rider, instead of $52. That may be because they cut the in-ride magazine, but it’s more likely to be because there are more riders, so the same subsidy is spread out over more people.
Now, according to The Star, Metrolinx was considering raising fares to $20 chase that business-class traveller again (never mind the fact that she is taking an Uber to her hotel). The plan was not—ugh—”actioned” according to the spokesperson The Star spoke to.
A Toronto Star article published today sheds light on a leaked internal Metrolinx document from February of this year that proposes huge changes to the UP Express. The document proposes that when the Kitchener line is electrified in 2025, the airport train would become part of the GO system and use the same new rolling stock. The current UPX stop at Union Station will also be relocated because of increased numbers – at the cost of at least $77.4 million and some inconvenience to passengers – according to the planning document.
The plan leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Where will airport travellers store their luggage on commuter trains built to maximize numbers of people? What will happen to the separate UPX and GO platforms at Weston Station? What will become of the existing UPX trains which were designed to be converted to electrical power? Will the UPX airport platform need revamping to accommodate the new and larger trains? When will the changes take place?
It’s clear that the change won’t happen for at least five years. On the bright side; there’ll likely be two changes of the provincial government between now and then so anything can happen. My bet is that Doug Ford’s austerity regime will modify it severely or put it (and electrification) firmly on the back burner for a future government to tackle.
Update: According to CP24, Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Akins has stated that the $77.4 million needed to enable relocation of the Union Station platform is no longer ‘necessary’. The money would have been spent on a pedestrian bridge initially proposed thanks to the platform’s southerly relocation.
The austerity prediction didn’t take long to be borne out. Read more here.
Update #2: The UPX platform specifically designed for UP Express trains will become redundant once the move is made to electrified GO trains. According to the Globe and Mail,
“…the Union Pearson Express will load in a different part of the station – leaving the soaring Zeidler-designed wood space where the train now stops to find a new use – and its unique rolling stock will be replaced gradually by regular GO trains.”
Presto – Because of the ‘exclusive’ deal signed with Galen Weston’s Loblaw Inc., Metrolinx will be firing the three dozen small retailers who currently sell TTC tokens and passes in our neighbourhood. Only the two Shoppers Drug Marts will sell TTC fares (Presto tickets and cards). It’s a huge reduction in accessibility for our part of the city. There’s lots else wrong with Presto, and TTC is not happy about it.
UP Express and GO fares – The previous government promised to lower GO fares to $3 within the city. The new government told Metrolinx to lower them to $3.70. Metrolinx left UP express fares at the old higher level, and removed the $1.60 discount for transferring to TTC, for those using UP from Weston (or Bloor). The province gave Metrolinx money to provide the discount for both UP and GO. I wondered if Metrolinx had returned any of the money, but the folks at the Ministry of Transportation could not answer that question. I’ve asked Metrolinx but I’m not holding my breath.
Tier 4 Trains – The Minister ordered GO to use Tier 4 diesel trains on our line (now called Kitchener line) once they had bought some. Tier 4 are about 8 times cleaner than the locomotives now in use. They now have 8 locomotives. But they initially advised they would not be using them on Kitchener. When challenged, they said they’d check again. Still waiting.
Noise Walls – The original Environmental Assessment demanded walls along the curve at the end of Holley where it meets Parke. None were installed. Metrolinx claimed it was too difficult given the size of retaining wall they built. But their own consultant on the EA warned them to make sure they built walls strong enough to hold the noise walls. If they didn’t that’s on them, and we deserve something. In addition, the EA demanded a wall between the tracks and Rosemount south of John. Nothing installed there. No excuse given. And they promised walls behind Brownville and Arthur streets. Still nothing, though they claim it is due to property negotiations with landowners on those streets.
Government Regulators – It took some doing but I found persons at both the Provincial and Federal Ministries of the Environment who could speak about the now ten year old Environmental Assessment. Provincially they didn’t think there was anything they could do to force Metrolinx to live up to the promises in the EA. Federally they were quite shocked, as Metrolinx had recently sworn out a ‘solemn declaration’ claiming they had lived up to all the EA commitments, in order to get the final payments from the Federal Ministry of Transportation.
In addition, the Province relieved Metrolinx of its responsibility to monitor air quality. Metrolinx claimed that the implementation of the UP Express had not seriously degraded air quality. Trouble is, it is GO Transit operations if not Tier 4 (see above) that will adversely affect our air quality.
The federal folks are questioning Metrolinx about the noise walls. We shall see what happens next.
The short story: everybody is on board for a more prosperous, better-connected Mount Dennis. Alex Bozikovic wrote in the Globe:
Spread new growth across the neighbourhood. Focus on jobs and mix up jobs with some housing. Bring lots of people to live near transit. It sounds simple, but would require some changes to the city’s usual planning approach.
Interestingly, many locals are on board with this agenda. Mike Mattos, who heads the Mount Dennis Community Association, says the group largely welcomes the ULI proposals and, in places, development. “We need more people in the area,” he told me. “We don’t think the retail strip is going to survive with the current population. And we need more of the right kinds of jobs.” With all that, and some inventive policy, this could become a more prosperous place without becoming any less interesting.