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.

Staff blast Greenland proposal

Roy will have his own article in a moment, but here is my summary of the city’s report on the Greenland building: Absolutely not.

The report rejects the proposal on many different levels. But, in short, the building is far too big and will hurt, rather than “regentrify”, Weston.

The report will be presented to community council on January 8.

At issue is a proposal for two 29-storey towers joined by a very large podium on a relatively small site at Weston and Little.  The official plan for Weston limits buildings to 8 storeys, and fewer close to the road, so the proposed building is far larger, far denser, and far more imposing than permitted. Indeed, the buildings look like a tornado dropped Toronto onto Weston’s heritage.

The developer’s concept drawing of the finished product. Note the size of the storefronts at the base of the structure. Click to enlarge.

The city report says that the proposed building “would result in a bulky, overwhelming presence”, “fails to address the local and planned context” and “is inappropriate for the site”. Staff say the plan should be rejected and redesigned as a “mid-rise building with a 45 degree angular plane provided from the Neighbourhoods, open space and low-rise areas and that particular attention be paid to heritage features”.

It’s not just the architecture. The building will have effects on community space and infrastructure—perhaps for decades. The report says Weston will need:

  • a new elementary school,
  • a new public community centre and
  • a new child care centre

None of these will be built quickly. St John The Evangelist took 5 years just to build—and months were wasted on legal wrangling over a culvert.  A culvert. Could you imagine what it would take to build a school from scratch?

The developers aren’t only asking to draw down Weston. They’re hoping to provide too few common elements for the future owners. They would like to provide less than half the required amenity space and too few parking spaces.

The city has made it clear that residents and representatives  must reject this proposal and demand it be redrawn, from scratch, with the community in mind.

The year in review.

As the year comes to a close, it’s probably a good moment to look back at some of the events and topics that we dealt with in 2019.

TORONTO POLICE:
Toronto Police have had a lot to be embarrassed about this year. It emerged that traffic enforcement has been virtually non-existent since 2013. This could explain why traffic deaths have spiked upwards in recent years. Many people have died unnecessarily since that time. If you ever wonder why there are more entitled idiots on the road, the lack of police presence and enforcement is the reason.

From Toronto Star.

The public is often puzzled by the actions of police. Police have told us that they’re understaffed and sometimes there’s only a handful of cops available for the whole of 12 Division. After a recent and tragic murder at 1765 Weston, 15 cruisers were reported to have appeared but cops are seemingly unavailable for anything less serious. Was every attending officer at that crime scene really doing something useful?

The police also need to stop the knee-jerk reactions when pressure to act is applied. When undesired behaviour reaches intolerant levels, policing needs to change. Chief Saunders seems to think a temporary fix with a fancy title will solve the problem. The Chief needs to understand that shootings and car deaths aren’t going to disappear once temporary programs are disbanded. We need permanent solutions that continue to work. A few extra officers on overtime won’t cut it.

Toronto’s ‘Year Of The Gun’ in 2005 had 262 shootings and 367 victims. So far in 2019, Toronto has experienced 484 shootings involving 764 victims. In 12 Division we had 45 shootings and 77 victims.

Shootings by year 2004-2018. From Toronto Police.

On an even less cheerful note, this year in Toronto, you are almost as likely to be killed by a car as by a gun although not so in 12 Division with one pedestrian death.

MAYOR TORY
It took until 2019 for the Mayor to understand that low taxes and service reductions result in a shabby and crime-ridden city. This is widely known so  why the Mayor thought Toronto would be different is anyone’s guess. Since becoming Mayor in 2014, he has followed many of the policies and ideas of his predecessor Rob Ford. During the 2018 election he ridiculed candidates whose platform suggested inflation-busting property tax increases. Now, after promising tax increases at or below the level of inflation he has gained approval from Council for a property tax ‘levy’ that will add to the City’s building fund.

Naturally, the mayor sets the tone for Council and the tone has shifted to the left.

COUNCILLOR NUNZIATA
The councillor has made some efforts to modify her stances on some issues and has moved in tandem with the Mayor’s come to Jesus moment. She pushed for and got bike lanes on Scarlett Road. She still seems unable to tell developers to tone down excessive heights of apartments and presided over continued flooding in Ward 5 along with not seeming to care about a developer putting a slaughterhouse on flood-plain land.

WESTON BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT AREA
Question: How do you bring a flea market to Weston?
Answer: Start with a farmers market and work your way down from there.

Late in the season, the BIA abruptly booted Joe Gaeta from the Weston Farmers Market (2nd oldest in Toronto) a week before City inspectors found that it didn’t have enough produce sellers to qualify as a true FM. It is now officially a flea market. On  the plus side, the inadequate space at the new Hub location will no longer be such a big deal.

In more positive news, Weston’s Buskerfest and the Weston Santa Claus Parade are popular and continue to strengthen.

People overestimate what can be achieved when a group of retailers get together and try to attract customers to an area. On the other hand, in spite of being partially funded by property taxes, they don’t allow the public to attend their meetings. They also seem to be overly-influenced by Councillor Nunziata who tends to dominate proceedings.

VISION ZERO 2.0
This Toronto Council initiative to prevent traffic deaths has been derisively known as Zero Vision since it produced no results in its first year. Politicians are now beginning to understand that ineptitude in this area costs lives and dozens of people have died unnecessarily in recent years. Despite the urgency to improve safety for pedestrians, Council is moving with glacial speed having only recently made the connection between traffic speed and safety. Speed limits are being lowered in some places, however, the city is supplying only two speed cameras per ward (fines won’t start until they’ve been in place for 3 months – warnings will be issued until then).

Ward 5’s cameras will be at Bicknell Ave. between Juliet Cres. and Avon Dr.; Brookhaven Dr. between Fox Point and Nordale Cres.

Read more here.

DEVELOPERS
Developers continue to propose to put the tallest, ugliest, and cheapest built  structures in the most prominent areas in spite of heritage or building guidelines. This year we lost Greenland Farms whose land may be part of a huge development.

From The Guardian.

In exchange for devastating a neighbourhood, pitiful amounts of Section 37 money are given to local councillors to spend locally. Sadly the money isn’t always spent locally or appropriately and is instead used as a pseudo re-election fund.

Other huge projects are being planned for Weston. More on that in upcoming articles.

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?

Tim Hortons opening on Weston Road

It’s not often I am disappointed to hear of a coffee shop opening, but I am sad to see that a Tim Hortons will be opening on Weston Road beside the H&R Block and Weston Station Restaurant.

A few years ago, I would have been delighted. We were a sleepy little town, with few—really no—places to get the day jumpstarted. But that’s changed. We’re spoiled for choice now, with Matti’s, Perfect Blend, and Black Cat all within a short walk. And, for those who just can’t get enough cheap robusta, there is a Tim’s just around the corner and another up the street.

I propose we put throw our money behind the people who have put their money behind Weston. I, for one, won’t be spending a dime at Tim Hortons.

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.

Weston Asset Management Development questions

On Thursday November 28, at Weston Collegiate Institute, a meeting will be held to assess public reaction to a huge development proposed for Weston’s old ‘Main Street’.

There’s no doubt development is needed in Weston. The question is what form should it take? Do we want the familiar streetscape of the current architecture (Bloor West Village style), something moderately larger or are people ok with the gargantuan development being proposed. Once a pattern of new development along Weston Road is established, it will set the trend. Until recently, the plan for Weston was for something moderate that would fit into the streetscape.

Now there is no mention of Weston in Toronto’s official Plan and it seems strange that this has happened without community input.

Here’s what the old guidelines said about development in the area.

GUIDELINES

The following general objectives have been established for the Weston area.

Weston will be recognized as a distinct and significant community within the City of Toronto,
as a community rooted in its history. Weston has experienced considerable change in land use, employment, retail activity and residential character and will continue to experience these changes in the future. The challenge is to recapture Weston’s unique character of the past within a greatly changed urban area and reality. These guidelines will help manage any future change within Weston in order to achieve the following goals:

  • The revitalization of retail and community activity along Weston Road as the strong and attractive heart of Weston
  • The maintenance of the quality of life in the neighbourhoods
  • The introduction of new residential development along the Weston Road corridor
  • The generation of new employment opportunities on former industrial lands
  • The enhancement of the Humber Valley as an environmental and recreational asset for the city.

All buildings located in Weston Village will be limited to a maximum height of 24 metres with the following exception:

– buildings fronting onto Weston Road and/or John Street will be limited to a maximum height of 3 storeys or 9 metres for all portions of the buildings located within 6 metres of the street line. Any additional height above the third storey will be set back a minimum of 3 metres from the face of the base building to a maximum height of 8 storeys (24 metres) 

Why is 8 stories no longer the limit? Surely Councillor Nunziata should have kept the community informed of this change, official or not. To go from 8 to 29 stories is a huge increase.

There seems to be an effort from supporters of this project to put their thumb on the scale – one person alone commented 9 times on the previous article. The attitude from some supporters seems to be, “Shut up and be grateful NIMBY”.

There’s nothing wrong with development provided it enriches the community – not just the developer. This project is way too large and will do nothing for the community except add traffic, shadow and sewage issues.

It’s not as if we haven’t learned this lesson before. When the Weston Hub was proposed, it was going to be a shining beacon and provide all things to all people, including an indoor / outdoor farmers market and community centre. Now it looks as if there won’t even be room for the Farmers Market when traders use the designated space next May.

Questions that should concern every Weston resident:

  • Do we want to place these huge high rises in the heart of Weston?
  • Why is this development not in keeping with the scale of the area.
  • Why has the project doubled in size since the last public consultation?
  • If this project is approved, where will the considerable Section 37 monies be spent? (Let’s hope no more Nychtophilias)
  • Why are there so few parking spaces allocated? (There are 7 above ground parking spaces (for visitors) and 174 below ground for a building that will house more than a thousand people. Weston is not downtown Toronto.)
  • If a supermarket opens on the second floor, where will people park and how will they carry groceries to their cars?
  • Where are the shadow studies for the winter months?
  • Who are the people behind Weston Asset Management?
  • Why does Weston Asset Management have no web presence?
  • What is Councillor Nunziata’s position on this development?

Read more about the project here. The developer’s application materials can be found here.

If you cannot attend the meeting, and would like to provide input, Rory McNeil at the City Planner’s Office would like to hear from you:

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.

Planning Application Consultation:
Date: November 28, 2019
Time: 7:00 – 9:00 pm
Location: Weston Collegiate Institute; 100 Pine Street.