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.

Shhh…Community Consultation Meeting November 28 at WCI

Developer, Weston Asset Management Inc. wants to fundamentally change the nature of Weston’s ‘Main Street’ by erecting two 29-storey condos surrounded by a 12-storey podium. On its own the podium would be called a high rise in most parts of the world – or for that matter more genteel (and better represented) parts of Toronto. The site consists of the old Greenland Farms property and several adjacent others. Residents will use Lawrence and Little Avenues to access the complex.

Nearly two years ago, Weston Asset Management purchased a block of properties comprising numbers 1956, 1966, 1972, 1974, 1980, 1986 Weston Road and the adjacent property on 1 Little Avenue. The biggest of the properties is the old Greenland Farms supermarket that was once home to Loblaws.

The properties as they currently stand. Click to enlarge. Image from Google Maps.
Part of the developer’s plan of the project (Weston Road is at the bottom). Click to enlarge.
The developer’s concept drawing of the finished product. Note the size of the storefronts at the base of the structure. Click to enlarge.

Up until recently, this development would have been in direct contravention of the Official Plan for Weston (not that it ever made any difference) which restricted building heights along Weston Road. Not to worry, Toronto’s Official Plan has been updated to remove all references to Weston and pesky Weston Road building heights. Job done!

Ground floor retail space proposed by the developer. No room for a supermarket. Click to enlarge.

For people hoping that a supermarket would return, there is bad news. The average supermarket occupies about 30,000 – 50,000 square feet. Despite the project’s size (there will be about 43,000 square feet of retail, there is no single retail space bigger than 4,300 square feet on the ground floor. Just over 31,000 square feet of retail is planned for the entire second floor but  supermarkets are traditionally built at ground level.

Toronto requires developers to perform shadow studies as sunlight is a fast disappearing commodity thanks to high rise buildings. The opposite side of Weston Road will predominantly be in shadow as a result of the new development. For some reason, the developer hasn’t included shadows during the six months between September and March (when sunshine is most welcome and needed). Incidentally shadows on March 21 and September 21 are identical so why include both?

There’s news for heritage lovers. While the developer has made plans to keep only the facades of 1974 (Squibbs)-1976 (tax preparer) and 1982 -1984 (Humber Condominiums) -1986 (God Bless Canada Coffee), the two other buildings and the hairdressers at 1 Little Avenue will be demolished entirely.

Artist’s impression of part of the proposed retail strip showing the two heritage facades that will be preserved. Click to enlarge.

Curiously for such an important change to our ‘downtown’, there is no mention of this community consultation on Councillor Nunziata’s newsletter or website. Legally, only residents within 120 metres need to be notified but this is a development that will affect residents far beyond those limits and will influence neighbouring development for decades to come.

One can only assume that the councillor would like this event to be poorly attended and that the developer has been told it’s a done deal. Then again, she may be trying to protect the community from an even bigger impact. After the last meeting, held in August 2017 to gather community input, Weston Asset Management felt encouraged enough to double the size of the project. Sad but true.

This extract from a letter to Planning by the developer’s solicitors may provide a clue to the opposition anticipated and the meeting format best able to deal with it..

“In terms of the parties involved, we would suggest that in addition to the typical notice required under the Planning Act, the additional stakeholders who should be invited to the public consultation meeting should include any known residents’ associations in the immediate area as well as representatives of the local BIA. The form of the meeting which we have found most beneficial to the public gaining a full understanding of the proposal, in addition to allowing City Staff to best assess the veracity of the concerns (my bold and underline), is the type of open house where the various city and applicant consultants can review the various areas of interest with individuals and/or groups in a smaller setting. The current notification requirements, which include both the posting of a notice onsite, as well as the typical mail-out to surrounding property owns(sic) and the specific organizations indicated above, is the best manner in which to reach the public.”

That sounds a bit like like divide and conquer.

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.

Seniors home approved for vacant lot

The Etobicoke York Community Council voted to approve a 15-storey affordable rental tower for on seniors on the long-vacant property at 2346 and 2352 Weston Road.

Photo of vacant lot
From Google Maps
Drawings of the building
From the application

The proposed tower will contain

  •  42 bachelor units
  • 70 one bedroom units
  • 15 two bedroom units

The proposed units would be targeted to older adults and seniors, aged 59 and over.

The EYCC had previously opposed the building because of “built form, density, height, massing, site layout, shadow impact, proximity to the Humber River valley, access, parking and loading”.

In response, the applicant revised the plan with more setbacks, more open space, better wind design, fewer units, and a more amenity space, among other adjustments.

The development will be funded in part through the city’s affordability programs.

The plan will now go to City Council.

Greenland Farms update

Weston Asset Management, the builders behind the Greenland Farms development, have released their plans for the site. Count me among the unimpressed.

The developers would like to build two 29-storey towers from a shared podium.  The towers would be built upon the façade of some of the buildings along Weston Road.

To my eye, the buildings are uninventive, large, and rather ugly. I don’t like how they assimilate and loom over the older heritage buildings—it’s too literal an image of parasitic Toronto absorbing Weston for me to stomach.

 

Photos from the application

The building will have “592 residential units and 3991 square metres of non-residential space” with “174 vehicle parking spaces and 463 bicycle parking spaces” below ground.

I’m not designer, but I’d love to see a lower, broader building that looks repurposed from industry. It would be more true to our roots and look unlike the downtown glass canyons.

From StreetEasy

 

 

Rentsafe results in Weston: pretty good, with notable exceptions

Last month, The Star reported that “Ward 5 (York South-Weston) was the ward with the highest number of complaints” to 311 for apartments.

Of course, that number means nothing at all—wards with more buildings will have more complaints. But it did get me thinking.

The city inspects every large apartment building for the quality of common areas, amenities, elevators, garbage handling, lighting, heating, parking, security, structural features, and cleanliness. They do warn the building owners in advance, but they publish the ‘RentSafeTO‘ information online as part of their open data initiative

How does Ward 5 fare? In a word, quite well. Our apartments are on par with the rest of the city. We got a 71.7% (50.2 out of 70), compared to 72% (50.4 out of 70) citywide.

So The Star had nothing to complain about. Weston rentals are just fine.

City-wide, Toronto Community Housing buildings also do quite well, which I found surprising, considering the chatter and the recent news about 5 Bellevue (more on that in a minute).

TCHC buildings do perform a little worse than average, but the difference is  small. They received 69.6%—again, compared to 72% for all buildings.

One standout, though, is 5 Bellevue, in Weston.  Bellevue received a score of 40 out of 70, or 57.1%.¹

From Google Maps

This is a quite bad score: according to my calculations,  5 Bellevue is in the bottom 2.5% of all buildings in Toronto. This is not a recent result that came about because of the terrible hot water problems, either. The inspection was in March. Something has been wrong at 5 Bellevue for a while.

The worst sub-scores were for the condition of interior walls and garbage chute rooms (2 out 5). No aspect of the building did very well, though, and the typical result was only 3 out of 5.

I’m not an urban planner or an architect, but this situation makes me worry. To start with, nobody in Canada should be living without hot water. It’s simply unacceptable.

But I also worry about a death spiral. People living in bad conditions may, quite naturally, feel they don’t want to invest time, money, or work into making the community builder. That effort could be better spent moving on. As a result, the conditions worsen, the community deteriorates, and people invest even less.

There’s no reason why Westonians should live in some of the worst housing in the city. There’s certainly no reason why the city should be letting them down.

I’m sure the fix is complicated, long-term, and expensive. All the more reason to start fixing it now.

 


¹ My scores are a little different from the city’s, because I cleaned up the data and excluded results (such as balcony railings) where many buildings had no score, presumably because they lacked the feature.

Please feel free to check my work.
 

Mount Dennis in the news: invest!

Mount Dennis was in the news this week, with a flattering portrait by David Nickle.

Robert Caplan is optimistic about the future of Mount Dennis — and has been for a long time now, even as he admits that right now, the sparse business district at Weston Rd. and Eglinton Ave. W. is not much to look at.

That may soon change. In 2021, the Mount Dennis station on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT is slated to open and the owners of the rundown storefronts along Weston will almost certainly make some modifications.

But for now?

“The whole street is waiting for the development to happen — to see what’s going to happen,” said Caplan, who owns Caplan Appliances and is chair of the Mount Dennis Business Improvement Area (BIA).

Only a month ago, The Star published an article that said Mount Dennis is the “most affordable area of the city”.

Ah, to have an extra down-payment lying around!