Hussen gets his marching orders

Prime Minister Trudeau recently sent members of his Cabinet their marching orders for the new session of Parliament. Housing Minister and local MP Ahmed Hussen has been given a daunting list that probably won’t be tackled because of the transitory nature of minority governments. Such governments have a lifespan of around 18 months so the clock is ticking. There’s a whole lot of aspirational societal goals included in the letter but these are the ones that will most affect housing affordability. Minister Hussen is directed to help Canada’s housing shortage by,

  • legislating against rent gouging and renovictions
  • instituting an anti home-flipping tax
  • temporarily banning foreign buyers
  • curbing excessive profits in the housing industry
  • increasing consumer protection in real estate transactions
  • banning blind bidding in real estate deals
  • encouraging renters to enter the housing market through rent-to-own schemes
  • supporting office conversion into residential housing

Many of these directives were contained in the Liberals’ 2021 election manifesto. How much of this list will be accomplished by 2023 when the next federal election will likely occur? My cynical guess is very little but the items will probably be recycled for the 2023 Liberal Platform.

Read the full Trudeau letter here.

Artscape – a cautionary tale.

There’s an interesting article in the Globe and Mail detailing events unfolding in Toronto’s Distillery District. Back in the closing days of the 20th Century, TTD developers took advantage of Section 37 to build higher and in exchange, granted below market rates to artists through Artscape for a period of 20 years. Sadly, that subsidy ends in 2022 and around 70 artists are being turfed out to make room for a college. These are the artists who created an interest in the area when nobody wanted to go there. There was hope that Artscape might be able to negotiate a new deal but it didn’t happen. The Globe article makes an excellent point, namely that bad architecture, which will be around for a long time was traded for an artist subsidy lasting only 20 years.

Perhaps this is a lesson that we can learn from in the future (and by we I mean Councillor Nunziata and local resident’s associations). Concessions made as part of Section 37 should be as permanent as the crappy architecture that generated them.

Read the Globe article here.

Business as usual?

What a pleasant surprise it was in February 2020 for all who attended the preliminary planning process of the new Castlepoint Numa, Weston Park Baptist Church development. This partnership was created to redevelop the lands occupied by the former Scotiabank wedge building and Weston Park Baptist Church. The consultation process, we were promised would be open and many feedback opportunities would be given.

Recently, as part of their submission to Toronto City Council, the partnership produced a video promoting the project. The video was posted to YouTube and linked on the project website. For some reason, a map shown on the video placed the location of the project and Weston’s UP Express / GO station much closer to Eglinton than it is. When this error was pointed out in the feedback section, comments were turned off and the remarks could no longer be seen. Eventually the video was removed and replaced with the map re-drawn to more closely represent reality. See the sorry timeline of events along with the maps here.

The new version of the video has been posted on YouTube with a corrected map. That’s a good thing but if the people behind this project want to be trusted by the community, it might be a good idea to acknowledge errors instead of attempting to quietly bury them. We’re all human and it could well have been an honest mistake. One must however ask if the map would have been corrected without the feedback and if the developers think unbridled public commentary threatens their project. It might also be of interest to know which (if any) parts of the project have been changed as a result of public feedback.

There have been several development projects over the years that were proclaimed as the making of Weston. Each of them had a promise of full community consultation along with benefits tempered by a steep price to be paid. Is this one any different (two towers of 38 and 28 storeys) or is it just business as usual?

Huge lot for sale in Weston Village.

Weston Village has some fascinating properties along with many beautiful homes nestled in an enclave between Weston Road and Jane Street. An interesting Weston Village property is currently for sale on the MLS site. Its entrance on Fern Avenue is barely visible. Incidentally, did you know Toronto has two Fern Avenues? The other one is in Roncesvalles.

The entrance to 2A Fern Avenue looking towards George Street. From Google Maps.

The narrow entranceway leads to a large, mainly empty lot measuring, (according to the listing) 24,000 square feet. For comparison, a 50 x 120 foot lot measures 6,000 square feet.

The lot is being sold by local realtor Grenville Dungey. The asking price? A cool $3 million.

An overhead view of the property. From Google Maps. Click to enlarge.

View the listing here.

Castlepoint Weston issues video

Based on recent development proposals, Weston is about to undergo dramatic change. One proposal deals with the buildings at 1871 and 1885 Weston Road, which are currently occupied by the former Scotiabank branch and the current Weston Park Baptist Church. Read more background here, here, here and here.

The first public consultation for the development was a love-fest, with the church and developer promising a partnership with the community. The second meeting (held virtually) fleshed out the results of the public input and it emerged that in exchange for some goodies such as a performance hall / church, better station entrance, gym, ground floor retail and meeting place, the price of admission would be two very tall apartment towers at 28 and a new precedent-setting 38 storeys.

Perhaps as a result of some negativity and disappointment concerning the height of the apartment towers, Castlepoint has issued a YouTube video video called ‘Weston Park, a Centre for the Community’. The video was created as part of the Official Plan Amendment (“OPA”) and Zoning By-Law (“ZBL”) application submitted to the City of Toronto on October 29, 2021.

Readers can view the video below and comment on the content if watched on YouTube directly.

VIDEO NO LONGER AVAILABLE.

On the one hand, the video is compelling animation of the artist concept images. On the other, there’s no doubt that even the best laid plans can go awry.

In an article published 5 days ago in Renx, a real estate publication, Castlepoint Vice-President Elsa Fancello, said in regard to the Weston project, “We likely won’t do traditional affordable housing on that site. What we’re looking to explore further with WoodGreen (Community Services) is affordable workforce housing that’s almost like rent-geared-to-income for professionals who work at the airport or other nearby industries.”

Follow up: Local blogger Hans Havermann tells me that On December 2nd, he wrote a comment on Castlepoint’s YouTube creation (above) suggesting that the proximity of the development to the upcoming Crosstown Line had been exaggerated on the map used in the video.

Today, (December 5), comments (including his) were turned off.

Can we hope they were exaggerating about the height of the towers too?

Screenshot from Castlepoint’s YouTube video. (Click to enlarge.)

In the latest development (December 7), Hans tells me the map has been amended to show the station in a more realistic location.

The updated station location.

The original video has been deep sixed but the ever alert Mr Havermann has tracked down a version with the updated map.

Oh what a tangled web they weave methinks.

Your move Castlepoint.

Development Charge overhaul

Cities used to develop organically. Once streets were laid down and divided into lots, neighbourhoods developed through general consensus. Noisy and smelly industrial areas were generally built away from residential areas and as cities expanded they relied heavily on businesses to provide the needed services and amenities. Nowadays, businesses pay a shrinking share of revenues to the city. To replace those lost revenues, Toronto uses development charges applied when new homes and businesses are constructed. Here are the amounts the city charges for new residential units.

Single homes & Semis $87,299

Multiples 2+ Bedrooms $72,158

Multiples 1 Bed and Bach. $36,198

Apartments 2+ Bedrooms $51,103

Apartments 1 Bed and Bachelor $33,358

Dwelling Room $23,660

These charges are applied regardless of the size of the home or the value of the land they are built on. For example, a detached 10,000 square foot Rosedale home built on an acre of land pays the same development charge as a 1200 square foot semi-detached in Rexdale. A luxury three-bedroom penthouse pays the same as a two-bedroom ‘affordable’ apartment. This doesn’t seem fair and may explain why some areas of the city lack appropriate services and amenities.

Readers have often wondered why developers need apartment buildings to be so much taller in Weston than in more affluent parts of the city. Development charges may be part of the reason.

Also under review is the Alternative Parkland Dedication Rate along with Section 37 charges. The idea behind Section 37 was to compensate for shoddy and overbuilt architecture by having the developer ‘donate’ to, for example, a community art project. One notorious example is the Nictophilia installation at Eglinton and Weston. Another is the exercise equipment in Cruickshank Park. The danger with this type of funding is that the local councillor’s hands are all over the project and it can end up appearing as a ‘gift’ from the councillor. Another problem with Section 37 funding was that the money generated was dependent on the value of the project. Downtown projects generated huge amounts of Section 37 money while our neck of the woods received token amounts. Read more here on the various charges or ‘Growth Funding Tools’ as the City now calls them.

The Province is asking for public input. Sadly, because I was slow in writing this article, two public information sessions have come and gone but it is not too late to provide input to the city by emailing [email protected]

Weston Common Sold

Artscape Weston Common and the residential rental units in 2020. File.

Another stage of the Weston Common story has unfolded with the announcement yesterday that the entire complex at 22 John Street has been sold to three sections of a real estate company by the name of Dream. The purchase includes the Artscape managed Hub, both the old and new rental towers along with the 26 artist live/work studios. According to an article in RENX.ca the company stated that, “Dream’s intention is to increase the number of affordable units provided on-site as per CMHC’s definition of affordable rent for the area.”.