An intriguing idea for Weston

The city is studying an intriguing idea that could change the character of Toronto neighbourhoods: gently increasing density in low-density areas.

I think it’s great idea—certainly better than gigantic high-rises on residential streets. City Hall could “loosen up rules on triplexes, allow ‘garden suites’ behind houses, allow development on major streets where it’s not currently allowed and more.”

This works for me. Because of COVID, I recently moved my office into my garage, and that got me thinking about my ex-girlfriend. (Please note that my move to the garage came first! I’m not in the doghouse any more than usual.)

She lived long-term in a coach house on her parent’s medium-sized property. It was great. She had privacy, and her parents had her nearby. I got to thinking that my garage was just about the right footprint for a little place for my growing kids.¹

I’m not the only one to think so: the NY Times, among many others, has been reporting on backyard spaces, doubtless because COVID has focused the minds of white-collar workers on making the most of their living space.

Of course, that has long been a concern of people priced out of home- and yard-ownership in this wildly-expensive city.

From Summerwood
From the NY Times

 Toronto’s  planners suggest looking into allowing more:

  • Duplexes
  • Triplexes
  • Townhouses
  • Small apartment buildings
  • Laneway houses, and
  • Garden suites

Doing so would, they hope, increase housing supply and affordability. The changes would not likely come quickly, though. The planners’ report lays out a two-year warm-up period. It will considered by City Council this week.


¹ My daughter’s response to a free house for her twenties was “No way. I’m moving as far away as possible.” My son’s was more positive, presumably because I wouldn’t be able to monitor his PS6 time.

Locust St development to be considered at community council

A huge proposed development on a small residential street will be considered at Etobicoke York Community Council next week.

Developers are proposing a 35-storey tower with 374 units and parking for 154 cars. The proposal violates planning guidelines and some city bylaws about height, density, size, setbacks, waste handling, and parking (the developers kindly provided council with a draft bylaw amendment).

Tall tower

By my calculation, this will be the tallest building in Mount Dennis.

I think it’s in a terrible location at the end of a narrow street, and will provide little to the community. The Etobicoke York Community Council will meet July 14 to discuss the building.

Weston Development (29 Storeys)

At the Community Meeting about the proposal for the development at the Greenland Farms site (Weston and Little Ave.), the developer’s agent tried to justify the immense building on the basis of the province’s plans to increase development around ‘Major Transit Stations’.  Weston GO station (as long as we keep our GO trains) is such a Major Transit Station.  The new provincial plans (now called ‘A Place to Grow’) require a planned density of 150 persons and jobs per hectare (1/100 of a square kilometre) around GO Stations.  From the city of Toronto, this definition:

So, what does this mean for Weston?  First, the 500 metre radius looks like this.

The Greenland Farms development will clearly be within that circle which extends north to almost King, south to part of Sykes, east along Lawrence to Pine, and west to just into Etobicoke.

But the real question is, how much density do we need to achieve the provincial plan?  Do we really need to permit several 29 and 36 storey towers?

The answer can be found in the 2016 Census.  Here is a map of the west part of Toronto with densities in different colours – dark blue being the densest.

The Census data is in persons per square kilometre.  Weston is already the densest part of the west end, with the possible exception of part of Dixon Road.  And the densities of the areas closest to the proposed development are already substantially more than 150 persons per hectare, not counting any jobs which may exist.

By small census areas, here are the actual densities.

35204426 – West side of Weston Road, Little to St. Phillips – Density 153.3 persons per hectare

35204415 – East side of Weston Road, King to John to tracks – Density 181.73 persons per hectare

35204414 – North side of Lawrence to John St, Little to tracks – Density 177.57 persons per hectare

35204413 – South side of Lawrence, Hickory Tree to Weston Rd. – Density 292.12 persons per hectare

35204412 – South side of Lawrence, Weston to Pine and south to Denison – Density 69.19 persons per hectare

35204411 – West side of Weston Rd., Bellevue to Wright – Density 133.72 persons per hectare.

The 2016 census was before the building at 22 John was occupied.  So the density is already greater.  And the count does not include jobs, which takes the count even higher.

Weston is already plenty dense enough.  Developers cannot point to the provincial growth plan and claim a right to make it denser.  Even the legally allowed 8 storey maximum for development on Weston Road would significantly increase the density.

The city can and should say no to any more monstrous buildings in Weston. And defend such decision at the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (successor to the OMB) should the developers appeal.  Developers who thought we’d be an easy mark can think again.

Twenty-Nine Storeys and 240 Metres.

At the Jan 8 Community Council meeting, councilors accepted the report of the city planning department regarding the proposed 29 storey twin-tower development at Weston and Little Ave.(the Greenland Farms site). The report essentially said the plans were too much for the current zoning and official plan, but planning will work with the developer on amending the plans. Councillor Nunziata amended the motion to add that another community meeting should be held prior to any new reports about this development being given to the Community Council, with notices to land owners and residents within 240 metres of the development, at the expense of the developer.
Two Hundred and Forty Metres is not very far. It gets south to Lawrence, east to the train tracks, west to the park, and north to King St. No notices to old Weston, nor to the apartment dwellers at the twin towers, nor 5 Bellevue, nor 29 South Station. The councilor did reserve the right to expand the notice boundary.

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.

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.

What do we want?

Last week, I made a case that we should have a commercial relationship with all the new builders in Weston. They want to break the planning guidelines. I think they should pay to do so.

I also asked how you thought the (as-yet-imaginary) money should be spent. 59 people responded. Thank you! Here are the results. (They don’t add up to 59 because people could vote for more than one option.)

Many people noted that the new-new Farmers’ Market isn’t looking good and asked for a new-new-new one. That wasn’t the most popular option though: the most people voted for a YMCA-style space. I too think that would be just fantastic. Tied for third were a recreation space for young people and a scholarship fund. Damned fine ideas, if I do say so myself.

Peering into the data, I think we could safely say that a YMCA-style space would be just super, because it could provide all of the top options, as well as a few of the less popular ones:

  • Programming for youth
  • A stuff-bank for tools, food, clothing, and computers
  • Another, closer, and perhaps less popular gym
  • Perhaps even a community daycare, which we have been missing for six years