Excellent article on, of all things, front-yard parking

Regular readers will know that no news is too small to report for WestonWeb. This humble correspondent will cover leaves falling if it’s a slow day. He does so sure in the belief that small news matters to the people who make it.

However, it’s a little unusual to find a smart, sympathetic treatment of tiny issues in the major media. This week, though, Tim Foran, from InsideToronto, wrote an excellent article on front-yard parking in Weston. Foran takes a tiny topic to drill into the walls around City Hall. With the facade cracked, some of the absurdities poke through.

Front-yard parking can be hard on a neighbourhood, and so it must be approved by the city. City staff survey the neighbours, and if enough of them give their thumbs up, the parking spot can be approved.

But there’s a catch: more than half of the people surveyed need to respond, otherwise the application is rejected. And most of the time, people don’t respond.

City staff refused [a] Weston resident’s application for a front yard parking pad even though her Somerville Avenue property met the city’s restrictive criteria determining eligibility and she agreed to the landscaping requirements for permeable paving material and planting of a tree, said Nunziata.

The hangup preventing city staff from approving Catania’s application is that only 35 of 80 ballots sent by the city to her neighbours were returned, less than the minimum 50 per cent response rate required for a poll to be considered valid, states Nunziata’s letter. Of the 35 residents who voted, 91 per cent approved of Catania’s application. “If the rest of the people don’t care enough or have a vested interest in voting, then why does their voice speak so loudly?” questioned Catania, who intends to make a deputation to the public works committee Wednesday morning in support of Nunziata’s request. The councillor is asking staff for their recommended solution but she suggests the ballots could state clearly a non-vote will be assumed to mean there’s no objection. The required minimum response rate could then be abolished, she states.

We’ve seen this in Weston a number of times before. Speed humps on MacDonald and John were rejected by staff because too few residents responded. Community Council overruled the staff. King St will soon get the same kind of survey.

But residents cannot, as far as I know, make an appeal if council doesn’t want speed humps. In a wonderful twist, it turns out that $750 will buy you a front-yard parking spot if your neighbours couldn’t be bothered to say no:

Residents [can] pay a non-refundable fee of $748.03 to make these appeals.

“I don’t think that’s fair,” said Nunziata.

Catania isn’t too thrilled about that idea either.

“Basically we could pay for a yes,” she acknowledged. “That sort of irks me, the whole concept. It just doesn’t sound like the process is right when the people can pay another $750 and then it will go through.


Denison Rd houses demolished

The Georgetown GO line and the Air Rail Link have taken their first casualties. Nine houses along Denison Rd were demolished over the past two weeks to make way for the expanded train service.

Denison is being rerouted and lowered into an underpass; right now, the tracks are at a level crossing. Denison will be soon be closed and will remain so for about a year.

Sam Frustaglio Avenue, just east of the tracks, will be made into a cul-de-sac, and according to InsideToronto, other buildings will be demolished, including the newly-renovated offices of GO itself.

GO plans to demolish a few more buildings to accommodate the underpass. It expects to tear down its own community office and an Enterprise Rent-A-Car location, both on the east side of Weston Rd. and Dennison [sic], but not before next March. More immediately, it estimates it will acquire the Ebenezer Gospel Tabernacle this April. The church has identified a property for relocation, said GO.

Nunziata proposes zero charges on developments in Weston

Frances Nunziata, with her colleague Michael Thompson, is asking the city to waive development charges in Weston and the other 12 priority neighbourhoods.

Development charges are fees charged on new residential and commercial spaces. The charge is $5–$15,000 for a residence, and about $35,000 for a 2000 square-foot commercial space. (Industrial spaces are exempt). Nunziata’s proposal to council says,

With many of these neighborhoods having their main streets lined with vacant storefronts, empty apartments and/or dilapidated buildings, there is little appeal for people to shop at the few stores on th e commercial strips and even less appeal for new businesses to locate there.  Less business in the community results in fewer jobs in the community, reinforcing the disparity that already exists in the City’s Priority Neighborhoods between population and the availability of local employment….

By waiving development charges in the City’s Priority Neighborhoods for a fixed period of time, the City would aid in the revitalization of the Priority Neighborhoods, with the anticipated result of increased interest in development opportunities in those neighborhoods.

The Globe and Mail has a nice article discussing this. Not everyone agrees with Nunziata;

“It’s not going to work instantly,” predicts Stephen Dupuis, who heads the Building Industry and Land Development Association. “I doubt there’s a whole lot of land holdings sitting [in those areas] waiting for an incentive.”

“The problem in those neighbourhoods is lack of demand, not lack of supply,” adds planner Joe Berridge, noting that development-charge holidays or other measures, such as tax increment financing, won’t create local economic activity.

Your humble correspondent also wonders whether Westonians would even want this plan to succeed. It seems to him that Weston has plenty of high-rise housing and likely already has low retail rents.

Even Nunziata agrees in part; in what is surely an off-the-cuff comment in the Globe, she says, “Ninety per cent of the stores on Weston Road are vacant”.


Profile of Weston TCHC housing: Dangerous, dirty, deserving

As Rob Ford cleans house at the TCHC, it is worth reflecting on what Toronto Community Housing does—and doesn’t do—for its residents in Weston.

There are two public housing projects in town, one at 1901 Weston Rd, just north of Lawrence, and one at 5 Bellevue, just south of it. Both are high-rise apartments, and both, according to a recent report by the United Way, are likely fraught with problems. Poverty by Postal Code 2: Vertical Poverty says that the non-profit housing in Toronto is quite bad, and worse in many ways than for-profit housing.

It says that income inequality has grown in Toronto, and that the poor have become much poorer over the past 20 years. The City of York, which includes Weston, is the poorest borough in Toronto. In York, the average renting household makes only $28,000 a year, down from $34,500 25 years ago.

Children suffer, too: since “2005, more than one out of every four City of Toronto families with children under the age of eighteen was low-income, up from one-in-six in 1990”.

While the poor live in high-rise housing, the poorest of the poor live in non-profit high-rises. Two-thirds of non-profit tenants make less than $20,000 a year, and 43% are on social assistance. A quarter have a disability, and one in ten has a serious mental health problem.

Non-profit renters do pay very little for their homes. On average, they pay only only $373 a month for rent. For that, though, they get a lot of problems:

  • 21% say that they had been attacked in the past year on the grounds of the building
  • 71% say they have roaches or mice.
  • 40% say that drugs or drug dealing are a problem

In addition to the social and sanitation problems, the physical condition of the buildings is worse than in the private sector. The elevators break down more often, and the common areas are in worse repair.

Your humble correspondent may be the only person in Toronto who does not begrudge the employees of TCHC their Christmas party or spa trips. That stuff is small potatoes in a budget of $300 million. Trips and chocolates make for good headlines, but he worries much more about the millions misspent on competition-free contracts. Those contracts could have put as much as $60 in the pockets of each of the tenants in Toronto Community Housing—money they could certainly spend better than the members of the board.


Ward Broome building to be demolished

The Ward Broome building at 2431 Weston Rd will almost certainly be demolished. In Community Council yesterday, the recommendation of city staff was approved.

The Broome building was spared once before. An application to demolish it went all the way to City Council before it was pulled back for a second thought. The Weston Historical Society was given a chance to have a peek inside and see if the building was worth saving.

The Society found a few things of interest, which they will have the chance to preserve. The Historical Society will also be notified in the future if another building is threatened with demolition.

Weston surviving, threatened, report says

Toronto is a feudal city, in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, says a widely-publicized report from the Cities Centre of University of Toronto. Weston and Pelmo are among few areas in the whole city that have remained middle class, but growing income disparity threatens all the inner suburbs, the author, J. David Hulchanski, says.

The report, “Three Cities within Toronto” says that poverty has moved from the downtown to the edges of the city, and into the northwestern and northeastern suburbs in particular. The middle class is disappearing: fewer than 1 in 3 households is middle-income, down from 2 in 3 in 1970.

Hulchanski compares the Toronto of 1970 to the Toronto of 2005 and extrapolates into the future. 35 years ago, neighbourhoods were mostly middle class, with a tight spread around the middle income. A few places were richer, and a few were poorer, but there were few large disparities.

The Toronto of 2005 is much different.  A few areas have become richer, but the middle class has slipped in comparative income and Toronto has become bifurcated: the rich live in an upside-down T along the subway. The poor live in the rest of the city. The author sees this trend continuing into the future. Much more of the city will become poor; some of it will become rich. Weston, according to the maps, will not be fortunate.

Weston resists income disparity
Weston becomes poor by 2025

The author’s views should be studied cautiously, of course. First, it is not clear why Weston will fall from middle income to poor. The author does not mention Weston, and none of his clear assumptions seem to apply to our town, even using his own data.  His conclusion is based on the the assumption that changes that have occurred will continue. Yet Weston has not yet slipped at all, so it is not clear from his report, why it would begin to do so.

Second, the author is adamant that this is not an inevitable change. Income distribution programs, a more equitable distribution of low-income housing, and policies that foster growth among the poorest classes can slow and reverse the unpleasant scenario he describes.

The author also says “Implementation of the Transit City plan and the Tower Neighbourhood Renewal initiative are also essential for making [the poorer neighbourhood] desirable for both its residents and for a broader socioeconomic mix of households. The segregation of the city by socio-economic status need not continue. It can be slowed and reversed.” Alas, both these programs are threatened by the Ford administration.

Habitat gives whopper of early Christmas present

Eleven families have been given the keys to new houses in Weston, courtesy of Habitat for Humanity.

The houses are on Weston Road between Denison and Jane. According to the Toronto Star, more than 10,000 volunteers donated more than 100,000 hours to build them. The 11 lucky families each also put in 500 hours of volunteer work.

The families will not receive the homes for free, but will get their houses for far less than they would otherwise cost. The average price of a Habitat house is about half of a typical Toronto home. The new residents will pay that back in an interest-free 25-year mortgage.

Nine more families will move in during 2011.