Update on the worst buildings in Weston

Plank Road Building
Plank Road Building

Laura Albanese, the MPP for York-South Weston, explained the status of 5 buildings to be ashamed of in Weston. There is much to be hopeful about.

Albanese was able to provide me with information about three of the four properties I asked about (one property had two buildings)—and the fourth was my mistake. (I gave her the wrong address.)

The owners of the Plank Road Building, which I recently visited, were ordered to begin the repairs that I saw. They were told to have an architect and engineer identify the problems with the building; the owners were to then fix those problems. According to Albanese, they have already repaired the floor joists and are to be working on the masonry and foundation. The owners refused to donate the crumbling building to the city, even though the community would have raised the money for repairs and turned it over to community use.

2272 Weston Rd (appx)
2272 Weston Rd (appx)

The houses near collapse between 2270 and 2274 Weston Road were supposed to have been demolished to make way for a 12-storey seniors’ residence. The plan was rejected, however, in late 2009, and the owners have not resubmitted an improved proposal.

The donut shop near the 401 will be demolished to create a Shell gas station. Work appears to have begun on this property.

On the one hand, I find it reassuring that local politicians and bureaucrats work to preserve the heritage and appearance of Toronto. And I must extend a heartfelt thanks to Ms. Albanese; her response to my email was extremely thorough and generous.

2562 Weston Rd
2562 Weston Rd

Yet, on the other hand, I do find it discouraging that properties can sit for years, sometimes decades, and in the case of the Plank Road Building half a century without investment. It may reflect an inability of the government to apply pressure to developers; it certainly reflects developers’ lack of interest in the community. Developers only let a property be destroyed by time because it would cost more for them to improve or sell it.

While real-estate speculation is as old as real estate, it has spillover effects that are obvious in Weston. These abandoned properties do not lose their owners’ money—if they did, the owners would be motivated to sell. But they certainly lose their neighbours’ money. Every neighbour is punished for the laziness, ineptitude, or avarice of the actual owners, but none of the neighbours has enough power to do something about it. And while it may not be illegal to be a bad neighbour, it remains a low-down and rotten thing to be.

Plank Road building being repaired

While the workers on site were secretive about the renovation, I was able to get inside the Plank Road building on Tuesday for a brief look around.

It looks rough. And good. And it looks like it’s getting better.

According to the workers, the building has been empty for 60 years and has suffered many fires. Still, while some of the wood is charred inside, the space is undeniably beautiful and the building’s bones are strong.

I wasn’t able to take pictures, but the building has three floors with a central staircase and two large rooms on the main floor. The workers are replacing at least the joists and the interior walls; they said they are “basically cleaning up, fixing walls and stuff”. Some of the old framing remains, though, and the space looks like it will be open and inviting.

The workers had no idea when the building would be done, and it will certainly be a while. There is a lot of work left to do.

They said, though, that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the building; it just suffers from “old age”. That can’t be a surprise: the Plank Road building is one of the oldest buildings in Ontario. In fact, it is older than Canada; it was built a quarter-century before Confederation.

According to the workers, the building’s owner will be putting the space up for rent when renovations are complete.

Plank building

Weston’s real estate prices fairly flat

Prospective homebuyers will be feeling the pinch as mortgage rates rise, especially as prices in Toronto hit new record highs. Prospective Westonites stand to benefit, though: prices in Weston are still substantially below the district and city averages, and growth in prices is slow.

According to the Toronto Real Estate board, last month the average home in Weston’s district sold for $318,000. This is up only slightly from $313,000 in April of 2009. Weston is still much cheaper than neighbouring areas; in western Toronto (including Weston), the average home sold for $404,000: 27% more than here. The average home in all of Toronto sold for $373,000: 17% more.

In what may be a sign that few people know about Weston, homes here sell more slowly than elsewhere. Local real estate spent an average of 31 days on the market, far more than the average of 22 in the western district and 21 for Toronto as a whole.

Despite homesellers’ wait, many more properties did sell compared to last year. 104 homes changed owners in sector W04, compared to only 54 in April of last year. This is likely due to the terrible economic uncertainty of early 2009.

There is a downside, of course, to the affordable real estate in Weston. Those looking to sell their homes here are unable to capitalize on the large price increases the rest of Toronto has seen.