If there’s one thing that isn’t in short supply in the Weston and Lawrence area it’s empty buildings. Residents who have lived in Weston for many years think back nostalgically to the days when Weston had a bustling ‘downtown’ with supermarkets, jewellers, tailors and so on. Nowadays it seems as if there is little else but convenience stores, hairdressers, fast food outlets and payday loan companies.
Empty buildings in a shopping area are like litter. They tend to accumulate if ignored.
Let’s look at a couple of the more prominent offenders.
The old Beer Store. The only thing this building has produced in the last fifteen years is its annual crop of noxious weeds. It’s an eyesore.
The Federal Building. This used to be the home of the Post Office in Weston and was closed in 2011.
There’s no penalty for property owners who pollute the landscape with derelict dumps. Not only can owners let properties sit idle for extended periods of time, they actually get a property tax rebate of 30% after three months of vacancy. This rebate continues year after year. Taxpayers pay good money to maintain infrastructure around these properties. Not only do the properties not deliver their fair share of taxes, their dilapidated state and associated problems such as vandalism and graffiti reduces other merchants’ sales. In addition, property values (and consequently tax revenue) become depressed throughout the whole area. Someone has to make up the shortfall in taxes that these people are avoiding. Guess who that is? Yes, it’s us.
What can be done? Someone on Toronto City Council should introduce legislation to penalize owners who sit on idle properties.
1. Property tax rebates should be limited to a set period of time. It’s understandable that a landlord may need time to acquire new tenants but the old beer store has been unoccupied for going on 15 years. If there was a real intent to lease this place the sign would be visible.
2. After a period of vacancy, let’s say two years, the city should supervise an auction of the property to someone who will develop and use it. The owners (if they don’t choose to bid) receive the proceeds of the auction minus expenses incurred by the city.
3. There are viable businesses in Weston but they need encouragement. Residents should patronize these businesses. Not only will walking there do us all good but we might find signs that things are finally starting to turn around. If we want a vibrant Farmers Market for example, we need to patronize it.
4. Owners of derelict properties should only be able to receive a tax rebate if the building is occupied by a community group such as an artists’ collective or similar organization. This is not an original idea but it has been shown to work elsewhere.
Lastly this smaller property at 1919 Weston Road has sat in its current sorry state all year. Unfortunately, it belongs to the chair of Weston’s Business Improvement Area, Masum Hossain. According to the BIA site major renovations are happening and it will be ‘ready to lease in 3 months’. There appears to be very little sign of the major renovations. Perhaps committee members might discuss this at their next meeting.