5. Planning and Development
Council needs to listen to the experts.
Toronto Council consists of 44 councillors and one mayor, each of whom has a single vote when making decisions. There is a huge staff at City Hall which gathers information and makes recommendations to council on topics to be discussed. Smaller committees of councillors, generally appointed by the Mayor, study the issues, receive input from staff and the public and then make a recommendation which is forwarded to a general council meeting. Unfortunately many councillors have varying axes to grind; sadly for the people, the biggest priority of many councillors is getting re-elected every four years. As a result, fact-based decisions often happen by accident rather than by design. For example, the unnecessary Scarborough Subway, panned by experts both here and around the world, will be a costly blunder that Mayor Tory and many suburban councillors (including our own) fully support.
We need to make plans and act on them with support from the city and in conformity with the Toronto Official Plan.
Weston is still only in Phase 1 of its Heritage Conservation District status granted in 2004. Phase 2 was to be studied that same year. ‘Study’, in the language of Toronto politics means delay, in the hope that the issue will go away quietly (which it did). Apparently getting to phase 2 requires time, money and a huge volunteer effort. Rich areas have no problem raising money and help but a district like Weston / Mount Dennis naturally struggles.
There was an official set of plans drawn up around 2005 for some of the more historic Toronto communities. In Weston, developers were supposed to keep future building heights to around 8 stories in our area out of consideration of the historical context and the river’s proximity. Outside of special areas, the Tall Building Design Guidelines should apply but often don’t.
In 2009, plans for rehabilitating the Kodak lands were discussed. Former Toronto Chief Planner Paul Bedford held a planning exercise with his University of Toronto students to explore Weston’s potential and reported on his findings in 2010. That led to a Weston planning ‘charrette‘ back in 2011. The Mount Dennis Mobility Hub Study in 2012 was another planning session.
Some of the ideas that came out of these planning sessions were excellent but somehow the execution has been lacking; for example:
- create a pedestrian walkway along South Station Street that would connect Weston Village with the GO / UPX station.
- create generous and clearly defined pedestrian and cycling routes to the station
- create more accessible access points to the parks along the Humber
- Fix the uninviting streetscape along Weston Road
BTW, the Charrette didn’t get everything right. One of their key messages was that “Public investment will need to be provided by the private sector.”
It seems that many development deals are worked out in the back rooms before they reach the public. Public commentary then serves to make only minor adjustments. When the 30-storey Weston Hub was in the public commentary stage, people were told that the height was non-negotiable.
Weston and Mount Dennis are not less worthy of support than more affluent areas of the city but that’s not what happens. The Artscape project at Wychwood Barns received millions in funding from three levels of government. Our own Artscape development at the soon to be opened Weston Hub received a much smaller investment.
As mentioned previously, Europe has car free zones, attractive streetscapes and limits on building height. Our planning in Toronto seems to be centred around strictly regulating development and then accepting relatively small amounts of money to break the rules.
Finally, we have a mayor and his team who deliberately keep city coffers empty because they cannot see beyond keeping taxes at or below inflation. The mayor worries about millionaire homeowners becoming homeless because of property tax hikes:
“a lot of older and younger people counting on us to be disciplined will be forced from their homes, or find it unaffordable to live in the city, if we start taking 5-per-cent-a-year” tax hikes. – Toronto Star December 27, 2017
He’s conveniently ignoring the fact that older and disabled residents can apply for property tax relief. But that’s our current political environment. Facts mean nothing, there’s no money for the public good and it’s all about protecting the rich.