Selling off taxpayer assets.

This week (Monday) we will have a meeting concerning the land, some of which was donated to the town of Weston for what became Humber River Regional Hospital back in the 1940s. We will also have a residents’ meeting (Wednesday) to hear citizen input regarding the Weston Hub on John Street. In both of these cases, taxpayer funded entities sold or are looking to sell valuable public land to developers. The Toronto Parking Authority sold off the old GO Station parking lot with little fanfare and now HRRH effectively wants to sell its entire site to developer/s.

On the one hand, we have been told by Councillor Nunziata and others, it’s essential for a tower to be built as part of the Weston Hub on the GO site but according to Inside Toronto, she is quoted as being opposed to one on the hospital site,

“The people from the community are very concerned because it is an 11-acre site, it is zoned institutional and they were concerned the hospital was going to try and sell it to the highest bidder and build towers, residential, which they didn’t want.”

I would guess that those same citizens of Weston aren’t cheering about a 31– 30 storey* rental tower on the old GO parking lot but it looks like they’re getting one. Why is the HRRH site any less vulnerable? Answer: it’s probably not.

As the old saying goes, there is only one taxpayer. Why are (often hard fought) public assets compromised by the need for taxpayer funded agencies to raise cash? Surely our cities deserve better and more deliberate planning than this?

One more thing… Farmers Market traders have been concerned for a while that because their new site is so much smaller, they won’t have room for their vehicles. Superimposing the approximate new space allocation (black line) over a satellite view of the Market in full swing is quite telling and may explain traders’ anxiety. This much smaller space may work well with stalls selling selling pickled artisanal mushrooms and the like but it probably won’t be the same for many of our current traders who need their current freedom to spread out.

Farmers Marketl space allocation after the Hub is built.
Farmers Marketl space allocation (black line) after the Hub is built.

Parking may be an issue too as that will be in the lower part of the green space at the bottom of the image.

*Update: Etobicoke York Council minutes have changed (from the original agenda) to now state that the Hub rental apartment will be 30 storeys. Hopefully it was just a typo on the part of clerical staff.

22 John St–my view:

I am not opposed to rental buildings on John Street. The Rockport Group developers—and Daniel and Jack Winberg in particular—are genuinely nice people, honestly concerned with doing a good job, and they want to give much to the community. We should welcome them and Artscape.

But Weston should get the most out of this deal, and we should be careful.

In particular, I am not thrilled about the 30-storey tower nor the self-storage facility. The original design, which called for a shorter tower and a wider base, was more like the Weston I love.

As I understand it, this shorter tower was overruled by city planners, who said that developments in Weston must adhere to the “Tall Building Guidelines”. The city planners are wrong—these guidelines are just that, guidelines, meant to be adjusted for neighbourhoods. I think we should be furious with them for overruling wise architecture and community sentiment. But it is likely—certain, even—that this ship has sailed. If we are getting a tower, it’s going to be a big one.

Maybe that’s not true of the self-storage facility. Right now, the plan calls for the long-empty space at the ground level of 33 King to be converted into a very large storage area for residents, artists, and the community.

This is a waste.

Space2 copy

The storage space will be five times larger than the cultural hub. It will be three times larger than the outdoor community space. In a real way, we can see this development as only an apartment and storage facility—together, they add up to 97% of the total developed area. The hub and the market are tiny in comparison.

Space copy

We can do better.

33 King has been empty for years, which might make one think it is a white elephant, a failed idea without potential. I don’t think so. It is empty because it can’t make money. But there are hundreds of happy potential customers with a million great ideas and endless energy—but no money except their allowances.

33 King is at the intersection of two schools, a cultural hub, and the library. It should be a space given to children and education. We could have

  • A daycare—our last  one closed several years ago
  • A tutoring facility
  • A maker-space
  • A community centre with recreation facilities
  • A huge indoor play area for the harsh winters
  • An indoor garden and park

But, more than anything, I think we should be creative. We should ask the schools and the libraries what they would do and what they could use. This is too good a space to waste on dusty books and broken lamps. It should be a space for fresh learning and bright lights.

Weston Treasures – Toronto Bell Cote.

The former St. Matthias church newly renovated.
The former St. Matthias church newly renovated.

There is a small white church on Scarlett Road (in Greater Metropolitan Weston) that featured large in the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel. Then named St. Matthias Anglican, (the congregation relocated in 1957) it became a centre for community donations to assist victims of the disaster that killed and rendered homeless many people in the area. Even without that role, it has a fascinating history having been built in Malton in 1895 and was moved to its current location on Scarlett Road in 1923. Eighty years later, in 2003, the site was given Hertitage Site designation by the city thanks to the hard work of local historical societies. An application to have the site redeveloped as a townhouse complex came in 2004 but the City and then the OMB said no (demonstrating the worth of a heritage designation).

In 2010, current owners, the Sukyo Mahikari organization tried to have it demolished, justifying demolition with a report which stated that:

  • the building has fallen into disuse and disrepair, it has been neglected and is in a rapid state of deterioration
  • the foundation walls are on the verge of collapse, and there is an immense amount of energy loss given the original construction materials and methods
  • The building is a major eyesore in the community
  • When the application was made for heritage designation, critical structural and material analysis were not completed which would have revealed unsafe conditions
  • In order to maintain and rehabilitate the current building, the cost would be overwhelming

Details of its condition can be found here.

City planners recommended against demolition, and mercifully, Etobicoke York Council unanimously voted against the application. The group was told by then Councillor Doug Hoiyday to have a re-think and look around for grant money which they did – very successfully – and the rest is history so to speak. The costly renovation that has been done is very sympathetic and has ensured many more years of existence for the 120 year-old building and the preservation of a local landmark. The installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system will ensure low running costs for many years to come.

The Sukyo Mahikari organization has only one location in Toronto and this is it.

The sympathetic addition can be seen on the right.
The sympathetic addition can be seen on the right.

The church is one of 16 buildings competing for a Heritage Toronto Architecture award in the category of projects which “restore or adapt buildings or structures that have been in existence for 40 years or more, or are included on the City of Toronto’s Inventory of Heritage Properties.”

The church is still working on further restoration and a major project will be to replace the bell that went missing a few years ago.

If readers would like to have a tour, one may be arranged by phoning 647-748-2683.

Wait–what happened to SmartTrack?

Ah, promises. It’s been 10 months since we voted for Tory’s light rail plan that would serve Mount Dennis, relieve congestion, and integrate with the subway. The TTC Board was briefed on September 28 about progress on SmartTrack. I imagine it must have been a short meeting.

The SmartTrack proposal is, according to Steve Munro, spinning its wheels:

  • Neither the TTC nor Metrolinx owns it
  • The route remains unsettled
  • It does not integrate well and may not draw riders
  • Nobody has yet figured out how much it will cost
  • And nobody knows how to pay for it.

Not one of the studies that would answer these questions is complete, Munro says.

One intriguing possibility is in the presentation Munro posted: the city is studying a route (almost?) to the airport, instead of along Eglinton.

John Tory had proposed a difficult—perhaps impossible—sharp left turn on Eglinton for the trains, which would have taken them up hills and under houses. It was a bad plan, and it was widely criticized.

st_eglintonweststudyarea_22

The new study area conspicuously includes a route that could take the trains through Weston and up to the airport. Munro says

 The city is also studying alignments that would stay on the rail corridor to the point where the UPX spur branches off and then running south to reach the Corporate Centre lands.

The UP Express has, as previously reported, been under-performing. Here, perhaps, we might find a face- and money-saving solution: Use much of the infrastructure for the SmartTrack.

This plan would have an enormous benefit for us: a subway-lite connection to downtown.

Noise barriers draw graffiti

Metrolinx erected noise barriers along much of the UP Express route, but not without controversy. Further downtown, residents begged for a green walls instead of the clear acrylic and concrete barriers. They were turned down—and now the acrylic barriers are beginning to fail.

By Kevin Putnam
Tagged wall. Photography by Kevin Putnam
Green wall
Green wall design

InsideToronto writes about the graffiti the walls attract. They are being sprayed, cleaned, and sprayed again. Ruhul Gupta writes,

But with each scrubbing, panels are becoming more stained and less clear, said Putnam.

“They are not weathering the graffiti onslaught well,” he said.

What about in Weston? Have you, dear reader, noticed graffiti? If so, send a picture in, and we’ll build some momentum.

Hussen responds

One of Ahmed Hussen’s campaign officers has responded to my questions about why he did not attend the community-group-organized debate this week.

Ahmed didn’t attend the debate last night for a number of reasons, chief among them being canvassing, scheduling, and the fact that he has committed to two other debates – a Rogers TV debate being taped on Wednesday and the West Coalition on Housing and Homelessness Debate on October

6.

The organizers had asked him more than three weeks in advance if he would be able to make it, and the event lasted 3 hours. They say that they were “appalled” at his “cheery” decline 12 days before the debate.

Fanny Sunshine from InsideToronto was able to get some more answers from the candidate and his party (and the article is worth reading in full): he told her that he sees many people when he is out going door to door.

Sunshine was also able to get a response from the Conservatives, who never talk to me.

When reached by The Mirror the next day, Robinson’s campaign manager Ansford Pearson said he could not say why the political hopeful did not reply to the invitation or attend the debate.

“It’s the responsibility of the candidate to respond, not mine,” he said.

What an operation. On to other news.