Gerard Kennedy joining Blue 22 opposition

InsideToronto.com is reporting that Gerard Kennedy, a powerful Toronto MP and Weston resident, will be creating a group to lobby for electrification of GO Transit trains.

The group appears to be comprised of politicians, not citizens. So far, 12 MPs are members, but the group will be open to “representatives of all levels of government, including the school board”. While InsideToronto does not name the MPs, they are likely the same ones that opposed Metrolinx in the past. If so, Alan Tonks will be included.

In the past, Kennedy has been reluctant to oppose the Blue 22 train. It was only in October of last year that he voiced his opposition to the airport rail expansion; even then, he was irresolute. To now have him organizing opposition (and not merely joining it) will likely bring joy to advocates. It will also put Alan Tonks under pressure. Tonks has not fully opposed Metrolinx’s plans and has even supported the airport link in the past. Gerard Kennedy could end up representing Weston better than its elected MP does.

Nunziata concerned about payday loan shops

Weston likely has more payday loan shops than any other part of Toronto. That may change, if only a little, as loan businesses come under increased pressure from local government.

For a large fee, payday loan shops will convert a post-dated cheque into cash. They are often used for short-term ‘cash crunches’, when a person is employed but does not have enough money to meet immediate expenses. The loans, however, are very expensive: Cash Money, a very popular franchise with 350 locations in Canada and 5 locations within 5 km of Weston, charges $21 for a 14 day loan of $100, the maximum allowed by law.

Payday loan and cheque-cashing business have been expanding rapidly but have recently been subject to much more regulation. Last year, the province restricted the amount of interest lenders could charge and limited their ability to ‘rollover’ loans—paying off one loan with another to the same client. These practices made it difficult for clients to get control of their debts.

The Etobicoke York Community Council (which covers Weston), heard a report today about payday loan stores. The report was commissioned because the council identified a “proliferation” of payday loan stores in the neighbourhood and because of concerns that these stores were operating without the correct permits. The council was concerned that some payday loan stores were accepting collateral (like old gold).

The report was referred for further review.

Metrolinx wants another (and better) link to the airport

Yesterday Metrolinx affirmed its plan to build a rail link to the airport. But they weren’t endorsing the Blue 22, the private airport train that will run through Weston. Metrolinx will be building competing train line: a light rail link to Pearson.

Metrolinx’s “Big 5”  program will complete 5 major transit projects over the next 10 years. One of these is the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, which will run from Scarborough to the airport. The line will be high capacity (about 5000 passengers an hour), frequent (every 3–6 minutes) and cheap ($3 or so). Light rail isn’t the same as rail-rail; it’s more like a subway crossed with a streetcar.

The LRT will make connections to the Yonge and University subway and to the proposed Jane St LRT. Thus it will serve the same locations as the Blue 22, if less directly. It will also be quite fast, especially for travellers heading midtown and not to Union. For $3, the Eg train will get you to the Yonge subway station in 48 minutes. In contrast, the Blue 22 would save 19 minutes but cost $20 more.

Both will be fast, frequent, and comfortable. But only the Eglinton LRT is cheap, connects directly with the subway, and takes riders midtown.

The private nature of the Blue 22 may yet be its undoing; the Eglinton LRT is the better way.

Route of the Eglinton LRT

Grattan park restoration nearly complete

Some things are great because they’re retro-cool and undiscovered. And then some things are just plain great.

The Grattan Street park used to be great because it was small, unused, and stuck in the 70s, with old, clunky swings and stubby beer bottles lying around. Now it is one of the smallest, cutest parks in all of Toronto. It’s just plain great.  Over the past month, this urban gem has been completely renovated, improved, and made modern. The old wood benches and rusty swingsets are gone; new, safe, high-quality play-structures have been brought in and landscaping has been done to remove an ugly concrete water tower base.

Westonian Mark Dos Reis says, “It was a really great park back in the 70s and 80s, but it fell into a state of disrepair.” In consultation with the community and architects, the city of Toronto improved the landscaping by making it more level and removed the decaying concrete and wooden structures around the park.

The neglect had made the park something of a hangout for teens who took to smoking pot and drinking beer. While Dos Reis was generous about the teens, he did say that the effect of the renovations has been positive: “I like it. I’d rather have little kids. There’s a lot of little kids in the neighbourhood and a daycare.” The park will be very nice for them, he noted, as it has only one entrance and exit, so the minders can be sure the kids won’t wander.

Before the renovationBefore the renovation
Before the renovation
After the renovationAfter the renovationAfter the renovation
After the renovation

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.

Two new businesses in Weston

The shakeup in Canada’s cell phone sector has caused aftershocks in Weston.

Mobilicity and Public Mobile are new wireless providers starting up in Weston and elsewhere in the GTA. Because newly-available radio spectrum was auctioned in 2008, entrants were able to compete with the three incumbent oligopolists: Bell, Telus and Rogers.

The challengers’ advantages? Price and freedom. “A lot of people are fed up with contracts”, says Saleem Muhammad, Mobilicity’s manager in Weston. “All of our plans are unlimited, and you can stop your service whenever you want.”

They are now are scrambling to lure Canadians out of long contracts, and establishing a beachhead of storefronts has been a part of that effort. Wind Mobile, the first entrant to start selling plans, has had a rough start in part because it had no storefronts of its own, only kiosks in Blockbuster Video stores.

Public Mobile and Mobilicity appear to have learned from Wind’s experience and are leasing many locations across the GTA, including in Weston. Mobilicity’s Weston location has been open since the 15th, and Public Mobile’s has been open for about a month. According to emplyees, both have had a slow start, but they are upbeat about building momentum.

Councillor Nunziata explains her vote against bike lane on University Ave

Frances Nunziata explained her decision to vote against the bike lane on University Avenue. She voted to defer the decision on that lane until a study from Fire and Emergency Services had been completed.

Councillor Nunziata said that she was worried by the number of hospitals on University and that there could be conflict between bicyclists and ambulances. Jennifer Cicchelli, a staff member for Nunziata, said “emergency services felt that bicycle lanes would not be safe, as ambulances frequently have to speed up and down the street, and make quick turns to get to the hospitals, which could jeopardize the safety of cyclists using the proposed bicycle lanes.”

On the phone Nunziata said that she voted for all the other bike lanes considered last week. She said she would consider voting for the new lane on University when the study is completed and the lane is reconsidered, perhaps next year.