Hazel Remembered

Madeleine McDowell remembers Hurricane Hazel by the old bridge abutment in Lions Park.

A forlorn bridge abutment wrenched out of place by Hurricane Hazel on the night of October 16, 1954 is the closest thing to a memorial to the three dozen or so people who died that night as the Humber River overwhelmed the little community that lived along Raymore Drive. Local historian Madeleine McDowell, talked today about the storm which carried away the homes of many people in what is now Raymore Park. Madeleine was 14 years old at the time and had personal memories of the event which she shared today. The storm led to the creation of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. The Humber’s longest tributary measures only 100km but the vertical drop from source to mouth is several times the height of Niagara Falls. This was one of the reasons billions of litres of water were funnelled down the river that night. It’s also the reason the watershed is prone to flooding during not so dramatic events as Hazel.

Madeleine’s talk was organized by Sharon Glaves as part of the InTO The Ravines initiative.

The abutment as it looks today in its beautiful location by the Humber. All traces of the original treatment are gone.
The abutment as it looked during the official opening in 2004. Ward 5 Councillor Frances Nunziata is standing with Former MP Alan Tonks and former Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino.(file)

The bridge abutment was once beautifully decorated by artist Mario Noviello but sadly the image faded over the years. 3 Tempests Playwright Peter Smith was in attendance and stated that the neglect of what is in effect the only memorial to the Raymore Drive victims is a disgrace. He would like to see something put in place as a permanent reminder to the people who lost their lives there. He suggested that local artists could combine their talents and design a memorial for the spectacular location. The 70th anniversary of the tragedy is coming in 2024 and now is the time to start work on the project.

The original work by Mario Noviello (file). Only the plaque remains.

Ms. McDowell wasn’t finished however. The indomitable advocate of nature had one last thing to say. She strongly opposes the proposed highway that will run across the delicate Humber watershed’s upper reaches and urged people to oppose plans for the Bradford Bypass (aka Highway 413) which will link Highways 400 and 404, slicing through the Oak Ridges Moraine and dozens of waterways.

Incidentally, Ms. McDowell is made of sterner stuff and seemed comfortable wearing sandals and no gloves. I was wrapped up with toque, winter coat and gloves and froze in the 5° temperatures.

A complicated story

I’m going to ask you to do something a bit hard: to recognize that in an argument, both parties can be wrong.

This week, some community members started organizing against the supportive housing LOFT announced on Church Street. They put flyers on street posts and in mailboxes (including my own).

The flyers said that “crime, drugs, theft, property damage, low income, [and] prostitution” are problems in the community—and that “the former Humber River Regional hospital is turning 5 houses on Church St. into rooming/halfway houses for profit”.

As far as I can tell, little of that is accurate. They’re not going to be “rooming” (for profit) or “halfway houses” (for former criminals). They are “supportive housing for outgoing patients facing mental health challenges”, according to Debora Jesus, from LOFT.

Nor are they likely for profit. They are owned by the hospital, and LOFT is a charity, not a business. I’m not a lawyer, but this seems impossible. (And I’ll leave it to you to decide whether Weston has a large problem with petty crime. I don’t think so.)

But LOFT and the HRH don’t come out of this blameless.

I don’t think they did enough consultation, or sought opinions from far enough around the community.

I’m far from a good barometer, but I do try to keep attuned to what’s going on in Weston. I didn’t hear about LOFT’s “information session” (notably, not a consultation) until after it had passed.

I wasn’t the only one. Several members of the Weston Village Neighbours group didn’t know about it, and MPP Faisal Hassan wrote a letter to the CEO of LOFT saying he would have hoped to have been included. He wasn’t.

He also wrote “I … urge you to have broad community consultations and to involve local residents and elected officials such as myself.”

LOFT, for their part, says that they met with the WVRA and Frances Nunziata, and circulated flyers in a 3-block radius.

They also say, however, that “there are no further in-person meetings planned”.

This sort of stuff isn’t rocket science. I’m in favour of supportive housing, but LOFT should have known—or been told—that Weston gets quite enough “information” and not enough consultation from developers, Metrolinx, and, yes, the Humber River Regional Hospital. (Which announced years ago that they would be selling the property until, whoops, community members told them that they legally couldn’t.)

Nunziata asked council to oppose development at 64 King

City Council approved an urgent motion by Councillor Nunziata to get staff “clarify the cultural heritage value of the property” at 64 King (the Tyrell House).

The motion was urgent because owners of the mansion are asking to sever the property to build an additional house. The city will describe its “cultural heritage value or interest of the property and [provide] a description of the property’s heritage attribute” because it “acts as a historical and cultural anchor in the community.”

Nunziata opposes liquor licence for La Piton Banquet Hall

Councillor Nunziata has asked City Council to oppose a liquor license for La Piton Banquet Hall.

She says in the motion that during the lockdown, “Toronto Police Service Officers responded to several noise complaints and large gatherings at and outside the Premises, including for events held after the normal stop service time for establishments that have liquor licences. My office has also received communications from local residents with concerns of disturbances arising from the Premises. Under no circumstance should the Premises be granted a liquor sales license.”

If approved, city lawyers would oppose the licence at the AGCO and at any appeals.

Weston Park: it’s not a community centre…

Back in the halcyon pre-pandemic days of late February 2020, I attended a concept meeting held at Weston Park Baptist Church (WPBC) to discuss development of the lands at the south-east corner of Weston and Lawrence. The development, known as Weston Park will occupy quite a large property stretching from the old Scotiabank building on the corner to the actual church itself including parking spaces currently on loan to Metrolinx. As I said at the time, the meeting was a veritable love-fest with lots of feel-good messages and the promise of a community asset that would incorporate the two existing buildings while emphasizing some of the historical aspects of the Weston community. A promise was made of community consultation through the whole planning process.

The Weston Park Development site. Adapted from Google Maps.

Fast forward to last Monday and a second meeting was held via Zoom (with over 130 participants) to reveal the latest thoughts from WPBC and the developer, Castlepoint Numa.

According to Councillor Frances Nunziata, the project is attempting to enhance the community through the following:

  • Bring in new investment and strengthen community ties
  • Create a vibrant multi-use hub
  • Use high architectural design standards
  • Incorporate a mix of community, retail, commercial and residential use
  • Respect the rich heritage of the Weston Community and the WPBC.
  • Connect to transit, pedestrian and cycling networks.
  • Be a visible gateway to UP Express and GO trains

After preliminary introductions were made, some concept drawings were unveiled. It should be noted that there is no obligation on the part of the developer to actually build what is shown, rather they are a set of preliminary ideas.

The view from Weston Road. Presentation screen shot.
The view from Lawrence avenue on a future foggy day. The old Scotiabank wedge is on the right. Presentation screen shot.
The Sanctuary / Performance Hall with sight lines along Bellvue looking towards the Humber. Presentation screen shot.
The gymnasium. Presentation screen shot.
The Gallery / Atrium. Presentation screen shot.
A bird’s eye view of the development. Presentation screen shot.

What’s in the latest presentation?

It’s still quite vague but that’s understandable at this early stage. Interestingly, part of the site contains a major sewage pipe, so no new development can take place on that part. In order to get around this, the existing church building will be moved down Weston Road to the south-eastern edge of the property. The church’s proposed new location can be seen in the last diagram. The pipe follows a diagonal line from the station.

There are plans for community spaces such as a gym, gallery and sanctuary / performance hall. The latter will feature a huge window at the back of the stage that will look onto Bellvue and the Humber River beyond. The WAES food bank will also be accommodated in the development. There will be retail stores and restaurants on the ground floor of the development. It’s far too soon to know who will occupy the stores.

A Y-shaped woonerf will be incorporated as a multi-use thoroughfare that will link Lawrence and Weston and provide a walkway and sight-line to the station. Pedestrians, cyclists and traffic will mingle freely on this paved area that will be partly covered by the development before it emerges on Lawrence.

Partcipants were concerned that the woonerf will be used as a short cut by cars between Lawrence and Weston. This didn’t seem to have occurred to project organizers.

The elephant in the room was referred to only briefly. What will finance all the community bling? Will there be rental fees for the gym, gallery and sanctuary / performance hall or will they be subsidized by fees from the developer? What will happen to Section 37 money generated by the development?

The answer seems to rest in the two large apartment towers that will set a record height for Weston. The smaller will be 28 storeys while the larger will be 38. The Weston Hub’s 30-storey apartment building on John Street seems to have set a target for future developments. While the hundreds of apartments will constitute the vast majority of the project, there were no apartment layouts or any description of them. Often a development will list numbers of one-bedroom apartments and so on (square footage, ratio of bedroom options etc.). Maybe it’s too early yet but the City will certainly have a say as the trend is to encourage developers to include a bigger ratio of two and three-bedroom apartments.

The developers also haven’t decided if the apartments will be condo’s or rentals.

As in all modern developments, a large issue will be parking. Developing the site will mean the removal of almost 70 existing parking spaces currently used by UPX and GO commuters. Additional parking will also be needed for hundreds of residents, churchgoers, community activity participants and customers of the retail stores and commercial spaces. By necessity, Weston is a car oriented neighbourhood. We’re a long way from being a 20-minute neighbourhood. Where will all these people park and how will commuters be discouraged from using up the development’s spaces? There was no mention of bike parking.

The height of the towers seems excessive. Especially considering the low-rise nature of Weston Road. No doubt City planners will trim them down marginally but once built, they’ll be hugely prominent for decades. If the towers are to be so tall (and they likely will be), what can be done to make them attractive? Other than wispy concept drawings, there was little about the external appearance of the towers. As illustrated they look like what one expects architectural drawings of Toronto towers to look like. There was also little discussion of the effect that hundreds of new residents would have on transportation and infrastructure. Wind and shadow studies will hopefully show minimal effects on the recently renovated community space already existing on the opposite corner of Weston and Lawrence.

With only 90 minutes allowed for the presentation, many things weren’t discussed. One would hope that all flat roof surfaces would be green and accessible. It also would be nice if outdoor restaurant seating could be contained within the woonerf area away from traffic noise and would be a natural draw for pedestrians. Participants expressed concern that there needs to be some thought put into the design of anti-crime features that will keep loitering down once businesses are closed for the day. Also, there probably should be a pedestrian crossing of Weston Road at Bellevue for safety and to encourage the connection to the Humber.

Sidewalks are already very constrained on the opposite side of Weston Road from the project and there is a very busy bus stop on the opposite corner (Weston is a major transit hub). There probably needs to be more thought paid to this. Sidewalks on Weston Road north of Lawrence were recently widened but by far the greater need is south of Lawrence.

In conclusion, when I saw the proposals in November 2020, I was encouraged by what seemed like a partnership literally made in heaven. Now it seems like the devil is in the details: a pair of precedent-setting tall towers with some (admittedly major) goodies thrown in to make the towers palatable. The development may also cause major stress on existing infrastructure including roads, sidewalks, parking and sewers.

It is up to Westonians to make their feelings known and express their opinions on the development. If you haven’t watched the presentation I highly recommend that you do.

As the project stands, much like the Weston Hub, the net community benefit won’t be known for years while the precedent of ever taller towers will be well and truly cemented in stone. The developers used the phrase, our ambition is to make Weston Park the centre of the community, not a community centre. Time will tell if that will happen but great stock is placed by the City in the opinions of residents during the consultation process.

Watch the Zoom presentation here.

Find the Weston Park Development information and resident feedback site here.

Correction: Frontlines Vice-Chair Brigitte Sasche tells me that there are no plans to include Frontlines in the development. That reference has been removed.

Two votes on stormwater in YSW

City Council also voted for two very interesting motions to reduce flooding, which has been a particular problem in parts of our riding.

One motion asks city staff to study a stormwater tax—which, if you think about it, is a rain tax. But it’s a super idea!

The trouble is that large, paved surfaces push much rainwater into the sewers. Right now, water users are charged for stormwater management, even though the water you use has nothing at all to do with how big your parking lot is. The motion introduced by Mike Layton will ask city staff to study taxing hard surface areas like parking lots. Councillor Frances Nunziata voted in favour. The motion narrowly carried.

A second motion, proposed by Nunziata, asks city staff to study naturalizing the Black Creek Channel.

The Black Creek was ‘channelized’ in the middle of the 20th century—meaning the river was replaced with a concrete channel instead of a natural environment.

Black Creek Channel, from the TRCA

The TRCA says that “while providing some riverine flood remediation benefits, [channels] do not fully protect the area from riverine flooding.”

Nunziata’s motion asks staff to consider “alternative design options for the Rockcliffe Riverine Flood Mitigation Project… and report on its findings.”