Keesmaat promises revamp of Scarlett Wood Golf Course

Scarlett Wood Golf Course in lower left quadrant. From Google Maps. Click to enlarge.

Jennifer Keesmaat is promising that if she is elected mayor on October 22nd, she will switch three city owned golf courses to ‘community spaces’ with a wider variety of uses. The courses are Scarlett Wood on Eglinton between Jane and Scarlett, Don Valley Golf Course and Dentonia Park Golf Course. Keesmaat claims that the courses, lose money, are rarely used and are open less than six months a year. Instead, she is proposing other uses such as sports pitches, cycling and walking trails and says that local communities should be consulted as to the best uses of the space.

The conversion of the Scarlett Wood course to new uses would give local citizens a great opportunity to re-think public land use and it’s a common sense approach to ensuring that city owned land is used for the benefit of a wider group of people. This would add a large parcel of green space and river frontage to the already considerable recreational facilities around the Jane and Eglinton intersection.

Read more here.

What to make of Mainstreet’s poll results

While neither the local nor mayor’s race is decided, unless some dramatic changes occur before polling day on October 22nd, the following scenarios are likely.

Toronto’s new ward map. From City of Toronto. (Click to enlarge.)

As Adam has pointed out, Mainstreet Research issued a poll that reflects the voting intentions of 593 residents of Ward 5 (York South Weston) on the 24th and 25th September. Among decided and leaning voters, the support is as follows:

From Scribd.com Click to enlarge.

Mainstreet’s poll methodology seems exemplary; for example, a large number of calls were made to a variety of cell and land line phones and at various times of two survey days.  The margin of error is 4.1% which still indicates a cast iron lead for Frances Nunziata over all other candidates.

The results must be demoralizing for candidates Lekan Olawoye and Chiara Padovani . The candidates with their dynamic young teams have worked hard to expand their bases in the respective halves of York South Weston. They have been outmuscled by the star power (i.e. name recognition) of the two incumbents, only one of whom will be councillor. While it is notoriously difficult to unseat an incumbent Toronto councillor, Olawoye and Padovani can look for hope from three sources:

  1. There will be other elections – sometimes it takes a few tries before voters learn your name.
  2. Your focus on certain issues during the campaign may have moved people’s (and possibly the winning candidate’s) opinions.
  3. This is valuable feedback – try other tactics to raise your profile.

As for Frank Di Giorgio; to win he needs to build up his support in the 50+ age groups in YSW. If he loses, he won’t be the first big name to be defeated by Ms Nunziata.

Mayor’s Race:

Of the four major candidates, Mainstreet’s latest poll shows stodgy incumbent, John Tory snoozing his way to victory in spite of his flawed and lacklustre mayoralty. Toronto poverty, crime and congestion levels continue to rise under his watch while he concentrates on his three main objectives; austerity, low property taxes and re-election. The mayor is so confident, he recently took a pass on a transit debate, instead choosing a cocktail fundraiser with Toronto’s moneyed and business elite. His abysmal SmartTrack plan was probably the reason for wanting to avoid scrutiny on that difficult topic.

Former Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat’s campaign has failed to gain traction as her policies differ only marginally from those of the incumbent. Her insider knowledge of where the bodies are buried at City Hall has been kept under wraps so far. In policy areas where Ms. Keesmaat does differ from John Tory, she is unable to effectively state why her position is better.

Local candidate Saron Gebresellassi has acquitted herself forcefully in debates and offers some starkly new ideas to address issues such as poverty in a big city like ours. She needs to keep pushing the two mainstream candidates off their comfort zones.

Sarah Climenhaga is another candidate with West Toronto connections and one who has lived a fascinating life full of valuable experiences. Like the other candidates, this is her first shot at the Mayor’s job.

Sadly, becoming mayor costs a lot of money. Mayor Tory spent almost $3 million to get elected in 2014. This is beyond the reach of most candidates; even the well-connected Ms. Keesmaat. It looks like we’ll be stuck with John Tory for another four years.

Last of all; most people usually don’t vote in civic elections here in YSW. The people who do tend to be in the older age groups. The folks at American media production company Nail Communications produced this mock ad geared to the mid-terms in the U.S. but speaks volumes about the demographics of voting in both countries.

Dan Harris: Walkway is important

Plans are almost in place for the new 30-storey rental tower in downtown Weston. The second-last hurdle was easily stepped over at the November 10, Etobicoke York Community (EYCC) Council meeting when councillors approved the project with some minor modifications. Interestingly, one of those modifications was to double down on the proposal by prohibiting the current owners, Rockport Group from demolishing or converting any of the units into condominiums for 20 years.

A total of 432 units will be built on the site including 26 affordable live-work units for artists.

The City Planning Department broke its own urban planning and zoning guidelines in approving the building (8 storeys is the legal height limit in that part of Weston).

Weston Village as planners projected back in 2004. Note the conspicuous lack of a 30-storey rental apartment building.
Weston Village of the future as planners projected back in 2004. Note the conspicuous lack of a 30-storey rental apartment building.

Weston resident Dan Harris has written letters to Toronto’s Planning Department, specifically to Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat. (Readers may wish to check out one of her TedX talks in which she stresses the importance of providing residents information, analysis and evidence in order to generate ‘understanding’ of development proposals – around the 12 minute mark.) In his correspondence, Harris maintains that no rationale has yet been put forward that actually justifies the breaking of the current 8-storey height limit on Weston buildings. He is also frustrated by the glacial speed of and lack of meaningful responses to his objections. The only official reaction has been from the Community Planning Director for Etobicoke York, Neil Cresswell. Mr. Cresswell promised a further response would come last week but failed to deliver. Without the courtesy of rationale behind decisions, Harris maintains that it is hard to present any form of rebuttal.

While Harris is realistic about the project’s likelihood of becoming a reality, he is attempting to at least get a formalized pedestrian walkway between the east side of King and the new Hub. The City’s position appears to be that while the walkway is needed for traffic access and so will be accessible by pedestrian traffic, it will not be formalized through legislation.. Harris is concerned that if not legislated, pedestrian access may be blocked at some point in the future cutting off safe access from King to priority destinations such as the two schools in the area and even the Hub itself.

The ball is still in the Planning Department’s court. WestonWeb will alert readers to any responses.

 

Weston Cultural Hub – The Issues Part 3

This is the last of a three-part series on the proposal to build a Cultural Hub in Weston.

Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

From Urban Land Institute.
From Urban Land Institute.

The story so far:

  • A Cultural Hub has been proposed for Weston.
  • Disused podium space at 33 King Street will be refurbished by developer, Rockport and leased to community groups at cost.
  • 26 artist live / work spaces will be attached to the 33 King Street podium
  • The old GO parking lot has been sold to developers Rockport
  • Rockport will donate $2 million to the cost of construction
  • Rockport gets to build a 30-storey 350-unit rental building (subject to approval)
  • The City will waive $13.3 million in developer charges
  • Artscape will contribute $2 million to the project and will lease the spaces for 50 years.
There is no shortage of apartment buildings in Weston.
There is no shortage of rental apartment buildings in Weston.

We are being told by almost everyone involved in this project that the only way for Weston to get money for its Cultural Hub is to allow the developer to build a 30-storey rental apartment on the site. The project is being framed as a ‘Wychwood Barns for Weston’. Let’s take a look at the two projects and see how they compare.

Wychwood Barns and Weston Cultural Hub – a comparison

Cost to build:

Wychwood: $19 million     Weston: $10 million

Tied to construction of high rise rental building:

Wychwood: No     Weston: Yes

City Financial Support:

Wychwood: $4.5 million     Weston: $0

Developer Charges Waived

Wychwood: Yes     Weston: Yes

Province and Federal Contribution:

Wychwood: $5.3 million     Weston: $0

Artscape Contribution:

Wychwood: $9.2 million     Weston: $2 million

Parkland Included:

Wychwood: Yes     Weston: No

Landscaping Included:

Wychwood: Yes     Weston: Yes

Farmers Market Space:

Wychwood: Yes     Weston: Yes

Heritage District Status

Wychwood: Yes     Weston: No

So there you have it. Although the City seems to be generously waiving $13.3 million in developer fees, according to Councillor Joe Mihevc developer fees were waived for the Wychwood project too. Incidentally, Councillor Mihevc thinks the Weston Hub plan is ‘terrific’ but hadn’t realized that there was a rental tower as part of the deal. He said it’s up to the parties involved to hammer out the best deal they can for Weston. He did speak well of developers Rockport saying they are based in his ward and are ‘good people’.

The Wychwood project received generous grants from Artscape, the City, the Province and the Federal Government while Weston, a Priority Neighbourhood is told that this is the only deal that can be obtained. Wychwood got a community hub without developer involvement while Weston’s hub is tied to a rental tower that will be the tallest in the area.

Weston residents are confronting some difficult decisions. There is a temptation to accept any form of development because change is felt to be better than the status quo. It is long understood that one reason for Weston’s decline was an excess of cheaply constructed and rather tall rental buildings. For years, Weston was a dumping ground for high-rise buildings, each one built to minimum standards and plunked down with the blessing of the City government of the day. City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat candidly acknowledged this at the meeting held recently but at the same time telling us that the current understanding with the developer is the best that can be done.

In the developer’s original apartment proposal, there was no podium, too wide a base and 18 storeys (perhaps the architect didn’t read the City’s Tall Building Guidelines). The developer was sent back for a redo and returned with the exactly the same rental space (300,000 square feet) and same number of apartments (350) only this time on 30 floors. The argument being that since Weston has lots of tall buildings, another one won’t hurt. At the information meeting, developer Jack Winberg was adamant that the building must be a rental and not a condo. With lots of rental units available in Weston at bargain basement prices, the community has no guarantee that this building will not become another low-income project (not that there’s anything wrong with low income housing, however Weston does more than its fair share to accommodate that sector of society).

The old GO Station parking lot, existing rental tower and unused podium.
The old GO Station parking lot, existing rental tower and unused podium.

There are no easy answers to improving a priority neighbourhood. Improvement requires encouraging a variety of housing types, support for businesses, improved transportation links and infrastructure that add to the fabric of a community along with strong citizen involvement. Most of all it requires money from all levels of government that isn’t tied to developers on a take it or leave it basis.

Yet another rental building in Weston will cement our reputation as a low income dumping ground as the temptation to fill the building with TCHC tenants will inevitably win out. This is not to denigrate people who need help with their accommodation but shouldn’t we try to achieve a balance of housing types in all areas of Toronto.

Finally…

Here is a quote from a paper written in 2009 by Former Chief Planner Paul Bedford that got the ball rolling in Weston.

  • given the relocation of GO train parking to the new station at Weston Road and Lawrence Avenue, embrace the opportunity to develop a town square concept forming the heart and central meeting place in Weston on John Street
  • re-use a portion of the vacant concourse area to the west of 33 King to incorporate an indoor component of the farmers market with outdoor stalls adjacent and on the west side close to parking
  • consider introducing a mix of functions into the podium of 33-35 King such as recreation, community centre, artist studio lofts, non-profit offices similar in concept to the Wychwood Barns along with a park and community gardens on east side of parking lot and on the green covered rail corridor deck with possible bike lanes
Wychwood Barns.
Wychwood Barns.

Bottom Line:

Some questions seem to be needing answers:

  • Why is there real money from all levels of government for a project in Wychwood yet none for a Priority Neighbourhood like Weston?

  • Why did Artscape contribute so much more for Wychwood Barns than its proposed contribution for Weston’s Cultural Hub?

  • Why is the Weston project tied to the construction of a new rental building when a project costing double was achieved without one?

  • Who owns the podium and parking garage at 33 King street and what is their interest / involvement / contribution?

  • How can Weston absorb yet another rental tower when we already have 32?

  • Should Artscape accept donations from developers?

  • What is being done about Weston’s long awaited Heritage Status?

Make no mistake; this project is a done deal unless people demand answers to these troubling questions. Yes, a lot of work has gone into this development proposal. Many city employees have spent a long time sorting out the details along with Weston Residents’ Association, Artscape, Councillor Nunziata and the developer. That doesn’t make it a worthy project as there are far too many unknowns.

Incidentally, Mayor John Tory will be speaking at Weston Memorial Jr. P.S. next Tuesday, June 2nd at 6:30. He may wish to hear what Weston residents think of this proposal.

30 Storey tower concerns residents

There’s some good news and bad in the latest development proposal unveiled in last week’s information meeting hosted by Councillor Frances Nunziata. Well over 100 people packed the York West Active Living Centre where terms such as podium as it refers to the base of a tall tower and Woonerf were tossed around.

Since the move of Weston GO Station south of Lawrence, the parking lot has remained the home of Weston Farmers Market but is a bit of an eyesore and has lost its primary function. Over the last few years, residents have been involved in brainstorming the future of Weston and responding to subsequent ideas brought forward by developers and the city.

The Good

People power in Weston pushed the addition of a stop along the UP Express line. From that one act has come political respect for Weston residents, a commitment from politicians to spend money, quality planning for the future that involves residents and the unavoidable attention of developers who want a piece of the action. A business plan has been approved by the city for the development of land in the centre of Weston.

Lands to be developed not only include the old GO Station parking lot but the recently expropriated adjacent vacant land. Tied in with this will be an agreement with the owners of 35 King Street (late lamented home of Andrew McLean), Artscape and the City. The betting is that 26 subsidized living / work spaces plus creative programming and outdoor public space will encourage businesses and institutions to invest in Weston. Artscape will be given a lease to run the spaces for 50 years.

There will still be outdoor space for the Farmers Market which has been a diminished attraction in recent years, losing both customers and vendors. Hopefully the new digs will boost attendance.

A lot of ideas from the charette are still alive and the city feels that creating high quality public spaces is important as people walk through Weston to the UP Express. This pleasant environment will encourage them to linger and support local businesses.

place
The layout of the proposal – the footbridge and rail tracks are at the top right. Artists’ accommodations (brown) are along two sides of the existing building to the left. The original tower footprint is the dotted line.

 

place
The new tower footprint is the small blue square. The Farmers Market will be located near the footbridge ramp (stalls are dark red). Parking spaces for the Farmers Market will ease the parking on Weston Road at other times.

The Bad

Crowning the whole development like a single birthday candle will be a 30-storey residential rental tower. Apparently this kind of height is needed to make enough money for the developer the project worth while. Responding to a resident’s question, Rockport Group C.E.O. Jack Winberg, stated that a condominium development instead of a rental building would not sell in the current market. When asked if there is another tower of similar height in the locality, he mentioned the co-op building at 2100 Weston Road (it’s closer to 20 storeys).

The tower.
The tower.

As a sidenote, Mr Winberg’s company built Scarlett Heights retirement home along Lawrence and handily smacked down residents’ objections when the development was inevitably taken to the OMB.

The not so bad.

Chief City Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat mentioned that the original tower proposal was wider and had no podium. The latest version will have less of a shadow and a podium cuts down on the wind that tall buildings generate.

What Now?

There will be further opportunities to have input on this project and others but it is up to every Weston resident to get involved, attend consultation meetings and ask questions. Community input and the hard work of people and groups such as the Weston Village Residents’ Association have resulted in good things happening but vigilance will be needed to make sure that developers don’t cut corners or maximize their profits at the cost of a liveable community that we can all be proud of.