1705 Weston Road Meeting well attended

There was a crowd upwards of 70 people in attendance last night at 1901 Weston to hear details of a by-law amendment proposal that would allow a (so far, nebulous) 25-storey, 82 metre, mixed-use building to be built on a site at Weston Road and Victoria Avenue. The meeting was called by the City of Toronto so that residents could get more details about the proposal from the developer, architect and city officials. No decisions have been made yet -comments from residents concerning the proposal will allegedly guide the Planning Department as to what they will or will not approve. Councillor Nunziata and MPP Laura Albanese were present.

The meeting was kicked off by Sean Rooney a member of the planning department who stated that their goal is to see something built that fits into the local environment. He referenced the 2004 Weston Urban Design Guidelines state that buildings should be restricted to 8 storeys, having an appropriate size and scale and support the vitality of the area. There’s also the tall building guidelines that somehow come into play. In addition, new guidelines have also been added to encourage more children to be raised in high rises.

There were several groups in the crowd, not all on the same page. A group from ACORN would like to see an affordable housing component built into whatever ends up there. Local homeowners are concerned about the extra noise, shadow impacts and traffic; some want a condo built stating that we have too much rental accommodations in Weston while others reported that even Weston’s comparatively low rents are too high for them.

The proposed building. Note that there will only be four balconies per floor – these will be a feature of the two or three-bedroom units.

The building, it was revealed by the developer, will be a condo not a rental but in these early stages, there is openness to some leeway. According to the owner, talking about the interior details would be speculative as nothing has been decided yet.

The architect explained that the odd placement of the top section lumped onto the lower is to “align with the residential zone across the street” and also to assist with shadow impacts. Incidentally he glossed over the shadows that the building would cast in December. Weston Road will be widened in the future by 12 feet further restricting the site. A further limitation on the site is that there must be a 30 metre setback from the rail line. (I wonder how this would affect future rail corridor widening.)

Many expressed concern over the height of the building and the impact of traffic in the area. With a potential for over 500 residents in the building, and an assumption from the developer that 50% of residents would be using public transit, 6 visitor parking spaces seems low.

Other concerns from residents:

  • Noise from trains would be reflected by the tall building to other residents.
  • Property values of nearby homes will be negatively impacted.
  • 500 additional residents will bring unacceptable traffic levels along Victoria Avenue.
  • There is not enough ground floor retail space for a supermarket.
  • The development is not in keeping with the scale of the neighbourhood.
  • Other Toronto communities think 14 stories is too tall – why 25 here?
  • This is not responsible development.
  • Concern about density.
  • Concern about affordability.
  • The proposal does not fit into the community.
  • This will create a precedent if approved.
  • We don’t need another rental building.
  • Can a community control its own destiny?
  • What about affordable child care spaces in the building?
  • Why is there confusion over height guidelines? – They conflict with each other.

Sean Rooney from the Planning Department would like to hear further comments on the proposal.
Tel. No. (416) 394-8245
By email: here

Five things that need to change in Weston / Mount Dennis. Part 5.

5. Planning and Development

Adapted from MasterMaq.ca

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.

in 2016, more planning studies for Weston and Mount Dennis were announced that should have seen the light of day in 2017 but nothing seems to have transpired.

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.

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.