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.

You can use credit cards on the UPX

Ever-so-slowly, the UPX fare boxes are improving. You can now use your credit card to tap on and off.

I’m sure these things are massively complicated, but it seems a bit bonkers that a train designed for airport passengers didn’t have this in the first place. Nobody wants to struggle with tickets in a foreign language while juggling luggage and fighting jetlag. Add it to the list.

While you’re considering UPX fares, be sure avoid a scam. Your correspondent saw $120 “unlimited” Presto cards advertised on a social network. They are allegedly good for three years.

It sounds too good to be true—and it is.

Weston GO and UP Express numbers may drop

The UP Express at Weston Station. (file)

Back in 2011, Weston Web reported that the old Weston Station on John Street used to see about 450 trips daily (weekdays only). That would translate into about 225 people using the station.

Metrolinx published Weston’s passenger numbers for UP Ex and GO last April and they were up sharply thanks to a $1.50 subsidy for people making one journey using both the GO and TTC (courtesy of the Kathleen Wynne government). This was possible only for passengers using the much loved Presto Card.

The latest figures from April show that between April 2018 and January 2019, GO passenger numbers increased by 21% while UP Ex numbers were up 15.8%. Weston station sees about 1100 GO trips daily while UP Ex has about 940. That’s about 1000 people daily going through Weston Station which is a huge increase from the 225 in 2011.

With the recent announcement that the Ford government will drop the subsidy, there is concern that people will get back in their cars and drive.

Metrolinx claims it is willing to throw in 75¢ of the rebate if the city of Toronto will throw in the other half of the rebate but as usual, Toronto, in its 227th year of austerity, is pleading poverty.

Over to you Councillors Nunziata and Holyday.

 

GO expanding to Woodbine racetrack

The Kitchener GO line will soon have a new stop at the Woodbine racetrack. The stop will be paid for by the owners of Woodbine, and it will replace the Etobicoke North station.

Metrolinx has said that the UP Express eventually may stop at Woodbine station, though no plans were announced this week. This would be great for Weston; the more that commuters use the line, the less likely we are to lose our stop–and that’s a concern because the train will stop at the new Mount Dennis transit hub.

 

 

Mount Dennis – opportunity to improve dangerous streets .

A recent and timely article in a Toronto blog named ‘The Local’, features some well-known local characters while dealing with the topic of pedestrian safety and the public realm in the Mount Dennis area. Author, Sam Riches has written for a number of publications including Wired, Salon.com  and Longreads.

Read Sam’s article here.

Councillor Nunziata; it’s legacy time.

The results are in and the unfair effect of name recognition was once again an overwhelming factor in Toronto elections. The two incumbents in newly created Ward 5 topped the poll despite spirited campaigns, especially from Chiara Padovani and Lekan Olawoye. Even Frances Nunziata must have realized during her campaign that there was a yearning for change. Indeed, the vast majority of voters chose another candidate. About 68% of electors who bothered to vote, chose someone other than her.

Now for the more depressing part; voter participation was significantly down across the city and fewer than 38% of YSW eligible voters bothered to vote according to my calculations. The average for Toronto was about 41%. In effect, Ms. Nunziata retained her job thanks to about 12% of electors.

Given the march of time, Frances Nunziata only has a few years left at council before she retires or a more compelling candidate beats her in an upcoming election. What will be her legacy? Frances herself struggled to list her accomplishments when debating other candidates. Many pointed to the decline in Weston’s fortunes over the past several decades of her tenure. Weston and Mount Dennis are slowly beginning to emerge from years of neglect and disinterest, mainly thanks to the UP Express, all day GO Train service and the expansion of the city to the suburbs; none of which she can legitimately claim credit for.

It’s not all bad; there are some minor achievements – will she be remembered for the Weston Common / Hub / Storage Unit? Remember, the original concept was for an arts and cultural centre and year round (indoor outdoor) farmers market. What about the car-focussed community centre at Black Creek and Eglinton? There are critics of both of these projects while others have a legitimate claim to shared parentage.

The original Weston Hub concept as it was sold to the community. (Click to enlarge)

There are some notable failures on her record. The persistent flooding in parts of the ward surely should have been fixed by now. The shabby public domain and the lack of progress on a bicycle network are two others that quickly come to mind.

Frances began her political career as a corruption fighter, exposing and taking on crooked politicians. That reputation is long behind her. Now she is best known for her role as Council Speaker. There are many critics of her voting record which was the closest of any councillor to that of Mayor Tory – over 90% of the time. This blog has long criticized some of her positions which often seem to work against residents who are struggling.

Speakers are chosen by a council vote. Given the dramatic changes to Council, it will be interesting to see if Ms Nunziata can win a third term in that prestigious yet challenging position. Now that Mammoliti has gone, the job may be a lot more attractive to others in the chamber. Losing the Speaker’s job would certainly give her more time to work on the larger ward she now governs.

Regardless; for this new term, Ms Nunziata needs to find bold projects that inspire and uplift our community if she is to be remembered for anything other than her long years in office. Whether she can do this over the next four years remains to be seen.

I for one hope she can.

10 Wilby apartments: zoning amendment and Section 37.

Toronto City Council and its local equivalent, Etobicoke York Community Council is a strange beast. Its decisions often leave people scratching their heads. This time they’ve managed to do something right. You’d think it was an election year or something.

On July 4, the Community Council dealt with rezoning the land at 10 Wilby. Readers may remember that non-profit builder, Options for Homes has proposed a 22-story, 233-unit condo apartment building at that location. OFH prides itself on making home ownership affordable. What they do is supplement an owner’s down-payment by up to $75,000 so that the mortgage is reduced. When the owner eventually sells, OFH gets back their contribution along with a proportional increase if the apartment has appreciated in value. As a tradeoff, features like swimming pools and gyms are eliminated so that prices are held down.

The address of 10 Wilby is an interesting one as it is at the top of the Humber Valley with potential access to parkland and the Pan Am Path. Our longer term residents may remember it as the former site of the Ministry of Transportation licence office.

The 10 Wilby site as it appears today. Hickory Tree curves around the corner. Wilby Crescent is on the left. The Humber Valley lies beyond the trees and informal (but steep) trails lead down to beautiful parkland, the river, the Humber footbridge and the Pan Am Path.

10 Wilby is above a curve in the river so views from the new building’s upper floors will be spectacular.

As an added bonus, Weston GO and UP Express stations are a short walk away.

From Toronto.ca

In order to erect a building on the smallish Wilby site, a land swap was arranged with the business opposite so that there was enough room to meet code requirements.  In rare and sensible use of Section 37 money, the Community Council on Wednesday approved rezoning and a plan that would see OFH donate and spend $800,000 in order to:

  • Make a cul-de-sac at the end of Wilby
  • Build a sidewalk along Wilby and connect it to Weston Road
  • Plant 25 new trees on the property and adjacent city land
  • Convert the Hickory Tree Road lands abutting the subject property to parkland conditions
  • Improve local parkland and connectivity of local parkland to the Humber River valley; and
  • Provide streetscape improvements along Wilby Crescent, Weston Road and Hickory Tree Road which comply with the Streetscape Manual and are to the satisfaction of the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning.
  • Perform an archeological study

The Community Council also thought it would be prudent to warn purchasers that local schools may not be able to accommodate pupils from the building.

The section of Hickory Tree Road that will be naturalized. The 10 Wilby site is on the right.

The proposed naturalization of the land opposite the site. From Toronto.ca

For readers who are puzzled by the site actually being on Hickory Tree Road yet having the 10 Wilby address; you’re not alone. The comments following this earlier article may help.

Incidentally, there was one dissenting vote opposing the rezoning amendment; that of Ward 7’s very own (and almost Brampton MPP), Giorgio Mammoliti.

Next stop, City Council on July 23.