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.

Farmers Market Harvest Celebration

From TheHorleyViews.com

This Saturday, September 30 the Weston Farmers Market will be holding a Harvest Celebration between 9:00 and 12 noon in the UP Express / GO Train parking lot. Planned events include:

  • Cupcake and pumpkin decorating
  • Balloon artistry
  • Old Fashioned Halloween games
  • Prizes and loot bags
  • An old-time fiddler

Saturday promises to be sunny and 16° which will be perfect to get everyone in the mood for Fall after this stretch of hot weather.

Are you artistic? The Farmers Market is looking for volunteers, to decorate pumpkins and other items for this coming Saturday, Sept 30th from 9.00 a.m. to 12 noon to help. We also need some help on Friday afternoon, Sept 29th to decorate some larger pumpkins. Students will receive community hours for helping out.

For more information, call Marion at 241-249-0691.

UP Express ridership zooms 20%

Anyone who has travelled on the UP Express recently will know that since fares were reduced, the train has been wildly popular; not only with airline passengers but also with commuters and people moving between the stations of Pearson, Weston, Bloor and Union.

Fares dropped to their current levels in March 2016 and by July of that year, monthly ridership had increased from a low of 60,000 in February 2016 to about 250,000. Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins tweeted today that in July 2017, ridership was over 300,000 for that month. While this might be a reflection of tourist numbers, it’s still a good sign and a great perk of living in Weston.

 

What’s happening to Weston Station?

In the two years that Weston UP Express Station has been open, a sharp deterioration in landscaping and service has occurred. The station provides a vital first impression for people passing through Weston and it’s beginning to look tired. If this is an attempt to save money since fares were lowered, it’s definitely a false economy and reflects badly on our community.

The station just before it opened in June 2015.
Dead trees and weeds blight Weston Station in 2017
Looking towards the Lawrence footbridge in 2015.
Empty planters in 2017.
Weston Station bike racks 2017.

Are vandals removing plants from flower beds? They certainly aren’t planting the weeds.

One more thing. The station was once open while trains were running but is now locked up tight between 10:30 am and 3:30 pm and closed altogether on weekends. This is a reduction in service and Weston deserves better. People with mobility concerns needing to use the elevator may think they are out of luck if trains are running and the station is closed. Surely a way could be found to keep the station open. At one time, there was talk of a coffee shop in the station. What happened to that idea?

Go away.

The other middle stop along the line, Bloor Station is open during these same hours and on weekends although counter service follows similar hours as in the image above.

Why is Weston treated this badly? Presumably because Metrolinx thinks that nobody cares. Is that true? Metrolinx and our local representatives need to know that this is wrong. The reason we have a station is because people let politicians know that it was important. If Metrolinx is allowed to neglect the station to the point where people stop using it, that will put it in danger of closing.

Perhaps that’s the plan.

Interim CEO, John Jensen, Metrolinx’s former chief capital officer needs to know about this. He could fix this tomorrow.

Metrolinx Web Feedback here. Phone: 416-869-3300

Councillor Frances Nunziata: Phone: 416-392-4091

MPP Laura Albanese: Phone: 416-243-7984

MP Ahmed Hussen: Phone: 416-656-2526

Update: Scott Money from Metrolinx says,

“Thank you for bringing forward your concerns about the landscaping at Weston GO station. Our operations team is looking into this right away and will fix any landscaping issues at the station as soon as possible.

The operating hours at Weston Go station have remained consistent since the station opened.”

I have asked Scott why there is a difference in treatment between the Weston and Bloor stations and will publish the response when it arrives.

UP Express fares unchanged from Weston.

Metrolinx recently announced a 3% fare increase for GO and UP Express fares. Happily for Weston, fares for other than the full Union to Pearson trip will remain unchanged after the anticipated increase in September. Only fares higher than $5.65 will be increased.

In defence of the UPX subsidy.

The UPX makes a stop at Weston Station.

All forms of transportation are subsidized in Ontario, including our roads. Each TTC fare is subsidized by the city to the tune of around 89¢. GO Train passengers are also subsidized by about the same amount. In contrast, on the Sheppard Subway (Line 4) property tax payers fork over about $10 for each passenger’s ride. The one-stop Scarborough Subway with its $3.5 Billion capital cost will need big subsidies to support the paltry 2300 riders a day expected to use the boondoggle service (compared to over 7000 a day currently on UPX).

One can argue that the extra burden of maintenance, traffic control, police supervision, accidents, deaths, sprawl and pollution make roads a poor bargain.

Adam is correct that our accidental commuter train to the Airport or downtown is heavily subsidized. For the moment, Metrolinx is being coy about UP Express subsidies, probably because they are so high. Let’s remember that UPX was designed as a premier experience and not expected to break even for several years. The model was flawed, based more on wishful thinking than actual need. People stayed away in droves thanks to high fares. The (not so) mysterious absence of the executive types who could afford the service meant that trains ran empty all day long. Thanks to high staff levels, capital and running costs, estimates placed the subsidy at around $50 per trip. Now that fares have come down and ridership has tripled, the subsidy may have eased somewhat. The cost of running UPX was $63.2 million last year. Now that prices are affordable, the boutique service levels and running costs could probably be lowered. No doubt with increased ridership, subsidy levels could approach those of the TTC.

The bottom line is that the UPX isn’t going away anytime soon and it provides a huge benefit to our community. Lord knows City council seems to begrudge any money spent on Weston. It’s nice to enjoy this large, if accidental, benefit from the province. Long may it last.

Extra credit: read this 5 year-old article on the UPX from our archives for some interesting viewpoints and statements from that time.

 

High Speed Rail – bring it on!

I am going to take the opposite viewpoint to my esteemed colleague Adam on this topic. Here’s the ‘good cop’ version.

David Collenette was the man behind the UP Express, having first proposed it 20 years ago. His original vision was for a direct train that would offer a 22-minute ride from Pearson to Union that would cost $20. Without going into the details of what happened between concept and reality (read our back issues), the end result was that Weston in effect ended up with an all-day commuter rail service into Toronto for about the same price as a GO Train ticket.

Collenette has re-emerged as a ‘Special Advisor’ in a report outlining a vision of a high speed rail line joining Toronto and Windsor.

Lord knows how hard it is to get anything built in this neck of the woods. Collenette’s vision of the Air Rail Link (as it was then known), ended up as a huge gift for Weston’s commuters. Now on the wildly popular UP Express (since lowing prices), in rush hours, it’s standing room only.

What about the Toronto to Windsor HSR Line? It’s certainly needed. In fact, decent rail links all over Canada are needed. Part-way to Windsor lies Canada’s Silicon Valley in the Kitchener / Waterloo area. It’s too close to fly there (only 100 km) yet GO Trains take at best 2 hours. An HSR train would use much of the same corridor and cut travel time between the two city centres dramatically. Stops at Malton (Pearson), Guelph, Kitchener and London are proposed for the first phase.

The HSR route will use the UP Express corridor. Click for larger view.

What’s in it for Weston?

In 2021, the UP Express will add one more station at Mount Dennis and connect to the new Crosstown Line. Will this new station make the UP Express unacceptably slow? There is a rumoured possibility that Weston’s station will be too close to Mount Dennis and may be closed as a result.

The report itself recommends that existing services be ‘optimized’:

The Province should align provincial mandates to optimize rail services by directing Metrolinx and MTO to collaborate on the development of an Integrated Rail Strategy for the Toronto-Kitchener corridor, which would

•Clarify the mandates of GO RER, UP Express and HSR on the corridor.

•Assess ridership and service frequencies.

•Recommend how the Province might optimize GO RER, UP Express and HSR ridership to maximize the benefit to Ontarians.

One way around the two station dilemma might be to convert the existing UP Express into a commuter line and open new stations along the way. This could be a way of easing the burden on the subway system while preserving Weston’s regular and rapid link to downtown.

What will the cost be? Anyone who has done home renovations will know that estimated costs before a project begins are likely to end up higher in reality. What studies do show is that public transit adds value to a community if done well. No doubt changes and variations are up for grabs as they were with the original idea for the Airport Rail Link.

What about a high speed train running through our community? The train won’t likely be that fast in the city. Currently the UP Express hits speeds of up to 130 km/h between Bloor and Weston for an average of around 77 km/h. The report projects a somewhat faster average speed (just under 100 km/h from Union to Malton).

Travel times for the faster of the two HSR scenarios. Click for larger view.

The next steps will be more studies and consultations. This is just the beginning of what will be a long and ambitious project. While there may be pitfalls along the way, there will be opportunities and this proposed infrastructure holds huge promise and potential for Weston.

We do however need to be on top of this as a community and make sure that the people of Weston / Mount Dennis are heard loud and clear.