Churchill once said that, “History is written by the victors”. An article in UrbanToronto.ca, (basically a public relations organ for the local real estate and development industries) tells a sanitized version of the background story of the soon to be opened Weston Hub.
The article’s author, Dean Macaskill, has been involved in Toronto real estate since 1980 and was with the company given the GO Station parking lot listing back in 2012. The land was put on the market by the Toronto Parking Authority and according to Macaskill, the 5 offers received on the 1.42 acre site were, ‘at rather depressed pricing levels’.
What’s not mentioned in the article are thoughts at the time that the land belonged to the old town of Weston and that it should not be sold. Also, unlike the wealthy Wychwood Barns neighbourhood which received close to $20 million from the City for their Artscape project, poor old Weston received essentially nothing.
The message seems to be that no one wanted to invest in Weston until this development came along and since that time, developers have been falling all over themselves to buy into our community. He neglects to mention that his listing stated, “Area Is Undergoing Significant Change With Other High Rise Condominiums Planned In The Immediate Area.” Also missing in action is any mention of the 370 rental apartments and 40,000 square feet of storage units that came as part of the deal. The 8000 square foot space devoted to the cultural hub seems rather ungenerous by comparison. Another unmentioned issue of contention is the tight space given to the Farmers Market .
Now that the Hub is nearing completion, we’ll all have to make the best of it and hope it’s a success – but it could have been so much better no matter what shine is put on it.
Just to cheer you up, here’s a Metro Morning interview with Artscape’s Tim Jones talking to CBC’s Matt Galloway recently on the same topic.
Yesterday’s article covered the state of retail in Weston / Mount Dennis.
One of the factors that makes a big difference to an area is the public domain. Anyone who has been to Europe will know how well the public domain is looked after.
Far less public domain money is spent here in Toronto and especially in Weston / Mount Dennis where spending is further suppressed as our BIAs have smaller budgets, our Section 37 money is scarce and our politicians have an unfortunate obsession with keeping property taxes (the lowest in the GTA) at or below the rate of inflation. Spending initiatives that could improve public facilities are often voted down.
As a result, the things that can help iron out differences between rich and poor are suppressed. The homeless are treated with contempt. Public housing is in disrepair; cycling and walking are dangerous, our library, recreation and and parks system are underfunded and garbage and leaf litter, is allowed to accumulate. Cars dominate our streets while the TTC receives the lowest subsidy of any major city in North America. Climbing the social ladder is harder than ever because politicians worry that they’ll be voted out of office if they support tax increases. A recent study by the World Bank has discovered that when inequality goes up, there is a corresponding increase in the murder rate.
What has to change? Our political system is a shambles – more on that tomorrow. We need leaders at all levels of government who understand the connection between adequate public domain funding and helping people move out of poverty. Gentrification is often seen as a solution to our problems in WMD. It’s not. It simply forces poor people to relocate instead of helping them climb the ladder out of poverty.
The answer is more money spent on helping the poor help themselves. More money, for example, to fix the appalling repair backlog at Toronto Public Housing, more money to properly fund our public institutions and spaces. We also need to beautify our streets here in WMD and reduce the enormous amounts of real estate given over to the car. Will it be Weston or Mount Dennis that gets the first traffic free street in Toronto? (Toronto is one of the few cities in the world without a public pedestrian / bike only street.) We also need to find ways to improve access to the beautiful Humber River that meanders through WMD.
In summary, we need to tell our elected representatives that our priority is improving the public domain and not keeping taxes low. Poverty sucks and feeds on itself. It won’t go away without heroic efforts.
The constant, artificial shortage of tax dollars puts the squeeze on the most vulnerable among us; people who traditionally don’t apply political pressure and can’t make generous campaign contributions. Even more insidiously, the constant trimming of budgets is designed to make public institutions fail and the private sector look good by comparison.
Make no mistake, underfunding the public domain impoverishes us all and lowers our quality of life.
As we approach the year end, here are some things that seem to be holding us back locally. This is the second a five part series, which began yesterday.
As always, your comments are welcome.
2. The Retail Experience in Weston Mount Dennis
Believe it or not but Canadians only buy 5% of their non-grocery goods online. The rest is done in brick and mortar stores. Unfortunately, businesses in Weston and Mount Dennis are under-patronized as it often seems easier to jump in the car.
Retail in WMD is a bit like the old weather adage. Everyone complains about our shopping but nobody does anything about it. People use all kinds of excuses for not shopping locally but the bottom line is that if people want vibrant local shopping, they have to encourage local stores that go some way to meeting their needs. Weston and Mount Dennis will not be confused with Bloor West Village anytime soon but there are glimmers of hope that need to be encouraged. There is a symbiotic relationship between patronage, meeting the needs of customers and a vibrant shopping area.
If people don’t like the appearance of the streets or feel threatened, (More on that tomorrow : Part 3 – The Public Domain) they need to talk to the relevant parties such as 311 or Councillor Nunziata’s office. Statistically, we should understand that we put ourselves in the greatest danger when we drive our cars or cross the road.
Landlords: our empty stores need to be occupied. The tax rebate for empty stores will be ending by June 2018. This is a good thing that will provide an incentive to quickly re-let a storefront. Empty stores detract from the ambience of a shopping area and landlords with empty stores should allow non-profit groups to use the empty stores until paying tenants are found. Weston BIA and Mount Dennis BIA should get the ball rolling on this. If landlords are still happy to allow stores to sit empty, the city should go one further and tax vacant stores at a higher rate.
When Greenland Farm supermarket closes, many Weston residents will lose their only walkable source of produce. Is there another store waiting in the wings? The owner / developer of the GF site can promise that a major supermarket chain will be moving into the podium of the new development when it finally materializes on the site. It will be a meaningless and empty promise as the podium space will be leased to whoever is willing to pay. Councillor Nunziata should do all she can to encourage a seller of produce along the lines of the Royal York Fruit Market in the Royal York Plaza.
Banks are disappearing. We need walkable storefront bank branches.
Readers, what businesses would you like to see in your local shopping area? What stops you from shopping in WMD? Which stores have you patronized?
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
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.
Thanks to a lapse in memory, I wasn’t able to attend Tuesday’s meeting to hear plans by the owner of 1965 Weston Road. Marion at Weston’s BIA, helped out by getting me in touch with Grenville Dungey who was there and kindly shared his impressions. Here are some of Gren’s take-aways of the proposal.
The proposal is in its very earliest stages. There was a conceptual drawing but nothing else. The basic idea is for a 6-story podium building with 4 floors residential and 2 floors of retail. On top of the podium would be a residential tower that would have a smaller footprint taking the height up to 28 storeys. Residential units would be mainly one and two-bedroom with some bachelor apartments. The owner said that wind tunnel tests would be performed on models of the tower to make sure that the building didn’t create undue wind patterns.
Gren got the impression that the owner is very keen to have community input but the owner also said that if the numbers don’t work, it won’t get built. (I’m interpreting that to mean the height of the building). There would be underground parking for residents which would be accessed from the Lawrence Avenue entrance to the site.
The next meeting with more concrete ideas will be sometime next spring. If building starts it will possibly be around 2020 before anything gets started and the construction might take between 30 and 36 months.
What does the City of Toronto say about that part of Weston?
Back in 2004, the City put into place guidelines for Weston, designed (among many other things) to stop further deterioration of Weston Road into a high-rise corridor. It stipulated that new buildings along the Weston Road Corridor where the GF building now stands, should be limited to a maximum of 8 storeys. Reading the guidelines almost makes one despair at the lost opportunities as they have been totally ignored in the intervening years.
No doubt the current owner bought the site for the purpose of making money by developing to a height far beyond the guidelines. When people spend money on a property, they perform some due diligence to make sure that their plans are achievable. It seems there must be high confidence that 28 stories will pass muster at council.
Incidentally, the Greenland Farm people no longer own the building and have put the business up for sale.