Weston school budgets face cuts

Weston’s schools are facing budget cuts under the new PC government. The French immersion and the IB program will both be trimmed if the budget goes ahead. The late-start French program also faces complete cancellation.

French immersion students in grades 4 through 6 who catch buses to Valleyfield in Etobicoke will no longer be able to. The draft budget says “the cost of delivering French Immersion (FI) and Extended French (EF) in its current form is so high, that a complete reduction in transportation services is needed to operate the programs with budget.”

The TDSB also says that they will be reevaluating the French programs. Our area is unusual, because we have late-start French immersion, and students start in grade 4 rather than in senior Kindergarten. The TDSB says that they will be looking at “existing entry points” to “provide a better experience for all students”.

Weston CI offers an International Baccalaureate Program, which gives advanced standing at university to high-achieving students. That program will continue to be offered, but “associated per-student fees will no longer be covered by the TDSB. [A] sliding scale will be created to support IB Diploma students who would benefit from financial support.”

In Peel Region, the IB fees are  $250 for grades 9 and 10 and $2700 for grades 11 and 12.

Meeting about severing 135 John

Nunziata’s office will be hosting a meeting to consider whether the owner of 135 John should be allowed to sever the lot and construct two new homes, with 8m wide lots.

The meeting will be at 7 pm on Monday, January 29 at Weston Memorial, . The owners will be there to present their case.

The OMB recently recently rejected a similar case just down the street at 96 John, in which the owners had asked to create two 7.5m lots. That appeal was denied on the grounds that the smaller lots would destabilize the character of the neighbourhood.

 

Vacant storefront rebate program finally ends in June.

A vacant Weston Road store in 2013. (file)

At Weston Web, we occasionally run across things that were once a good idea but now no longer work. One of them was a generous property tax rebate given to landlords of empty stores. We wrote about it back in 2013 and were pleasantly surprised when about a year ago, Mayor John Tory pledged that he would eliminate the break that had ended up doing more harm than good.

The 30% tax discount began during an economic downturn in 1998 when the Province thought it would help Ontario landlords struggling with vacant storefronts. Although times changed, Toronto continued to reward owners after a qualifying 90 day vacancy. The generous plan backfired somewhat as it reduced property tax revenues by about $22 million annually and encouraged longer store vacancies since owners are rewarded only when they hit the 90-day qualifying mark. This lower pressure to find a tenant also encouraged landlords to hold out for higher rents.

In a corner of the city struggling to keep a viable retail sector, ending the rebates may help reduce the number of empty storefronts that plague Weston and Mount Dennis. Property owners have been given notice that as of June 2018, the rebates will end after a phase-out period that began last January. The Province passed the necessary legislation on May 17, allowing the city to come up with the timeline. Well done Mayor Tory and the Provincial Government.

Incidentally, this year, claiming a shortage of money, the city kept Toronto Public Library’s budget increase to a mere 0.9% and Ontario then piled on by reducing the TPL allocation by $700,000 for the next two years.

Let’s hope that with the additional revenue, the library’s budget can now be brought up to where it should be.

TD in Weston is closing, moving to Crossroads

I was recently amazed when I visited a bank teller to take out cash. There were—forgive me here—little old ladies with passbooks in clear vinyl envelopes asking the tellers in salty, sunny, Mediterranean languages about their balances.

I hadn’t seen a passbook in three decades, and I was amazed that people still use them. I was amazed the bank still prints them. And, if I’m honest, I was also infuriated: my god, the line was slow. Do you people not know about apps?

But my fury at the waiting in line will be nothing compared to my anger at not having a lineup at all.

The TD Bank at 1979 Weston Road will close and move to the Crossroads Plaza by this time next year, according to residents. (TD has not yet returned my calls.) This is the latest in a series of closures that are turning downtown Weston into a banking desert: the RBC and TD banks on Jane have closed, as did the Scotiabank at Weston and Lawrence. In two years, we will have gone from six branches (and four banks) to two. Only RBC on and BMO, both on Weston Road, remain.

While the big banks have been moving on, money-lenders and high-fee cheque-cashing businesses have been moving in. There are at least 10 payday loan or cheque-cashing places in Weston. Something is wrong with a community when there are more usurers than ice-cream shops.

I’m not usually the sort of guy who says that the government should meddle in business, but in this case, I think they should. Banks are not meeting their social obligations, and the government has a strong moral reason to regulate minimum levels of service—and the muscle to do so.

Being banked is a critical part of being a citizen; even the government pays by cheque and prefers direct deposit. (You can’t collect Ontario Works, for instance, in cash.) Allowing banks to close forces people into the hands of cheque-cashers, who charge about $3, +3% of the value of the cheque: a whopping $33 on a $1000 payday.

Worse, the people who will pay are those least able to: the poor, less-literate, and less mobile. Being gouged by MoneyMart makes a lot more sense when you’re faced with a 90-minute walk or a $6.50 fare and a snowy hour waiting for buses.

And then there are the knock-on, long-term effects. To open an RESP, get financial advice, or save in a TFSA, you need to have a branch. None of it can be done online. Pulling out banks means pushing people to the financial margins, and that will make our community poorer in the long run. You need to be close to a banker to pull ahead.

Of course some of us—those with cars, $100 cellphone plans, and the wherewithal to direct-deposit our infrequent cheques by photograph—we will all be fine. After all, I didn’t know people still use passbooks because I hadn’t stood in line for years.

But you can’t both curse a bank’s Friday lineup and say we don’t need it.

Ginger Pho—you should go

The family and I finally had a chance to get to Ginger Pho, on Weston Road across from the Super Store, which opened about three weeks ago. (We’ve been travelling a lot, and boy are we glad to be back!)

In short—it’s great! You should go. We stuffed ourselves for $42, before the tip, including pop and appetizers. And it was good. We had leftovers and left-behinds, too.

The highlight, for me, was my wife’s vegetarian vermicelli with fried tofu and a spring roll on top. I loved it. The tofu was perfect (neither wet nor greasy, and marinated in something good), and the spring roll was great. The veggies were fresh and crispy, and the whole thing was a balance of healthy and sinful—and a steal at about $8. There are other vegetarian options, too, including a veggie pho, made without a meat broth.

We started with cold rolls ($5) which in the future, I’d skip in favour of the superb fried rolls. The kids’ chicken phos ($6 or so) came with some, for which they handily defeated me in chop-stick battle. What little I could prise from them was really great—not at all like your typical mass-produced rolls cooked from frozen; these had shredded chicken and a crunchy, blistered skin. Superb.

I had beef pho ($9), the server’s recommendation. The slightly-sweet, cardamom and cinnamonny broth was the same as the kids’, but I got bean sprouts, which would have been wasted on the little ones. The beef slices were nice, and the basil was pretty: flowering and purple. A little lime and a single chili added some colour. I got the large, which was a mistake. Even I couldn’t finish it.

The restaurant is lovely, and modestly busy. The service is great (though they did bring my wife’s meal a minutes before the rest of ours), and the menu is extensive and interesting, with lots of room for regulars to explore. There is draft lager and a few more adventurous options, including a cider and a Belgian.

 

Greenland Farm Update.

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.

My Comments:

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.

The current listing for the business. From realtor.ca