Weston Cultural Hub – The Issues Part 3

This is the last of a three-part series on the proposal to build a Cultural Hub in Weston.

Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

From Urban Land Institute.
From Urban Land Institute.

The story so far:

  • A Cultural Hub has been proposed for Weston.
  • Disused podium space at 33 King Street will be refurbished by developer, Rockport and leased to community groups at cost.
  • 26 artist live / work spaces will be attached to the 33 King Street podium
  • The old GO parking lot has been sold to developers Rockport
  • Rockport will donate $2 million to the cost of construction
  • Rockport gets to build a 30-storey 350-unit rental building (subject to approval)
  • The City will waive $13.3 million in developer charges
  • Artscape will contribute $2 million to the project and will lease the spaces for 50 years.
There is no shortage of apartment buildings in Weston.
There is no shortage of rental apartment buildings in Weston.

We are being told by almost everyone involved in this project that the only way for Weston to get money for its Cultural Hub is to allow the developer to build a 30-storey rental apartment on the site. The project is being framed as a ‘Wychwood Barns for Weston’. Let’s take a look at the two projects and see how they compare.

Wychwood Barns and Weston Cultural Hub – a comparison

Cost to build:

Wychwood: $19 million     Weston: $10 million

Tied to construction of high rise rental building:

Wychwood: No     Weston: Yes

City Financial Support:

Wychwood: $4.5 million     Weston: $0

Developer Charges Waived

Wychwood: Yes     Weston: Yes

Province and Federal Contribution:

Wychwood: $5.3 million     Weston: $0

Artscape Contribution:

Wychwood: $9.2 million     Weston: $2 million

Parkland Included:

Wychwood: Yes     Weston: No

Landscaping Included:

Wychwood: Yes     Weston: Yes

Farmers Market Space:

Wychwood: Yes     Weston: Yes

Heritage District Status

Wychwood: Yes     Weston: No

So there you have it. Although the City seems to be generously waiving $13.3 million in developer fees, according to Councillor Joe Mihevc developer fees were waived for the Wychwood project too. Incidentally, Councillor Mihevc thinks the Weston Hub plan is ‘terrific’ but hadn’t realized that there was a rental tower as part of the deal. He said it’s up to the parties involved to hammer out the best deal they can for Weston. He did speak well of developers Rockport saying they are based in his ward and are ‘good people’.

The Wychwood project received generous grants from Artscape, the City, the Province and the Federal Government while Weston, a Priority Neighbourhood is told that this is the only deal that can be obtained. Wychwood got a community hub without developer involvement while Weston’s hub is tied to a rental tower that will be the tallest in the area.

Weston residents are confronting some difficult decisions. There is a temptation to accept any form of development because change is felt to be better than the status quo. It is long understood that one reason for Weston’s decline was an excess of cheaply constructed and rather tall rental buildings. For years, Weston was a dumping ground for high-rise buildings, each one built to minimum standards and plunked down with the blessing of the City government of the day. City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat candidly acknowledged this at the meeting held recently but at the same time telling us that the current understanding with the developer is the best that can be done.

In the developer’s original apartment proposal, there was no podium, too wide a base and 18 storeys (perhaps the architect didn’t read the City’s Tall Building Guidelines). The developer was sent back for a redo and returned with the exactly the same rental space (300,000 square feet) and same number of apartments (350) only this time on 30 floors. The argument being that since Weston has lots of tall buildings, another one won’t hurt. At the information meeting, developer Jack Winberg was adamant that the building must be a rental and not a condo. With lots of rental units available in Weston at bargain basement prices, the community has no guarantee that this building will not become another low-income project (not that there’s anything wrong with low income housing, however Weston does more than its fair share to accommodate that sector of society).

The old GO Station parking lot, existing rental tower and unused podium.
The old GO Station parking lot, existing rental tower and unused podium.

There are no easy answers to improving a priority neighbourhood. Improvement requires encouraging a variety of housing types, support for businesses, improved transportation links and infrastructure that add to the fabric of a community along with strong citizen involvement. Most of all it requires money from all levels of government that isn’t tied to developers on a take it or leave it basis.

Yet another rental building in Weston will cement our reputation as a low income dumping ground as the temptation to fill the building with TCHC tenants will inevitably win out. This is not to denigrate people who need help with their accommodation but shouldn’t we try to achieve a balance of housing types in all areas of Toronto.

Finally…

Here is a quote from a paper written in 2009 by Former Chief Planner Paul Bedford that got the ball rolling in Weston.

  • given the relocation of GO train parking to the new station at Weston Road and Lawrence Avenue, embrace the opportunity to develop a town square concept forming the heart and central meeting place in Weston on John Street
  • re-use a portion of the vacant concourse area to the west of 33 King to incorporate an indoor component of the farmers market with outdoor stalls adjacent and on the west side close to parking
  • consider introducing a mix of functions into the podium of 33-35 King such as recreation, community centre, artist studio lofts, non-profit offices similar in concept to the Wychwood Barns along with a park and community gardens on east side of parking lot and on the green covered rail corridor deck with possible bike lanes
Wychwood Barns.
Wychwood Barns.

Bottom Line:

Some questions seem to be needing answers:

  • Why is there real money from all levels of government for a project in Wychwood yet none for a Priority Neighbourhood like Weston?

  • Why did Artscape contribute so much more for Wychwood Barns than its proposed contribution for Weston’s Cultural Hub?

  • Why is the Weston project tied to the construction of a new rental building when a project costing double was achieved without one?

  • Who owns the podium and parking garage at 33 King street and what is their interest / involvement / contribution?

  • How can Weston absorb yet another rental tower when we already have 32?

  • Should Artscape accept donations from developers?

  • What is being done about Weston’s long awaited Heritage Status?

Make no mistake; this project is a done deal unless people demand answers to these troubling questions. Yes, a lot of work has gone into this development proposal. Many city employees have spent a long time sorting out the details along with Weston Residents’ Association, Artscape, Councillor Nunziata and the developer. That doesn’t make it a worthy project as there are far too many unknowns.

Incidentally, Mayor John Tory will be speaking at Weston Memorial Jr. P.S. next Tuesday, June 2nd at 6:30. He may wish to hear what Weston residents think of this proposal.

5 thoughts on “Weston Cultural Hub – The Issues Part 3”

  1. “He did speak well of developers Rockport saying they are based in his ward and are ‘good people’.”

    Well there you have it, ladies and gentlemen.

    A development corporation is oriented towards one thing: its profits. If the honourable councilor’s only explanation of a 30 story rental tower is to refer to the supposed goodwill of the development corporation, we can easily conclude where his priorities lie.

    Will these apartments be slightly better than what is currently offered? probably. It doesn’t take Milton Friedman, though, to deduce that rents and vacancies of nearby buildings will be adversely affected, thus contributing to their squalor.

    This isn’t about Artscape or the Farmer’s market; these are afterthoughts – a convenient screen to build a monstrosity which in virtually any other context in Toronto would be unthinkable in this day and age.

    My question is, what is the role of the Resident’s Association in all this? did things just get carried away, beyond their control? how was it not recognized at the outset that this was a disaster waiting to happen?

  2. Thanks Roy for pointing out and explaining all the negative aspects of this disastrous plan

  3. Oh dear, I hope all goes well. This project has lots of potential… and lots of potential to turn sour 🙁

  4. Thank you Roy. All of these questions need answers and the disparity between the treatment that Wychwood, an affluent area, on easy routes to U of T and downtown, gets and our own Priority Neighbourhood gets is sobering.

    Our councillor needs to do better. And we need answers.

    In the past, Ms Nunziata has shrugged off responsibility for the strip of apartments making Weston Road a hazard for pedestrians and community, saying they occurred before her time. This megalithic monster is being created under her watch, and her defence is to point at the City guidelines (which WestonWeb revealed to be a smokescreen) and to ignore the community’s needs in favour of a developer’s.

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