Scarborough housing plan has neighbours seeing green

Don York lives in West Hill, in east end Toronto. He is petitioning against a City of Toronto plan to develop a vacant lot into affordable housing.

“We physically delivered 848 signed letters objecting to the removal of trees, a lot of them had multiple signatures,” Don York said.

“We also know there are a lot of people that faxed or mailed it and so we’re expecting … there to be well over 1100 signatures opposing this.”

The site is currently a piece of tree-covered land, just south of Lawrence Avenue and east of Manse Road. People use the pathways to stroll through the trees; children use it as a playground, and some nearby residents tend to small gardens there.

In 2001 the city identified the site for a demonstration project involving the Women Religious Project (WRP) Neighbourhood Housing.

WRP Neighbourhood Housing is a corporation formed by 40 women religious congregations in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto to address the need for affordable housing in Toronto. They have raised $2 million for the project on the West Hill site.

During community consultation in 2005 and 2006 many people expressed a preference for retaining the site as a green space, including Don York, who is also the chair of the Manse Valley Community Association.

‘They actually haven’t put a shovel in the ground’

“We keep figuring they haven’t actually put a shovel in the ground yet,” he said. “All of the plans are not finalized yet … So there’s still a lot of work on their behalf to make this happen.”

City planner John Andreevski said there are 78 conditions attached to the subdivision approval for the development. Compliance with these conditions is required before registration of the final plan of subdivision.

The conditions include approval for the removal of trees on the site in terms of the City’s Private Tree Bylaw. Although an arborist report identified 1,267 trees of different sizes on the site, only 32 trees qualify for protection under this bylaw.

The concerns raised by residents resulted in considerable revisions to the original development proposal. Instead of 76 homes, consisting of a mix of semi-detached and townhouse units, the revisions allow for 60 semi-detached homes.

According to the planning report, WRP Neighbourhood Housing expressed concern over the effect the revisions would have on the financial feasibility of the project.

Meanwhile, WRP Neighbourhood Housing confirmed the purchase of the land from the City of Toronto.

‘Very surprised at the outcry’

Urban planner Bob Cutler assisted WRP Neighbourhood Housing with the development application. He said he was surprised at the community opposition to the project.

“WRP is trying to do something good for those who can’t speak for themselves,” he said. “So we all got behind this thing and thought it was a great idea and very surprised at the outcry of opposition.”

Cutler said he thought the opposition resulted from area residents’ affection to the green space.

“A lot of them have created their own little green spaces … and they just didn’t want to see that go,” he said. “People who live in the co-ops were saying ‘Well, where are my children going to be playing?’”

According to Ward 44 Scarborough East councillor, Ron Moeser, it is tough for the community to accept the City Council’s decision in favour of the development.

“I would work at encouraging people to say look, it has happened, everybody knows the strong feelings on either side of this and we still want community,” he said. “At the end of the day we feel we (have) got to move on from this. These people move into our community in good faith, let’s treat it that way.”

Filed April 5, 2007, from the Centre for Creative Communications