On Nov. 7 the community surrounding 357 Birchmount Ave. had an opportunity to meet with the Habitat for Humanity and city officials to find out what the latest plans are for the site. And what they heard didn’t sit well.
Many of their concerns focused on one of the issues that plagues the entire city: traffic.
Habitat for Humanity is proposing to build eight semi-detached homes and one single family dwelling on the 0.86-acre site. The lot abuts the CN railway to the north, Birchmount Road to the west, Highview Road to the south and the backyards of Alyesworth Avenue to the east.
“I am worried about safety,” said Steven Mark, who lives on Alyesworth Avenue. “I am worried about a kid getting run over and me getting into an accident.”
The intersection of Birchmount Avenue and Highview Road is particularly busy. It’s the main exit for the neighbourhood as the rail line to the north creates a barrier. The bus stop located at the corner services two TTC bus routes, the Warden 69 and the Cliffside 20. TTC has reviewed the proposed development plans and did not express any concerns according to Habitat’s presentation. Highview is already the main route for school buses. And that is before the proposed Habitat development is completed. Tara Terry who lives on Alyesworth voiced her concerns.
“It is a dangerous corner right now,” Terry said. “Having nine homes minimum, four people per house, that’s a lot of people in a little area there that is going to cause horrendous traffic, nightmares.”
Another audience member shared her experience of the busy corner of Birchmount Avenue and Highview Road.
“I got off the TTC and almost got killed the other night by a bus because it was dark, it was rainy. We thought the bus stopped for us, we were crossing over the street. Would the city consider a crosswalk or a stop or something there?”
Complicating matters is the proposed service road for the development. It’s planned to be entered off Highview Road with the driveways behind the proposed homes. Those in attendance at the meeting preferred that the driveways be at the front, similar to what is found in the rest of the neighbourhood.
One person in the audience made this suggested that those who live on Aylesworth, would prefer not to have cars going up and down at the rear of their backyards. But Paul Connor, the city’s transportation engineering coordinator explained it’s “safer to keep (vehicles) away from the intersection” and have the cars come off a local street like Highview versus off a main thoroughfare like Birchmount. This comment was countered by another audience member asking “Safer for who?”
The audience then turned to Geoffrey McGrath, Manager, Land Acquisition and Planning for Habitat for Humanity, frustrated by everything they had heard. He was greeted with comments from the crowd of “Did you grow up in the city? Did you?” they asked. McGrath replied he had.
At that point Gary Crawford, Councillor for Ward 30, Scarborough Southwest, the area’s representative, stepped in and took over as moderator of the meeting noting the need for everyone to be heard.
“Lots of people are talking and I understand that everyone wants to have their say but when we are all speaking together, we will try to get your comments down but it is very difficult to do that,” Crawford said. “We want to answer your questions, we want to get your comments but when everyone is shouting at the same time it doesn’t serve anyone’s purpose.”
But Crawford’s intervention did not sit well with everyone, including Erica Manaois, a resident of Alyesworth Avenue and Steven Mark’s partner.
“I guess he was playing moderator but at the same time I wasn’t feeling that he was getting our concerns, what the community really feels about it,” she said.
Crawford acknowledged the traffic issue pre-dated current plans for the site.
“Even if this development wasn’t going in, this is something we would be looking at as an issue,” he said.
The audience continued to express their concerns, in particular the need for a traffic survey. Andrea Reaney, the city’s senior planner from the Community Planning department explained, “a traffic study isn’t part of this for this number of units”.
Connor, from the transportation department said, “based on thousands of surveys from North America”, the “maximum number of motorists you are going to get out of this application is one every 7 to 8 minutes, that’s maximum, and that is if everyone left at 7 to 8 a.m.” but he noted not everyone leaves at the same time.
But Terry, like others in attendance, was concerned that no traffic study has been done although the community asked for one when they last met with the developer and city officials at the pre-application community meeting on April 22.
“Ideally, we would like to have the traffic study before,” Crawford said.
The councillor promised to look into making sure a traffic study is done but explained he did not have direct control over the timing of its completion. Connor offered to e-mail the councillor’s office the next morning to follow-up.
One attendee, Sue Mason, summed up the audience’s feelings and her comment was greeted with applause.
“We would really like it if you listen to us, we’re the city, we’re the ones who live here,” she said.
The meeting ended with Crawford requesting a copy of the petition that had been circulated by Steven Mark. Crawford promised to represent the community’s concerns at both Scarborough Community Council and at city hall.