Don York, chair of the Manse Valley Community Association, and his wife Sharon have been living in Scarborough for nearly 39 years, and they have trouble believing the Wood Green Ravine has been leveled by a bulldozer.
What stood as a five-acre forested lot only a week ago has now been rid of its trees and undergrowth.
After four years of disagreements between residents and city officials, plans to build affordable housing units in the wooded area just southeast of Lawrence Avenue and Manse Road have finally begun.
Habitat for Humanity is working with a group called the Women’s Religious Projects, and with the Daniels Corporation, a residential developing firm. They have put in motion plans to build 60 housing units.
Area residents are not happy, but the Manse Valley Community Association, which has undertaken the fight to protect the lot, has decided not to file an appeal.
“It has taken a long time,” said Neil Hetherington, CEO of the Toronto chapter of Habitat for Humanity. But he still characterized the final decision as a “phenomenal compromise,” citing a major change in construction plans from building 118 units down to only 60.
“We’re treading very lightly on the community.”
Don York disagrees, arguing that initial construction plans had assumed the city would have 10 acres of land available. With the 2001 construction of a police station taking up five of those acres, York argues Habitat for Humanity had no choice but to reduce their scope.
Concern for the environment, said York, has been the main reason why residents are so wary of supporting construction. With numerous chemical factories operating just down the road from the community, residents felt the green space of the Wood Green Ravine had been helping to keep the air clean.
Though Hetherington said Habitat for Humanity has joined an initiative to plant more than 2,000 trees in the construction area and in the surrounding neighbourhood to boost the tree canopy, the Yorks said they are not satisfied.
“They can talk 2,000 all they like,” said Don York, emphasizing it would take four or five decades for the saplings to mature to the same level as the trees that had been cut down.
“They think they can ruin a community, plant somewhere else, and it’s fixed,” said Sharon York, shaking her head. “It’s just divided the community.”
Community residents appear to be split in yet another way, as they try to decide whether they will accept the new residents when they move in next summer.
“It’s going to be hard to welcome them knowing it was their homes that divided the community,” said Don York, though he admitted he could not blame the residents themselves for the way the project has turned out.