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New projects underway in Church-Wellesley neighbourhood

New banners, gates, crosswalks, info pillar on tap for 2014 — but no parklets

The popular “parklet” project will not be rolled out this year because the Church-Wellesley Village BIA does not have enough money to pay for it. Credit: Adam Coish

As construction season gears up for 2014, residents of the Church-Wellesley Village can look forward to a host of new neighbourhood projects — both to get the Village ready to host WorldPride and to leave a lasting legacy afterward.

These will include new flags and banner poles to identify the neighbourhood as the Village and market WorldPride throughout downtown, the installation of a new “information pillar” at Church and Wellesley, and new permanent gates that can be used to close the street during festivals.

This is in addition to previously announced improvements and projects under construction, such as a new rainbow-coloured crosswalk, the renovation of Cawthra Park and the sidewalk in front of the 519 Church Street Community Centre, the completion of the Church Street Mural Project and the installation of new bike lanes.

It all amounts to a lot of work going into the neighbourhood, which Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam attributes to the city’s efforts to get it ready for the world’s attention during WorldPride and the Pan Am Games. “It’s three blocks that gets a lot of attention,” she says. “That’s a lot for one neighbourhood.”

One project residents won’t be seeing is last year’s popular Church Street “parklets.” The temporary wooden sidewalk extensions will remain in storage this year unless the Church-Wellesley Village BIA can find another BIA willing to rent them. The BIA doesn’t have the funds to pay for their installation and maintenance this year and they’d be in the way of needed water-main work scheduled for August and September. BIA co-chair Liz Devine could not confirm whether the parklets would be back in 2015.

A water-main upgrading project on Church and Wood streets will address flooding and water-quality problems caused by the city’s old, substandard pipes in the neighbourhood. “For years, Church has had problems with flooding and holes in the road. All of that is to do with we have one of the oldest water mains in the city under Church,” Devine says.

Instead, businesses on Church are being given the option to extend their patios onto the sidewalk during Pride Week for 2014, and Wong-Tam says “six or seven” have applied for the extensions.

Church Street will be closed for a street party for both weekends of WorldPride — a first for the festival. The BIA hopes the first weekend will have more of a community feel and is sponsoring an art tour of the neighbourhood that will show off the Church Street murals, as well as art that will be installed in storefront windows throughout the neighbourhood. “The first weekend of WorldPride is going to be very neighbourly, getting to know your Village and focus on residents and community and local celebrations,” Devine says. “I’m really looking forward to being able to showcase that.”

Meanwhile, another neighbourhood project appears to have fallen by the wayside. Wong-Tam says she’s dropped efforts to animate the large public space at the corner of Church and Alexander streets, which were touched off when the removal of benches from the space caused an outcry. Wong-Tam says neighbours were unable to agree on a design for the corner, but the city still has funds set aside for the project should they come to agreement. “[Residents and neighbours] need to gather consensus amongst its membership, speak to the residents, determine whether they have some form of consensus, then work together,” she says.

The BIA has also had a plan for years to improve and expand the sidewalks throughout the Village, which would add more permanent seating and trees. The BIA had planned to time this work with the city’s water-main and road work, but it no longer has time to raise the necessary funds or complete the required environmental assessment before water-main work begins this summer.

The BIA and The 519 have together secured funds for several of the improvements, including the new banners and gates. These come from development charges and sponsorship by the Pan Am Games and the Yellow Pages. “We’re shifting from less of an operational system with The 519 to a strategic relationship,” Devine says. “Through their grant-writing resources, they were able to assist the BIA in obtaining a grant for capital improvements that will be spent in 2014 and 15.”

Looking forward, Wong-Tam says she’s talking to residents about improvements to the pedestrian environment on Wellesley Street, perhaps tied to ongoing development projects on both sides of Yonge Street.