UPDATE: Thurs, Nov 1 —
It’s not much, but downtown Toronto is soon going to get a little bit greener.
City council has voted 26 to 1 in favour of using an undisclosed portion of the parkland reserve funds in negotiations with a condo developer at 11 Wellesley St W.
Budget chief Mike Del Grande was the sole dissenting vote.
The decision comes after a lengthy struggle on the part of community members to have their pleas heard by the province, which has sold the lot since putting it up for bids on Aug 15. But Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says the money she now has may not be enough when up against a condo developer.
“It is not a significant amount based on the incredibly expensive land values in downtown Toronto and Ward 27,” she says. “I will have to hit above my weight. I’ll have to leverage a dime into a dollar.”
But for the residents of Ward 27, any size of park will do for lowering the area’s deficit in green space.
The tall wooden fence that surrounds 11 Wellesley has been painted over with murals and words like “Ka-ching!” since a rally this August to display community interest in the space. But the province has been uncooperative, Wong-Tam says.
“They have been absolutely obstructionist,” she says. “I think that Ward 27 has been ignored by the province. Even my own MPP [Glen Murray] has been ignored by his party.”
But the support from city council has Wong-Tam poised to secure a significant portion of the 2.1 acre lot, she says.
Some have doubted the choice of 11 Wellesley for new green space with Queen’s Park just a short walk west. But with its statues, monuments and some of the city’s oldest trees, Queen’s Park doesn’t fit community needs, Wong-Tam says.
To turn it into a recreational park with dog runs and playgrounds would mean taking down trees more than 100 years old, something in which the City of Toronto has little jurisdiction; Queen’s Park is not owned by the city.
The lot at 11 Wellesley has been vacant for two decades after multiple failed proposals, but there is still work to be done before the community sees a new patch of green.
“I’m hoping that whatever transpires, and if everything falls into place, that a park will be built for the community within the next 12 to 24 months,” Wong-Tam says. “Even after we purchase the property, there’s still a massive process that we have to do.”
The time-line depends on the state of the land, she says, as the soil may be contaminated and artifacts could be discovered. It may take as long as two years to design and build what she would like to call Jane Jacobs Park.
But first, Wong-Tam needs to buy some of the land from a condo developer.
“It’s going to be a tough negotiation,” she says.
Oct 30 — Last ditch effort for green space at 11 Wellesley St W
A fight for more green space in Ward 27 could gain strong backing this week at city council, despite a provincial government that many in the community feel has ignored their pleas.
The empty lot at 11 Wellesley St W is owned by the province
but could fall into the hands of a condo developer. If council votes in favour of acquiring a portion of 11 Wellesley, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam thinks she may be able to negotiate with the owner to build a park. Her hope is to call it Jane Jacobs Park, in memory of the late urban-planning guru.
But the community’s desire to turn the entire 2.1 acre lot into a park will face challenges.
“It would have only worked if the province was willing to come to the table. But the province has abandoned the city of Toronto,” Wong-Tam said at an Oct 18 meeting of the government management committee.
“Premier McGuinty is off and running. He’s even abdicated his responsibilities to the province,” she said. “There’s about $270 million worth of real estate that the province, through Infrastructure Ontario, is actively selling in Ward 27 without any consideration on what those lands can be used for, except for private condominium development.”
Residents of the Church-Wellesley and Bay-Cloverhill neighbourhoods participated in a public rally in August; since then they have sent a petition with more than 2,300 signatures to the province. At the committee meeting earlier this month, 18 deputants persuaded councillors that Ward 27 needs more green space and that 11 Wellesley is the spot for it. The committee voted to support the acquisition.
Connie Langille, executive member of the Church-Wellesley Neighbourhood Association, used a simple analogy in her appeal. Raising a piece of blank writing paper in the air to show how little green space there is in the ward per resident, she ripped off a chunk the size of an envelope.
“The area is changing,” said association board member James McLennan, citing 137 development proposals open in Ward 27. “As taxpayers, we’re asking you to step up.”
Ward 27, the second most populous in Toronto, rates low on the city’s scale of green-space sufficiency, a need that will increase as more condos rise.
The derelict lot at 11 Wellesley and its high wooden fence has been an eyesore for two decades as proposal after proposal has failed. The property eventually fell into the hands of the province, which deemed it “public land,” Wong-Tam says. But the land was put up for private bids through Infrastructure Ontario on Aug 15.
“The property is being sold in a fair, open and transparent process managed by an independent broker,” said Minister of Infrastructure Bob Chiarelli in a letter to Wong-Tam in September.
“Infrastructure Ontario requested comment from the City Planning office over six months ago, and the city did not raise any concerns,” he wrote. “The city is still welcome to acquire the property, should it wish to.”
But the city can’t compete in a “bidding war” against a condo developer, Wong-Tam said in a response to Chiarelli on Oct 15.
“The community has rallied to this cause and has been met with a wall of silence from the Province,” she wrote.
Wong-Tam is confident she can win 1.5 acres if council supports using money from the Parkland Dedication Fund. That would still leave space for one condo tower, she says.
The support from the government management committee helped.
“Now I’ve got some poker chips,” she says. “This is the very last opportunity to build a park of this significant size in a very dense urban environment. And if we lost this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, then it’s gone forever.”