Response to WB proposal from individual Residents

This is a small selection of letters to City Planning and City Councillors with concerns about Westbank’s January 2017 proposal.

All letters have been published with the permission of the writers. 

Letter to City Planner Graig Unens From Astra Burka.  Feb 23, 2017.

Unfortunately I cannot attend the 2 March meeting and would like to provide  you some thoughts about the proposed Mirvish Village 2017. I am in Amsterdam studying urban infrastructure while staying on a houseboat.

The mantra from city hall has been how to create liveable communities and complete streets. The West Don Lands has been a successful result of creating a new community with mid rise buildings, parks and streets.

The same approach, we should be taking with Mirvish Village.

Unfortunately we do not have a master plan for the future growth of a larger area for the surrounding Mirvish area that could have been created with a Development Permit System. The larger area that could have been from Dupont to College, Ossington to Spadina to test if the MV fits into a larger vision and context for the future growth of the city.

Similar to the OMB, we are looking at one off projects, The Mirvish Block or the 4 corners without a larger context. The DPS seems to be the only planning tool that could assist in planning a block within a larger context.

The goal of MV is to integrate and make a liveable community.

My Point of view is about liveable space for renters. I reviewed some of the data and looked at the layouts of the units. What is the city’s position on quality of natural daylight into the units? Why are we not taking the opportunity to create liveable space for the renters? Starting from the inside out in the design is a more humanistic approach? Number of units have decreased to 804 unitsYet the number of studio apartments have increased from 63 in 2015 to 165 in 2016 and now to 225. I reviewed the floor layouts and the studio units are roughly 3 x 9 meters (10 x 30 feet). I do not know the height of the unit but if under 2.8 metres then we are creating coffin living. A corridor without light on on one side only. This is not liveable space for human well being.

Combining the studios (225) and the one bedrooms (237) represents 56% of the total residential spaces.

The 2 and 3 bedroom units represent 37% and live/work the rest.

I have not seen any layouts for the individual units. I hope the city has changed its position of NOT ALLOWING ANY INTERIOR BEDROOMS in any of the 1, 2 or 3 bedrooms unless natural daylight is studied in the units, like the Dutch and Scandinavian approach. I am thinking of how we raise children in windowless, mechanically ventilated rooms is not creating well being.

Height and Density : What will be the impact of the 28/25/24/19 storeys have in the immediate surrounding when a master plan for a larger area as stated above has not been planned for the future?Does the density compromise the liveable spaces and neighbourhood?

Parking : Why is there so much parking required? Reduce by making studios and one bedrooms exempt from parking and maintain the existing requirements for the rest, as a suggestion. The TTC, bicycles and walkable area to shops, work etc is already there.

My suggestion for the presentation on 2 March is to have the developers show the  typical layouts of the studio, 1,2 and 3 bedrooms. In the MV 2016 presentation,  no drawings of the rental units and how people live in the space were presented or hardly discussed.

In conclusion, the West DonLands demonstrates we can get it right. We can do the same for MV.

I totally appreciate the time and efforts that have been done with all the stakeholders.

These were my thoughts from Amsterdam. Good luck with the meetings being scheduled on the 28 Feb and 2 March.

All the best from Astra

Astra Burka is an architect and film maker who lives in the Little Italy -Palmerston Area

Letter to City Councillors Layton and Cressy from Robert Cohen. Feb 21, 2017.

I am very concerned about the recently issued revised plans for the Mirvish Village development. The density and heights are simply too big. This plan will spoil the cultural heritage of a very special neighborhood.

I feel let down by the consultation process that residents of surrounding neighborhoods have undertaken over several years. We’ve had very many community meetings, discussions with politicians, city planners, developers; we’ve committed precious time, energy and ideas to the process – and it seems no one is listening. The third revised plan is only incrementally changed from that last. The people seem to have lost their voice.

I have worked in Mirvish Village for 16 years. I have seen firsthand the vibrancy of this neighborhood and how important it is to our city. It is an approachable, creative pocket that contributes immensely to our quality of life. We need places like this in our big city where artists, artisans and small businesses comingle, where people come together to experience art, exchange ideas, and meet with friends in a charming, human-scaled environment.

To build massive towers hovering directly over this heritage streetscape, cramming in up to 1300 new residents, is unnecessary and would be a big mistake.

Big towers over 10 stories should be left to the north and east sides of the property, on Bloor/Bathurst Street. This is what the community has been saying for years. Markham Street should be designated an area of special identity, just as Yorkville is, and the buildings on either side should be no more than 6 stories. The entire development should accommodate a maximum of 500 new units, which is more enough for a property of this size.

The plans indicate that the developer has attempted to achieve the maximum amount of height possible. However the angular plane drawings are misleading. The angles extend from the edge of the “Neighborhoods” but Markham Street between Bloor and Lennox -perhaps one of the city’s most notable, livable neighborhoods – is not considered a “Neighborhood”! If it were so designated, as it absolutely should be, the heights of the 2 entire development would be appropriately scaled according to the angular plane guidelines.

Our community and our city are not resistant to change. We want a dynamic, progressive, creative mixed-use neighborhood and we acknowledge there is room to increase the density of this inner-city property. At issue is how to do this reasonably while preserving

something great. The City and its leaders should listen to what the communities around this development have been saying for years:

– Large heights should be limited to the north-east side of the development.

– Markham Street should be preserved and any buildings overlooking this street should be low-rise in nature, respecting the cultural and architectural heritage of the neighborhood.

– The “Markham Tower” is egregiously too high in the revised plan.  The number of units should be reduced to a maximum of 500.

The decision the City makes around the Mirvish Village will have a dramatic effect on both the communities surrounding the development and the city as a whole. I ask local politicians and city staff to get it right. We don’t need to reinvent the city in one development. History shows this never works. Incremental, organic growth, sensitive to context, is the name of the game. Don’t forget: there are three other corners at Bathurst and Bloor Streets that will inevitably be intensified in the years ahead; we can take ourtime and build a successful city sensibly and respectfully.

Best regards, Robert Cohen

Robert Cohen is a resident of Markham Street and an owner of a media company in Mirvish Village Area

Letter to Graig Unens, City Planning and Councillor Layton from Elsbeth Tupker, Feb 26, 2017. 

As a home owner on Markham street, one block south of the Mirvish Village, I want to add my voice to the letters from neighbours and the MVTG. I share the concerns and support the suggestions that have been put forward regarding the height of the apartment towers, the retention of all the heritage buildings, more park space, the lane between Bathurst and Markham, and traffic flow around the site and the surrounding neighbourhood.

I have lived here for 30 years, and cherish this neighbourhood for it’s diversity of people who live and work in the area, and those who visit to partake in the unique cultural and commercial activities that it provides. My fantasy is to rent one of the newly built apartments in the future, when I am ready to downsize. Therefore I am also concerned about the layout of these dwellings, the amount of light, fresh air via balconies, and views that will make them liveable. Up to now these aspects of the development remain a mystery, and so, I urge you and Westbank to involve us in the planning of the apartments.

Finally, Mirvish Village, and the surrounding residential area, are unique, because despite the borders of two very busy streets, they offer a human scale on the ground, and a natural canopy of trees and skies above. It is the kind of neighbourhood that is worth preserving, that makes Toronto so liveable. No doubt things will change when the towers go up, but their impact will be less, if there is a substantial reduction in their height.

The people in this neighbourhood have been actively involved in the planning of this development, and have been clear about how to make this a project that Toronto can be proud of.  With your support we can make that happen.

Sincerely, Elsbeth Tupker

Letter from Anita Lerek to Councillors Layton and Cressy as well as City Planning. Feb 28, 2017. 

Community is what everyone wants.  Head count makes or breaks community.

 Community building is an interest that links all the Markham Village development project players together: existing owners, Westbank, current and future tenants (residential and retail).

West Bank through CSI in the past weekend’s Farewell events focused heavily on inclusiveness and community. At Paul McLean’s Sunday workshop, Creating Connections, the community concept was enthusiastically embraced and particularized by diverse participants. Community was seen as a consciousness of sharing a common space incl a pleasing architectural space, functioning services, and an interactive space.

 The main builder or killer of community is head count: the number of people/units fitted into the space.  It’s tough to build community in a thimble!  We do not wish to create a cell block.  All the issues raised in the excellent Feb 14 PARA letter follow from the density issue, namely, traffic mgt; park/green space; the overall look of the place (incl historical).

1.  Can the current Westbank application create the conditions for community. 

To handle 1200 new residents in one city block+some  with a preponderance of solo, transient studio residents over family unit residents (2-3 bedroom apts)?

To provide sufficient commons incl play spaces for teenagers, and meeting hubs such as parks and growing gardens, and lots of unifying events?

To engender a sense of ‘ownership’ in and commitment to the shared spaces beyond costly municipal purse strings?

 2.  As the project is a rental and not a condo with committed owners, the need to create community is more critical to the success of this development.

3.  The consequences of failed community from unmindful head count  (crowding, noise, inadequate servicing, traffic congestion, garbage, destruction, violence): In the normal course, the owner can always sell the properties.  It’s legally more complicated and costly to convert rentals into condo. 



 Westbank through its sponsorship and its lively ambassadors endorsed a very powerful concept of community.  For the sake of all the players in the proposed development project, Westbank must now be enjoined to back up its words. It should put legs on the concept by tweaking the appropriate head count as befits the space (REDUCE THE TOWERS), and that will calm the ensuing issues re  traffic mgt, park/green space and the overall look of the place (preservation of historical buildings etc). 

 The decision about this development will cast a long shadow on this neighbourhood and others by example.  We cannot afford to betray the urban legacy we leave our children.   

In smarts and in caring,  Anita Lerek, LL.B

Resident of Markham St. since 1986

Letter to City Councillors and City Planning from Johnny Lucas, Feb 28, 2017.

The latest Westbank proposal for Mirvish Village is too just too much.  It is too dense, it is completely wrong for the location and the neighbourhood.  A project that is anything like the one proposed cannot fare well and will look, and be, worse in the years to come.  I understand that Westbank and its parent financiers may have paid seventy-three million for the site, but they did not get seventy-three hundred acres.  I am not impressed that it is slightly less dense than the previous proposals.  Westbank has shown a disregard for the existing zoning but their prime skill, expensively bought, is in PR: manipulating some media and public opinion – especially among those with little stake in the area.  But these talents are irrelevant, and public opinion will turn against the project and those behind it when construction begins and continue to dive when voters see the monster rising from Mirvish village.  It’s too much of everything on too little land. 

 Please do a better job of looking past the public relations.  Architects on bicycles, input from “the community” structured in a way as to yield the desired results with negative comments suppressed by the developer, deceptive drawings – it’s a mastery of one-sided propaganda financed by a well-off corporation with much to gain.  They are in no way altruists.  One of their plans shows most rooftops painted green and a tree growing out of the sidewalk within 3 feet of the intersection of Bloor & Bathurst.  It was insulting to all of us that the first proposals ignored – just for one example – the clear requirements for open space.  

  1. Please believe nothing the developer says.  Contrary to their in-house PR, they do not have a good reputation in Vancouver.  They are known there as being greedy and bullies. One of their more profitable buildings, Vancouver House, is generally accepted as being an awkward building parachuted unsympathetically into the wrong place and sure to aggravate an already difficult local traffic pattern.
  2. Please try to understand the character of the Bloor/Bathurst area better.  It’s a mix for sure.  One of its strengths is that that neither home-owners nor businesses nor tenants nor shoppers nor students and neither young nor old dominate.  We do get along however, with that very Canadian principle of “reasonable accommodation.”  The present proposal would change that balance by introducing a large deep-pocketed bully to the neighbourhood.  This is maybe the least NIMBY of all Toronto’s affluent neighbourhoods. We’re all silver socialists.  But we never did really enjoy the “grittiness” of Honest Ed’s.  We knew the store’s days were numbered and accepted its presence, which was obviously grandfathered in, knowing that it could never expand.
  3. The infrastructure is just not there for this kind of density.  Transit is at maximum now, parking for both cars and bicycles is inadequate for the number of occupants that the suites would have, especially considering that the small “family” units with two and three bedrooms are almost certain to become student housing.  Congestion in the area will be aggravated.  Parking for residents and their guests on side streets (poorly enforced now) will only be much worse and a potential source of conflict.
  4. The proposed project would dominate the area.  Right now, no one building or service dominates.  Right now, the area has much the same character as it did when most construction was completed 100 years ago.  It has changed gradually and gently over that period.  This would dominate the area demographically, economically and visually. 
  5. Do your job.  And do someone else’s job too. I’ve heard that factors such as rental vs. ownership is not within the purview of the planning department.  Stop passing the buck.  Do you not think it makes a difference whether a resident owns their home or rents?  Visit St. James Town and get back to me on that.  A comprehensive and holistic look at this project is required and I am not at all satisfied that this has been attempted. It certainly has not been delivered.
  6. Know that your decision is the beginning, not the end.  For you who read this, the decision may seem to be the end of the process and I expect you are anxious to get it behind you, but for we who have to live with it, it’s just the beginning.  We know there will be years of construction, bad traffic, over-crowding of services for a very long time.  The decisions you make may in fact stay with you too.  In 10 years when Mirvish Village is a classic urban slum and “density in the wrong place” you name will still be attached to it. 
  7. Do your job.  We understand that you are well meaning people and well trained professionals who are probably working well past your optimal workload.  If you are unable to do the diligence required to render a carefully considered opinion on this matter, one which you will be proud of in 10 or 20 years, let’s hear you say so.  Westbank has created a mountain of work for you and now offers to stop that – if only you will see things their way.  Please do not let Westbank do your work for you.  Stop letting them set the agenda.  Their interests are not your interests and they are certainly not the interests of the residents of the area or the city at large.

Please, get back to basics on this project before it’s too late.

Sincerely, Johnny Lucas, Palmerston Blvd. 

Radio Canada interview in which long-time resident of Markham Street, Frank Vetere,  expresses his concerns about the development of Mirvish Village