Thursday, May 10, 2012
Mimico waterfront: Another “wall of condos” disaster in the making?
Now, some residents of southern Etobicoke are concerned that the same mistakes are being repeated along the western waterfront, and no one is watching.
“They built a wall of condos, and now they’re paying (hundreds of millions) to fix it,” says Mimico resident Kyle Gojic. “We’re doing the same thing here, but on a larger scale.”
Like so many Toronto stories, this one starts with condominiums.
In 1997 Doug Holyday, then mayor of Etobicoke, announced plans for a new neighbourhood: Humber Bay Shores. The former “motel strip” — a seedy area south of Lake Shore Blvd. W. and east of Park Lawn Rd. — saw its first new condo a year later.
Since then, highrises have sprouted like toadstools.
“There’s very large numbers of people in buildings that are just higgledy-piggledy scattered across that area. There’s no coherent pattern of public spaces, there’s no shopping or retail,” says Ken Greenberg, an architect and urban designer who has consulted for Waterfront Toronto.
“It’s one of the most egregious, terrible examples of lack of any kind of decent planning one can think of.”
Some may disagree. But many in Mimico — the next community over, where a massive revitalization plan known as “Mimico 20/20” is underway — look east to Humber Bay Shores as a warning.
“The multi-multi-multi-storey buildings? It scares me,” says Bob Poldon, president of the Mimico Residents Association.
A century ago, wealthy Torontonians came to Mimico to build luxurious beachfront estates. But in the mid-1900s, politicians, some of whom were eventually embroiled in a corruption scandal, let developers build blocks of nondescript midrise rental apartments south of Lake Shore Blvd. W.
“I call it the Great Wall of Mimico. If you drive by, and you aren’t from the area … half the people wouldn’t even know that the water is right there,” says Mark Grimes (Ward 6, Etobicoke–Lakeshore).
There are “parking lots right up onto the water’s edge,” he points out. “It’s ridiculous.”
Grimes launched the Mimico 20/20 revitalization plan in 2006. But the process has stopped and started, and some residents find the plan opaque. Gojic recently sent a letter of concern signed by 80 of her neighbours to city planning staff. They want to know, for one, whether the plan will set height and density restrictions for new buildings.
In Mimico at large, fears are swirling over one site owned by Longo Development Corp., which now hosts six lowrise rentals near the lake, all huddled around a historic early 20th century villa. Last year, Longo submitted an application that describes redeveloping the site into two midrise towers to replace the rental units and, controversially, six more towers ranging from 20 to 44 storeys. The historic villa was not described in the plans.
Dino Longo, principal of the company, says the application is incomplete and will be resubmitted once Mimico 20/20 is complete. He called the plans “exciting” and said residents’ concerns over the historic villa will be addressed, but did not back away from the proposed tower heights.
Grimes doesn’t believe a 44-storey tower fits the neighbourhood. “But the community has to also understand that for all this redevelopment that most of people want to happen, something’s gotta give.”
By law, for example, developers must replace all torn-down rental units. For the landowners redeveloping those aging midrise apartments, “A four-storey building, it’s not going to happen. Otherwise you can put this study back on the shelf,” says Grimes.
Both Gojic and Poldon say residents strongly support revitalization and to preserve the kind of affordable units that will maintain Mimico’s un-gentrified, mixed-income makeup. But they want the revitalization process to better engage residents — and all Torontonians. A community workshop is planned for May 29.
“This is the western waterfront. This is a huge deal,” says Gojic. “I think we’re really going to lose out unless people start to pay attention.”
And Gojic, unlike Poldon and councillor Grimes, thinks Toronto needs one steward for its entire lakeshore. Waterfront Toronto gave $20 million for a new strip of lakeside parkland in Mimico, but its jurisdiction ends at Parkdale.
“If I was to dream a dream,” she says, “it would be that Waterfront Toronto would be given the mandate to oversee” Mimico.