Saturday, July 19, 2014

Organization in place to push for more homes on Toronto Islands

TORONTO - They vociferously opposed the revitalization of the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport and the launch of Porter Airlines in 2006.

Now, working in conjunction with NoJets TO, they won’t rest until they make Porter CEO Bob Deluce jump through hoop after hoop in his attempts to get approval to allow whisper jets to operate out of the Island Airport. In fact, they’ve made so much noise about his expansion plans and the supposed impact on the surrounding environment that council has deferred any and all decision-making on the expansion until the spring of 2015.

After they complained loudly and repeatedly about noise — because that is what they do best — a group of Toronto Islanders also caused The Docks entertainment complex to have its liquor licence revoked in July 2006. The Docks operators were forced to take their fight to appeal court and the licence was reinstated with strict conditions, including a ban on large outdoor events.

But in what can only be called hypocrisy at its very finest, the Toronto Sun has learned that the same Island whiners and so-called environmentalists are now quietly trying to revive a plan to build 110-units of co-op housing on their leased public Paradise — a plan that would require them to clear-cut a lushly forested area of 300 trees, many of them mature (as I noted while trekking through the area this past Wednesday afternoon.)

According to information obtained by the Sun, a Toronto Island Residents Housing Co-operative Inc. (TIRHC) — quietly created just over a year ago with its own bylaws and six-member board — has resurrected the dream to build co-op housing on the Island similar to the Flying Toad Co-op project which was killed nearly 20 years ago by the Conservative government of the day.

Although they are not specific as to who would be the benefactors of these new co-ops, an Island source, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal, thinks it would be largely to provide long-term rentals to the second and third generation of long-time Islanders who are now in their 20s and 30s and are having kids of their own and who are not on the 500-member waiting list to purchase homes.

“They’re (the Islanders) developers and they don’t see it,” says the source. “They just think they’re better than anyone else because they’re on the left (politically).”

The TIRHC update from April of this year indicates the board has identified two potential sites for co-op housing — one behind their Canoe Club and the other in front of Shaw House — in addition to what is known as the “promised lands,” the proposed site of the original Flying Toad Co-op.

The document indicates that the TIRHC board intends to start small with six to 10 unit co-ops on the Shaw House and Canoe Club sites, both of which are currently under the jurisdiction of the Island Trust. They feel these sites “may be easier to obtain” for housing than the “city-leased parkland” known as the “promised lands.”

“(This) presents an opportunity for TIRHC to work on smaller projects and build the capacity to eventually realize our greater goal of developing housing on the ‘promised lands’,” the document says, noting the board is looking for funding strategies to move forward with the projects using conventional mortgage financing since public money for affordable housing has all but dried up.

The Island Trust and the Flying Toad Co-op date back to 1993 when, under the Toronto Islands Residential Community Act, then Premier Bob Rae granted Islanders a sweetheart deal — 99-year leases to occupy public lands costing $36,000 per home on Ward’s Island and $46,000 per Algonquin Island home.

Trust administrator Amanda Street-Bishop told me last week the leases are now worth closer to $50,000 and $60,000 respectively and that the waiting list to purchase new leases is now “completely closed” at its capacity of 500 names.

But according to a transcript of a legislature debate from May 1996, the then-provincial minister of municipal affairs and housing Al Leach indicated that once they took office in 1995, an audit was ordered of the financial status of the Islands community. According to Leach, that audit revealed the Island Trust — responsible for the home leases and for the co-op — was $1 million in debt and had in fact spent $916,000 more than it received, including some $426,000 in legal and consulting fees.

Concerned that the Flying Toad Co-op had been given “special consideration” under the government’s non-profit housing program and that is would cost $200,000 (in 1995 dollars) to construct each unit (not to mention “equally exorbitant” ongoing operating subsidies), Leach told the legislature the government had cancelled the co-op project in July 1995.

Fast forward to 2014.

The TIRHC board very clearly indicates in its April update that despite the “lack of political will” in the past, they are looking to the upcoming provincial and municipal elections as “opportunities to gain some political momentum” with the co-op idea — labelled “Habitat for Insanity” by detractors.

“It’s the same old players and agenda and some members of the group dream of colonizing the whole park,” says an Island source.

If one reads between the lines, the same old players are particularly hoping the darling of the Toronto Islands, Olivia Chow (the widow of the saint of Toronto Islands Jack Layton), will win the mayoral race in October. Chow and Layton were married on the Toronto Islands in 1988.

Reached Friday, Chow’s communications director Jamey Heath said that was the first Chow had heard of the co-op plan and that she has not been approached by the Islanders for support.

Perhaps that’s because Chow’s planned July 12 Lake Ontario swim hosted by the Toronto Islanders was cancelled because everyone got cold feet, literally. After the swim, which is supposed to be rescheduled, Chow was to have joined residents at the Island Cafe to say a few words, answer questions and accept donation cheques.

A succession of calls and e-mails to TIHRC president Eliza Moore and vice-president Jane Davidson-Neville over three days to get more information on the status of the co-op plans and who would be eligible to live in the new housing went unanswered.

I also tried to get in touch with TIRHC board member Sarah Miller, a retired researcher and advocate with the Canadian Environmental Law Association, who wrote to the city last October suggesting “wildlife and the (Island) airport are in conflict” and to point out the value of “green space to (the) wellbeing of families, children and biodiversity.”

I wanted to know how taking down 300 trees on the “promised lands” would contribute to the wellbeing of families and biodiversity on the Island. But Miller did not return my requests for an interview.

Lorraine Filyer, chairwoman of the Island Trust and the Toronto Island Community Association (TICA) told me in an e-mail that she cannot comment on the issue because the Trust “has not been approached by TIRHC about any development.”

Yet at the top of TICA’s own Needs-to-be-Done list, also obtained by the Sun, is the task labelled “more housing. The TIRHC document also indicates that TICA and TIRHC are working closely together on the development of an Island Community Survey about housing needs.

I did reach Bill Freeman, spokesman for Community Air, who told me he’s mainly concerned about the impact of a “massively expanded airport on the Waterfront” and he feels now is the time for Porter to “relocate” to Pearson airport.

“I’m a strong believer that the airport has outlived its usefulness and now is the time it should be closed,” he said, adding it’s “just a matter of time” before the Porter business loses steam.

Asked about the plans for the co-op, he said he has followed the plans carefully but they’re a long way from being approved given the city permits needed and the financing that would have to be raised.

“There’s probably a need to have more people out on the Island,” he said, noting some would be kids of Islanders. “There’s a lot of young people who would dearly love to live on the Island.”



     Total size of Toronto Islands: 825 acres
    Island community sits on: 33 acres
    Provincial legislation that created 99-year leases: Toronto Island Residential Stewardship Act
    Legislation created in 1993 under NDP Premier Bob Rae
    Number of homes on Island: 262
    Number of residents: About 600
    Cost of leases in 1993: $36,000 for Ward’s Island and $46,000 for Algonquin Island
    Value of leases today: $50,000 for Ward’s and $60,000 for Algonquin.
    Average number of homes that sell per year: 2 or 3
    Number on waiting list to purchase homes: 500 (list is currently closed)
    Number of co-op units Islanders hope to build: 110
    Location of proposed co-op units: The Promised Lands (beside the new fire station) site behind Canoe Club and another in front of Shaw House (first two border the Boardwalk with an unobstructed view of Lake Ontario)
    Number of trees that would need to be clear-cut on Promised Lands alone: 300
    Number of Island residents who wrote e-mails against Island airport expansion in December 2013: 23
    Number of “No Jets T.O.” signs in front of Toronto Island homes: Too many to count.
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