Residents feel betrayed as development approved
Leaside will soon be welcoming a new 147,000-square-foot retail building at 70 Wicksteed Ave.
Leaside Unite, a subcommittee of the Leaside Property Owners Association (LPOA), formed in reaction to the application. The group has since begrudgingly withdrawn their opposition.
They were particularly worried about the effects on traffic, especially combined with several other large retailers in close proximity, in addition to concerns about a large shopping centre with free parking taking away business from small retailers nearby.
“The [City of Toronto] official plan has two conditions under which large-scale retail will be permitted on the east side of Laird,” said Coun. John Parker. “None of the conditions include whether the local community is happy about it or not, [or] whether it is an acceptable retailer to the community or not.”
Though nothing has been confirmed about the store that will come in, Parker and Leaside citizens have said that they have heard rumours of a Walmart coming in.
“What the official plan refers to is the impact on traffic and the economic impact,” said Parker. He stated that the development was carefully evaluated by a third party in a peer review and was found to fall within the city’s guidelines for the neighbourhood.
Nevertheless, the residents remained opposed to the development until March when the group found themselves with two options: to take the case to the Ontario Municipal Board, which many felt would be an expensive, losing battle, or to settle.
“It became clear to us, after all of the efforts, that we were not going to be able to make the main store smaller or to have major impact,” said Carol Burton-Fripp, president of the LPOA.
But the settlement was not without its positive outcome, according to Burton-Fripp. She stated that the developer has agreed to donate $110,000 toward the LPOA in order to cover legal costs, pay for traffic studies and assist local businesses, which Burton-Fripp fears will be the most impacted by this new retailer.
She added that many in the neighbourhood have felt betrayed by Parker’s lack of action and involvement in the project, though she would not speak as to whether or not she would vote to re-elect Parker next term. “Councillor Parker felt from the start that he couldn’t do anything,” she said. “And we thought we would be able to do something or at least try to do something. That’s the point of ratepayers associations. When someone asks you to do something, you try to do it. A lot of people felt that Councillor Parker was not supportive.”
Graham Shirley, a fellow LPOA member, has been vocal in his opposition to the Smart!Centres and has expressed disappointment in the councillor.
“A lot of people in the community felt that Councillor Parker was unhelpful or even hostile toward their concerns on this issue,” said Shirley, via e-mail. “I’ve been very disappointed that in the eight months I’ve been on the LPOA board, the councillor hasn’t even attended one board meeting.”
Since the settlement, Leaside Unite has disbanded.