His passion: Preserving Leaside’s character

BRIAN ATHEy: How to get around a bidding war to live here
BRIAN ATHEy: How to get around a bidding war to live here

“To preserve and maintain the character and livability of this great family community” is how Brian Athey sums up the job of the Leaside Property Owners’ Association (LPOA), a group he’s chaired since 2006. It’s a responsibility he feels passionately and for which his professional training and community involvement make him uniquely qualified.

Athey was born in Toronto, grew up in Mississauga and studied civil engineering at the University of Waterloo before joining the firm of Proctor and Redfern after his graduation in 1988. Over the course of his 25-year career he has been responsible for the design approvals and construction of a wide variety of retail, office and residential developments.

Within a few years of graduating he also completed an MBA and married Nancy, whom he had met skiing. The couple bought their first home, on Chilton Ave. just across the Leaside Bridge, in 1989 and, by 1995, the family had grown to include two young sons.

With his knowledge of planning and zoning issues and an interest in heritage and design, Athey applied and was named to the former Borough of East York’s Committee of Adjustment in 1992 and, when the previous chair John Parker was elected as MPP in 1995, he became its chair.

“Each application required a walk-around visual inspection and so I got to know all the streets.” This was helpful when the couple decided they wanted to move to Leaside.

“We had an agent but we kept losing out on bidding wars,” Athey recalls. “So I made a flyer saying, ‘Young family of four looking for single-detached house in Leaside’ and we delivered them door-to-door on the specific streets where we wanted to live.”

They got some calls, completed a private sale, and moved into a house on Rumsey Rd. in 1999. By then their two sons were already involved in the usual Leaside activities, attending Mrs. Park’s Nursery School, skating at the arena, swimming at the pool, playing baseball at Trace Manes Park and attending Beavers at Leaside United Church, where Athey became one of the leaders.

Athey says his time on the Committee of Adjustment taught him a lot about the development pressures in pockets of East York and Leaside. When he stepped down in 2000 and began attending meetings of the LPOA he soon got involved with developing Character Preservation Guidelines to be used by developers in renovating homes in Leaside.

They had no enforcement mechanism and efforts to make them part of the site plan approval process were eventually dropped. But this was an early example of the LPOA’s concern to protect the homes and architecture of Leaside.

“It’s not about stopping renovation or redevelopment but about making an effort to preserve the character of the specific streetscapes,” Athey says. “The west end of Parkhurst Blvd., for example, is classic two-storey Leaside architecture, and we would like to see the Parkhurst study enlarged. There are already 20-25 Heritage Conservation Districts in Toronto.”

Heritage preservation is just one example of the issues in which the LPOA is involved.

Athey mentions retail development, traffic infiltration and the Eglinton LRT as three others, all of which are important, complicated, sometimes emotional, and will have a significant impact on the future of Leaside. The LPOA speaks for the community on these issues and Athey says every homeowner in Leaside is encouraged and welcome to get involved. Meetings are held the first Wednesday of the month, September to June, at 7:30 p.m. at Trace Manes Community Centre, with an annual general meeting each November at Leaside Gardens. www.lpoa.ca.