When is community space not really 
community space?

The Canadian Tire site. Photo by Robin Dickie.
The Canadian Tire site. Photo by Robin Dickie.

It’s almost two years since RioCan, the City and the Leaside Residents Assn (LPOA at the time) reached a mediated settlement for the community benefits related to approval of RioCan’s proposed development at 815-845 Eglinton Ave. East (the Canadian Tire site). The City now needs to make a decision regarding “community space” to implement the settlement agreement and finalize the Section 37 agreement. 

In addition to a 62-space not-for-profit daycare facility, and 40 affordable rental housing units to be provided on site, the Section 37 contribution package included “a cash payment of $11.3 million for on-site and/or off-site community facility and/or community facility improvements, off-site park improvements and/or parkland acquisition, and/or public realm and streetscape improvements, with such funds to be used at the discretion of the Chief Planner in consultation with the Ward Councillor.” (See Leaside Life, January 2020).

The City can decide either to:

(a) take up the community space offered in the Settlement Agreement, or

(b) take the negotiated value of the property ($5.25M – comprising $3.25M for the bare space, and $2M to outfit that space) in cash and apply it for other Section 37 uses.

The City can elect to secure a 10,000 sq.ft. “community facility” on the site. In reality, though, it is “community agency space” not “community space” and would be occupied by a not-for-profit agency that could range from seniors services to shelter or a detoxification clinic, and with a catchment area that might be local, regional or city-wide. The City runs the RFP process to select the agency without input from the community or the developer, although the selection of the agency has to be approved by City Council. 

To date, the responsible department of the City (Community Services) has not indicated any interest in taking the space. The reasons are unknown but could relate to the legal complexities of locating in a condominium building.

At the time of the settlement, we envisaged uses like City-run recreational facilities and meeting rooms to complement those available at Leaside Memorial Community Gardens and Trace Manes. The Leaside community was and is still believed to be warm to the idea of a “community space” at Laird and Eglinton. The expectation was that with all the development in the Eglinton corridor and the presence of the LRT, Laird and Eglinton would become the new centre of gravity of the neighbourhood. However, the vision that led to the set-aside in the settlement was for community recreation facility/meeting rooms and to expand opportunities for the growing population in Leaside. It was not for community agency space, which may or may not fit the needs or serve the Leaside population. There was also a desire to provide recreation opportunities closer to North Leaside, which was feeling shortchanged. 

If the city elects not to take the space, the $5.25M cash would be held as a fund (along with the rest of the $11.3M) to be used for capital or operating expenses as determined by the councillor, with input from the community.

This delay would allow time for proper consideration of the allocation of the funds and any studies required to understand the need for community recreation facilities or other projects, such as Laird streetscape. 

There is no question that, on face value, having community space (i.e. real estate) seems like a better value proposition than taking the cash. But when you consider that the “community space” is not really community space, but rather “community agency space,” its value diminishes, and the benefits of the community space allocation to Leaside residents are questionable. 

Finally, there has been no community consultation process to help arrive at a decision about specific facilities changes/improvements needed in Leaside. For example, does Leaside Gardens have the potential for expansion as a multi-recreation facility to include gymnasium, meeting rooms and other facilities? The LRA has suggested that the councillor discuss the options and the arguments on both sides with key community stakeholders.

About Geoff Kettel 222 Articles
Geoff Kettel is a community connector and advocate for “making places better”. He is currently Co-President of the Leaside Residents Association, Co-Chair of the Federation of North Toronto Residents‘ Associations (FoNTRA), member of the Toronto Preservation Board and Past Chair of the North York Community Preservation Panel. He writes a monthly column on heritage and planning in Leaside Life.