Engaging thousands to fight for the ‘heart’ of their community

Engaging thousands to fight for the ‘heart’ of their community

By CYNTHIA REASON
creason@insidetoronto.com

Staff photo/IAN KELSO

How does Etobicoke’s Humber Valley Village neighbourhood define community engagement?

When it comes to the fight for the “heart” of their community – Humbertown Plaza – what that term has translated into over the past two years has been: a “Save Humbertown” lawn sign campaign that has reached 2,350 households; two overflowing community meetings that drew more than 1,500 residents late last year; tens of thousands of dollars out-of-pocket spent towards an alternative design for the site; a flier campaign set to reach more than 7,000 households in the coming days; and more than 100 volunteers who have mobilized to make it all happen.

“There is a very strong feeling of ownership and attachment to this neighbourhood by the people that live in it, and people have participated on various levels,” said Niels Christensen, president of the Humber Valley Village Residents Association (HVVRA). “From coming out to the community meetings last year at Martingrove Collegiate, where we had 1,500 people attend two meetings – which, I was told by people more knowledgeable than I am, was an unprecedented turnout for a community – to helping us put up lawn signs, deliver fliers, fundraise, and organize meetings. The support has been overwhelming.”

That “unprecedented” groundswell of support – which has necessitated the relocation of next month’s statutory public meeting on the Humbertown issue to a 3,200 seat venue to accommodate its many supporters – has come as little surprise to Gloria Lindsay Luby, who characterized Humber Valley Village residents as “very intelligent, very engaged and very knowledgeable”.

Back in 1988 when the longtime Etobicoke Centre councillor was still a newbie on the old City of Etobicoke council, she witnessed firsthand the backlash of opposition to a proposal to add just a second storey to a mere portion of the Humbertown Plaza site.

“It was like the end of the world,” she recalled laughing.

So she knew what was coming when word of First Capital Realty’s original proposal to build five 11- to 21-storey residential towers on the Humbertown site at 270 The Kingsway first came to light nearly two years ago.

“This is much, much bigger – it’s too big, too dense, too tall. This proposal offers too many challenges to say that it’s going to be great for the community,” she said.

Now revised and downsized, the current First Capital Realty proposal – which was put forth to the city in December – has seen the number of residential towers scaled back to three, and their heights reduced to 12, 10 and eight storeys, First Capital’s VP of Development Jodi Shpigel told The Guardian in an interview last month.

Those “significant” revisions, Shpigel added, came about in part due to resident feedback received over the course of several community, working group and city staff meetings the company has participated in over the last year. But it’s still not enough
of a compromise, argues the 1,200- member strong HVVRA.

Back in February, Christensen unveiled HVVRA members the association’s alternate design plans for Humbertown’s redevelopment, which were drawn up with the help
of Weiss Architecture and Urbanism and funded by the association. The design limits heights in the development to six storeys in keeping with the city’s guidelines for midrise buildings along avenues, features five buildings, and incorporates residential condominiums and townhouses on the 10-acre site.

The HVVRA and its supporters are hoping to make councillors aware of that alternate design on May 14 at a special statutory public meeting of Etobicoke York Community Council, which has been relocated to Church on the Queensway – a venue with seating for 3,200 people and parking for 600 cars – in order to accommodate what is expected to be a yet another unprecedented turnout of Humbertown supporters.

In a flier set to be delivered to more than 7,000 households, the HVVRA is urging everyone in the neighbourhood and beyond to come out to the meeting at 3 p.m. on May 14 to have their voice heard before councillors vote on the issue.

“It is critical that YOU attend this important meeting to let councillors know that this is NOT the kind of design that we want for Humbertown,” the flier reads.

That sentiment was echoed by Christensen this week: “I can’t stress enough the importance of this meeting. This is the last opportunity for this neighbourhood to speak to the decision makers, the elected officials who represent us in this matter, and it’s absolutely vital that people come to this meeting.”

Lindsay Luby, meanwhile, said she’s confident Humber Valley Village residents will come out in droves to protect the character of their community.

“The people who live in Humber Valley love their community,” she said, noting that she’s certain that many and more of those residents will come out to depute at May 14 meeting. “I have no idea how long the meeting is going to go, but given this community, I suggest you bring your sleeping bag.”

 

 TIMELINE
Jan. 26, 2012
First Capital Realty submits its first Humbertown application to the city

May 15, 2012
EYCC passed a motion calling for a “comprehensive” review of the First Capital’s Humbertown application by an already-formed working group consisting of First
Capital, city planners, and representatives from six area resident associations.

 Sept. 6, 2012
First Capital submitted a revised and somewhat downsized Humbertown application to the city.

Sept. 11, 2012
A community consultation meeting about the Humbertown redevelopment at Martingrove Collegiate draws close to 1,000 people – 300 of whom are turned
away due to overcrowding.

A second community consultation meeting is held  Oct. 18 for those turned away from the first meeting.

 Nov. 3, 2012
HVVRA hosts two vision meetings to discuss its alternate
design plans. The HVVRA then submits its community approved, principles-based vision to the city on Nov. 20.

Dec. 18, 2012
First Capital submits its third and final revised application to the city.

 April 30, 2013
City Planning’s written report
is scheduled to be released to the public.

May 14, 2013
EYCC statutory public meeting and council vote at Church on the Queensway at 3 p.m.

June 11, 2013
Toronto council is scheduled to make a final vote on the Humbertown application.