Where exactly DO we live? #longbranchto

Twenty Seventh Street is in Toronto, or at least it has been since 1998 when the former City of Etobicoke and other municipalities were amalgamated into the greater City. Anyone around here would never say Etobicoke though, but rather South Etobicoke. Some people would call that Lakeshore, and that really means three communities along Lake Ontario, known as Mimico (on the east), New Toronto (in the middle) and Long Branch (to the west – that’s us). Go west of Long Branch and you’re into Mississauga, or you might say, Lakeview, Port Credit and Clarkson.

The Community of Long Branch stretches from Twenty Third Street (beside the R.L. Clark Filtration Plant) west to Marie Curtis Park (and Etobicoke Creek. Most people I know who live here self identify as living in Long Branch. It isn’t that we don’t consider ourselves part of Toronto or the former Etobicoke, or should I say South Etobicoke, but we do definitely identify with Long Branch. This may be because the Lakeshore communities are isolated in a way, squeezed between the lake to the south the the tracks and the expressway to the north.

We’re members of the Etobicoke Historical Society, and along with our membership we receive their publication, The Aldernews. In the April edition, Denise Harris has a piece about Etobicoke street name origins.

According to Ms Harris, in 1935, the Village of Long Branch changed the names of 35 streets to facilitate postal delivery by eliminating confusion with similar street names in other municipalities. Twenty Seventh Street used to be Teak Avenue. Lake Prominade was Beach Road, not to be confused with Beech Avenue, which became City Road. In a transition from tree to flower, Spruce Avenue became Iris Road. Balsam Avenue became Ramsgate Road. The numeric naming of streets from Twenty Third to Forty Third continued the protocol that had been adopted by New Toronto to the east around 1900. I had no idea until reading this article that so many street names had changed around here.

I suppose you could say our identity has been somewhat fugitive with both changing street names and municipal designations. I wonder if identification with Long Branch rather than Etobicoke or Toronto has intensified since amalgamation?

The Nite Owl in Long Branch

I’ve been pretty much cooped up in the house since I messed up my ankle on March 9. Today, Tuffy P suggested it was high time I got myself cleaned up, so I hobbled out of the house and into the Tuffy-mobile and was promptly delivered me to The Nite Owl for a haircut. This barber shop, on Lakeshore Blvd in Long Branch, was closed for a decade and opened up early this year as an old school barber shop of the first order. I didn’t have an appointment, but was able to get a cut after a 20 minute wait – next time I’ll book online.

I left with the best haircut ever at a fair price – feeling like a million bucks.  The Nite Owl is a great addition to the Long Branch community. Recommended.

House Down

IMG_3344

At 7:30 this morning, the heavy equipment rolled up and started to bash down the house at 2 Twenty Seventh, across the street and a little south of our place. This house has been empty for quite some time. The property was bought by someone who decided it was a good idea to sever the lot into two long narrow lots and crowd in two tall, long, narrow homes. This developer was able to get the severance passed at Committee of Adjustment and OMB even though it represents intensification in this neighbourhood and a striking character shift. This has led to other properties in the immediate area being sold to others looking to mine for Long Branch gold.

The big problem as I see it is there is no planning process to guide changes in Long Branch at this critical time. We’re seeing a lot of older folks selling and the developers are snapping up all the 50 foot lots, eager to slice and dice. Each application is treated on it’s own at Committee of Adjustment and the OMB. We need a process that looks at the changing community, that has representation from the community as well as politicos and developers and so on. Instead, the developers make their applications, hire their lawyers and agents and architects and so on, and those of us who are directly affected do our best to band together and make our arguments as strongly as possible.

The current process simply does not serve the City well. We need a fresh look at development in Toronto so we can finally stop making the same mistakes over and over and over and over. I think it’s time for the City to manage this, time to cut the OMB out of the deal. I challenge our new Mayor and our City Councillors to show some leadership and imagination and make some positive change happen. .

Long Branch Ontario Feb 15 2015 – looking back 100 years

Charles A. Williams taken 1915 City of Toronto Archives in public domainCharles A. Williams took this photo in Long Branch Ontario when he was 18 years old in 1915.  100 years has passed since these 9 folks posed for the photo.

If anyone knows the exact location of the old site of the Long Branch Theatorium, please share.  (above photo (in public domain) courtesy of  Toronto Public Library files).

 

Good Morning Long Branch 8:39 am

Woof
Woof

Snowy weekend on the way for Long Branch! Memphis checks in for some snow-cone fun!

Long Branch Kitchen Party Jan 27th 9:28 am

A little south side Pilsen action in our kitchen this morning.  Staggman in town from Chicago.  Off to Nice Old Stuff in a few....
A little south side Pilsen action in our kitchen this morning. Staggman in town from Chicago. Off to Nice Old Stuff in a few….

Long Branch has been noticed…

Blog TO has identified LongBranch & New Toronto as among the top 5 neighbourhoods on the rise in 2015. They have noticed what local residents have been seeing for some time. Developers have targeted our area in a significant way – they see gold in them-thar-hills.

It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, increased density in the form of condos along the Lakeshore thoroughfare (such as the one across from the beer store) is bound to help revitalize a long retail strip which could use a boost. At the same time, there is a lot of development pressure on the South Long Branch neighbourhoods that unchecked will be detrimental to the character of our community.

Consider that within site of our home on lower 27th Street, at least 3 properties have been snapped up by developers. One has already had a severance approved by the Ontario Municipal Board. The owner plans to build two tall, deep and narrow homes where previously there was a single modest bungalow. In spite of the fact that this developer plans to chop down several trees on the property, and erect a pair of buildings that are each 2 stories over a garage, his team managed to convince an OMB adjudicator that this development is in keeping with the character of the neighbourhood.

On the other hand, earlier this month and further up the street, the OMB rejected a proposal to sever a lot and put up a similar development. One thing we are seeing is neighbourhood residents who are increasingly organized and willing to take the time and the trouble to get involved and fight to retain the unique character of this community.

The Committee of Adjustment/Ontario Municipal Board process seems inadequate in a community undergoing significant and rapid change. Some change is inevitable, and thoughtful development can be positive. The question is how to manage it in a way that is good for the community and good for the City. How can we bring some positive planning into the equation?

Mr. Developer please

An individual who recently bought multiple properties on our street approached me as I emerged from my car this afternoon. He wanted to show me drawings, plans for development of the land.

I declined. As long as you’re not applying for variances and severances, I said, I don’t need to look at your drawings. Go to town. Oh, it turns out he is applying for severances and variances. He says he wants to build one large house on one of the lots (he says he and his family will live there) and sever the other and build two homes, suitable for young professionals, he said. I see.

I don’t much like the severing of properties in our neighbourhood. It isn’t about creating affordable housing. It’s about extracting the maximum amount of wealth possible from the property at the expense of the unique character of our lakeside community. A few developers have managed to convince the Committee of Adjustment or the Ontario Municipal Board to allow this activity and the result are pairs of homes – typically two stories above a garage, running 70 or 80 feet back, crammed together on the property, tree canopy and neighbourhood character be damned. It’s very unfortunate this overbuilding has been allowed.

We moved here because it is a character neighbourhood. It’s close to the lake, and it features mostly modest homes on larger lots with loads of mature trees. The City’s Official Plan makes sense to me. Increased density should occur along the thoroughfares, not in the neighbourhoods. Neighbourhood character should be respected. Some decisions of the Ontario Municipal Board in our neighbourhood betray an extremely loose interpretation of the Official Plan in my opinion. I’m of the view that the current Committee of Adjustment/OMB structure hasn’t been very successful. We need a made in Toronto solution without provincial involvement, which gives weight to the wishes of the community.

I expressed my opinion to this fellow at length. I went so far as to suggest that I hoped one morning he would awake with an epiphany, a realization that his mad plan to sever one of the lots is a bad idea for the community. Although I suspect that day will never come, I told him I will continue to try to convince him of the error of his ways. I felt a little like a tv preacher for a few minutes there.

Our part of Twenty-Seventh street is a stone’s throw from the lake. The street which follows the waterfront, Lake Prominade, is part of the Waterfront Trail. Just two streets over is Colonel Sam Smith Park. Birders come from all over the continent to Sam Smith because it is what it known as a migration trap – birds stage there before of after their trip across the lake, and it is a birders paradise indeed. I’ve seen coyotes in the neighbourhood. Not far to the west, near Marie Curtis, I’ve seen deer. I’m heard of foxes too, but I haven’t seen any yet. The character of our community is worth preserving.

The biggest issue in Long Branch

Yesterday a fellow came by canvassing for a candidate who hopes to knock incumbent Councillor Mark Grimes off his perch. I asked him, what’s the biggest issue in Long Branch. He started telling me some of his candidate’s ideas, but couldn’t guess what issue I thought was most important.

I pointed to a home just across the way, the one with the tree protection fencing and the sign saying the owner of the property wanted to take down several trees.  The severance for this property was successful, even though our community banded together to oppose it at the Ontario Municipal Board. The old house – in very bad shape – will be torn down and replaced with two long and tall structures squeezed onto this lot.

Across the street, three houses have sold recently, and neighbours have heard there are plans to develop two of them next year. Then there is the house next door. When it sold, the real estate agent proudly told us this time it was a family that bought the property, not a developer. He was wrong. The owner knocked on our door one evening to discuss our trees – three of them in particular – growing near the property line. He thought they should be taken down to support his development – but, he said, he would replace them with new trees later.  They’re spruces, desirable species – two Norway spruce and one white spruce. One in particular is a magnificent mature specimen.   However, we like our trees. They were one of the reasons we moved here. We like the birds they attract and the shade and privacy they give, and we think they ought to be protected.

This same property has a massive silver maple on City property out front. The fellow who used to own the place used to tell us it was the “second biggest tree in Etobicoke.” I don’t know if that’s true but it sure is a big tree. IMG_2080He told me when he moved in, he could lock his arms around this tree. The developer who bought the place hired arborists to do testing to determine the health of this City tree. This fellow told us he is considering severing the property and building two homes, but might consider building a single home.

There are lots of people in our community who have lived here 40, 50, 60 years. This is an aging population and we’re seeing quite a lot of home sales in the past couple years. Happily for these folks, they’re doing quite well selling their homes as prices have gone up sharply.  However, it has also become a magnet for developers who see the wide, well treed lots as an opportunity to cash out.

It is not surprising our community will change. We need to plan this renewal and the community should have a say. Instead, the change is being defined one property at a time as developers buy up addresses and apply to the Committee of Adjustment, and if necessary to the Ontario Municipal Board to sever properties into two long narrow ones. This process is defining the architecture as well, and most of the resulting homes have two stories over a garage. They’re tall and narrow and in some cases they go back 60 or 70 feet.

Residents who don’t want to see the community over-developed this way are forced to fight one application at a time. Our community is getting better at this, but it is a tough fight. When our neighbourhood appealed to the OMB last year, the developer had a team of lawyers, planners, arborists and designers, all well versed in OMB procedures. I was criticized by the adjudicator because I was not as well versed in their procedure as the opposing team.  I can tell you that I did not feel that the concerns of the existing community were highly weighted at all.

Some increased density along the main artery in our community is, in my view, not a bad thing – and will help revitalize a long retail strip which would benefit from a bigger customer base. However, we should have some regulation in place to preserve the character of our residential neighbourhoods south and north of The Lakeshore. I think that is the direction and spirit of the Official Plan for the City.

I think our current system is broken and the Ontario Municipal Board is broken. It is enabling broad change in our community on an ad hoc basis driven by the mighty dollar. We can do better than that.  I’m looking candidates for Council in Ward 6 and for Mayor who are willing take action and actively advocate for our community.

So far I haven’t seen much of our candidates. A fellow came around yesterday representing Everett Sheppard, and he was happy to talk to me. I was sitting here at this computer one day a week or so ago. A fellow representing Mark Grimes came up to my door and left campaign literature but didn’t knock. He also thought it was a good idea to pin up campaign literature in our book box (not cool, buddy).  Russ Ford has had someone drop off a card.  So far, that’s it.  Is anybody out there campaigning?

I invite candidates for Council and Mayor to comment on this post. Who is willing to advocate for this community?