Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Westwood Theatre Courthouse Update

    Plans proceed for provincial courthouse on Westwood lands

    Proposal to go before city council next month

    While the province continues to negotiate the purchase of a long vacant 4.3-acre parcel of city-owned property on the Westwood Theatre Lands, city staff have been simultaneously processing a rezoning application to make way for a new west-end courthouse on the site.

    The proposal, billed as phase 1 of an extensive plan to revitalize the "barren, vacant land" at Westwood, was presented to the community Thursday, Sept. 10 - a full month before it's set to go before Etobicoke York Community Council (EYCC) on Oct. 13, and a month and a half before Toronto City Council will render its final decision on the proposal on Oct. 26.

    "This is the first project to come up, so it's very important for us to get it right," said Etobicoke-Lakeshore Councillor Peter Milczyn, whose Ward 5 the property falls within.

    Milczyn said the rezoning hold-up for the site is both technical and substantive.

    "Technically, the Etobicoke Centre Secondary Plan calls for mixed use development of the area - both residential and office use - but courthouses are not mentioned within that wording. In fact, no zoning in any part of the city mentions courthouse uses in their zoning," he told a near capacity crowd in EYCC council chambers on Thursday night.

    According to Brian Gallaugher, a senior city planner, the rezoning of the proposed courthouse parcel is further complicated by a Westwood-Theatre-land-wide holding provision written into the zoning bylaw.

    "That means that even if a developer wished to build something that was fully permitted under the current zoning, council would still need assurance by way of an iron-clad agreement that the infrastructure - the roads, sewers, water mains - were all in place before that building would be allowed to open its doors," he said.

    Back in April when Attorney General Chris Bentley first announced his intentions to locate the 20-courtroom Ontario Court of Justice on the site (right on the subway line at the intersections of Bloor and Dundas streets west and Kipling Avenue), Milczyn lauded the project as the "just the beginning of new roads, streetscapes and well as other community development in the area."

    He echoed that sentiment again Thursday night: "This is just one part of a larger vision for the area; we're not only looking at this single parcel, we're looking at the Westwood Theatre lands as a whole. People have expressed concern that the city was just going to sell it off to condo developers and be done with it, but that's not my vision."

    Now five months into the process, Etobicoke Centre residents got their first glimpse at what the courthouse and surrounding areas might look like should the Ontario Realty Corporation (ORC) successfully negotiate the sale of the land and should Toronto City Council vote to rezone the land to make way for the courts.

    "The courthouse will function from both the inside out and from the outside in - it has a responsibility to perform multiple roles," said Andrea Gabor, an Urban Strategies Inc. consultant working on the case.

    In terms of security for the proposed eight-storey building, Gabor said a 15 metre set back from the street, dotted with benches, trees, planters and other street furniture, would be put in place "in order to ensure that we don't have vehicles crashing into the building and blowing up."

    Security would also play a key role in any parking plans for the site, because courthouses cannot have public underground parking, Gabor said. So while the site would have about 60 on-site spots for judges, crown attorneys and other staff, all others would have to be accommodated in a public garage to be located under Dundas Street West.

    Gallaugher said that, at best estimate, construction of the courthouse could conceivably commence in late 2011 or early 2012, with an expected opening date of 2014.

    David Pylyp; Incredible opportunity for the West End to create construction, improve infrastructure and provide transit access to the public and employees via the Kipling Subway renovation and Expansion. The Reconstruction of this interchange has been scheduled for years and is highly anticipated.

    Adjacent condo towers would be very suitable for staff accomodation both at the Tridel Essex & Nuvo and the Michael Power on the North Side. If you would like information about living in this well planned and copnvenient community, give me a call.

    Your comments are always invited.

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