On 9 November 2020, university students Sahar and Salwa Abdalla created a petition titled “SAVE FLEMINGDON PARK” which calls for a rejection of a development proposal for 25 St. Dennis Drive, a property located just over a kilometre away from MGCI. Preston Group, the company that owns the property, first proposed the development in December 2015.

Both young women are residents of Flemingdon Park and have lived in the community since early childhood. Sahar won the 2017 TD Scholarship for Community Leadership for volunteering with a local organization that offers assistance with French homework.

City Council staff held a community consultation meeting on 18 May 2016 with fifty members of the public in attendance [1]. However, according to Sahar, many community members were not notified. She said, “We heard rumours, and people were talking about it. But my family, we know that the city has to send notices, we know that they have to inform residents. We thought ‘oh they’re going to hold a consultation sometime,’ but we never actually got notice of that consultation. So while we were aware that something was going on we just thought that [since] we’re within the area where construction is going to be occurring, of course they would notify us and tell us where we can participate.”

She also mentioned that if residents did receive notices, they were only available in English. In Flemingdon Park, 50% of residents speak a language other than English at home [2]. While they may still be fluent or have some level of comprehension, there is a significant portion of the population who were not properly notified and unable to have their voices heard. 

In November 2017, Toronto’s City Council refused the proposal. Preston Group then appealed to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), which has the power to overrule City Council, and gained their approval in 2019 [3]. After some negotiations between City Council and Preston Group, a modified plan was put forth. This plan includes the construction of two sets of townhouses and two condo buildings with thirty-seven and twelve storeys. In total, this would add over five hundred units to the property, which already houses a seventeen-storey apartment building [4]. Preston Group did not respond to requests for a comment.

“When a development application is appealed to LPAT, there are unfortunately limited opportunities for the local community to participate, as residents must individually register to participate in the hearing. However, the City did meet their statutory obligation and beyond with this development application,” said City Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. He represents the Don Valley East region, Ward 16, which includes Flemingdon Park. 

The North York Community Council, a subset of City Council, planned to hold a public meeting to discuss the Draft Plan of Subdivision Application for the building on 7 October 2020. This meeting was then rescheduled to 4 November 2020, as at the request of residents who felt there had been insufficient notice. According to the Tenant Association of the apartment building currently located at 25. St. Dennis Drive, none of the building’s tenants received notice of the original meeting [5]. Salwa spoke at the November meeting, asking the City not to approve the plan. 

However, the majority of the development had already been approved. “The Draft Plan of Subdivision is one of the last steps in the development approval process,” said Minnan-Wong. He also noted that “this was more of a technical approval as this development project was approved in principle in 2019.”

Residents of Flemingdon Park have raised several concerns with this proposal, primarily the destruction of green spaces and the further overcrowding of the neighbourhood. Sahar mentioned that over the summer, parents would take their children to the school parking lots to play, in an effort to maintain social distancing. “There was literally no space for people,” she said, “I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s normal to take your kids to a school parking lot because there’s no green space available.”

According to Toronto census data, Flemingdon Park has a population of over 21 000 residents and a population density of roughly 9 000 people per square metre [2]. This is more than double the average population density in Toronto, which is about 4300 people per square metre [6]. In a neighbourhood that is already densely populated, additional buildings would put a strain on the resources and services available. This can also lead to issues such as overcrowding on public transit and in the nearby public schools. 

“If I take the [100 bus], there have been times in this pandemic when I’ve had to take the TTC. I might be in off-peak hours and the bus will still be crowded,” Sahar said. She also mentioned that Flemingdon Park had been reporting higher numbers of COVID cases, partially due to the lack of open space.

Sahar also noted that the new developments will be made up of luxury units, which are far out of the price range of current Flemingdon residents: “the landlord is justifying this by claiming that they will keep the existing building affordable for twenty years. However, if you look at their current listings, rent for the apartment building ranges between $1800-$2000 per month, so around $24 000 each year.” To put that into perspective, Toronto defines housing as affordable if it costs less than 30% of your household income [7]. According to census data, 75% of residents in the Flemingdon Park neighbourhood currently have an annual household income less than $80 000, which is the minimum amount required in order for these apartments to be considered affordable. This pricing model raises concerns of gentrification in a community long held by tight-knit groups of intergenerational families.

“Considering the scale of this development, I fully understand the residents’ concerns about the impact it will have on the local community,” said Minnan-Wong. He also mentioned ways that Toronto is trying to address these concerns. This includes plans to build a school at the intersection of Don Mills Rd. and Eglinton Ave. East and the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit Line, which is scheduled to be completed in 2022.

Plans for development have already been approved by City Council, but Shahar and Saiwa hope they can halt the process if they receive enough responses to their petition. They initially began advertising for their petition outside local schools and put up posters in various apartment buildings. Another member of the community created an Instagram post outlining how the development would negatively impact the community. The sisters have also been asking residents to fill out a Google Form to indicate that they had not received any information about the development or the consultation meeting with Preston Group.

On Friday, 20 November 2020, Sahar and Salwa sent a letter to Toronto City Council that included both the petition and the responses from the Google Form. Their goal was to convince City Council that the community consultations were inadequate and their letter asks “that the vulnerable, neglected and already-marginalized Flemingdon Park residents be given due process and [be] properly consulted.” 

If you are interested in viewing their petition, it can be found at the following link: https://www.change.org/p/toronto-city-council-save-flemingdon-park?utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=custom_url&recruited_by_id=a8edbac0-22b1-11eb-a617-6f489efd5488

Sources:

[1] https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2017/ny/bgrd/backgroundfile-107898.pdf

[2]https://www.toronto.ca/ext/sdfa/Neighbourhood%20Profiles/pdf/2016/pdf1/cpa44.pdf

[3]https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2020/ny/bgrd/backgroundfile-156861.pdf

[4] https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2018/cc/bgrd/backgroundfile-118918.pdf

[5] https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2020/ny/comm/communicationfile-122749.pdf[5] https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2020/ny/comm/communicationfile-122749.pdf

[6] https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/as-sa/fogs-spg/Facts-csd-eng.cfm?LANG=eng&GK=CSD&GC=3520005&TOPIC=1

[7]https://acorncanada.org/sites/default/files/ACORN%20Affordable%20Housing%20Definition%20Report%20July%202018_1.pdf

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flemingdon_Park