Artists have always been a major part of the forested community around Wychwood Avenue, south of St. Clair Avenue West. But a plan to turn a former TTC repair yard into a park with space for artists and performers has some neighbours accusing the city of betrayal.
The plan was approved almost unnoticed last month by city council after a marathon debate on the island airport that dragged far into the night.
A small and vocal group of local residents accused Councillor Joe Mihevc of abandoning a campaign pledge to make the area a green space.
"There wasn't any debate on this. This councillor refused to allow the concerns to be heard," said Ann McConnell, a film producer who grew up in the community. She co-chairs Neighbours for 100% Green Park, that calls for demolishing the 90-year-old brick and iron car-repair barns on the 1.8-hectare site.
They argue the city plan to redevelop the 80-year-old buildings as studios and meeting space would attract traffic day and night and rob the area of needed open space. And they remain suspicious the city might push for social housing and stores on the site.
Ms. McConnell said her group hopes to raise $50,000 or more from members to appeal the plan to the Ontario Municipal Board, a provincial body that has the power to overrule the city's decision.
But another group claims the appeal would delay a much-needed redevelopment of the site.
"We don't have a park deficit as much as a cultural and heritage deficit," said Vid Ingelevics, a local artist and founder of the group Friends of a New Park, that supports the redevelopment.
He said a survey conducted by the city found a majority of the community supports the concept of creating live/work space for 22 artists as well as community meeting space and theatre workshops.
There were dozens of public meetings before the opponents showed up at a presentation last January and shouted down speakers, said Roscoe Handford, who lives across from the yards and favours the redevelopment.
"The atmosphere has been poisoned. I'm not sure how we could hold another public meeting," she said.
Wychwood Park got its name from Marmaduke Matthews, a landscape artist who bought land in 1870 in what was then the countryside. He named it for Wychwood Forest in his native Oxfordsire, England, and by 1891, the area was developing into one of Toronto's first planned communities, with a large contingent of artists.
When the city merged private transit companies to form the Toronto Transit Commission in 1921, it expanded the Wychwood repair shops to handle what would soon become the world's largest fleet of streetcars. The repair barns and yards are no longer needed for today's smaller streetcar fleet and the city decided to redevelop the site.
When Ms. Handford heard the city was looking for ideas for reusing the yards, she grabbed a clipboard and went knocking on residents' doors to gather comments.
"The neighbours' views were just as varied in 1999 as they are today," she said. But she insists that over the past two years, a broad consensus formed that the proposal to reuse the car barns must meet community needs.
Mr. Mihevc said the council approval was only for non-profit and non- commercial uses, such as artists' studios, gardens, community meeting space and children's play areas. He said the city cannot put social housing on the site. About 80 per cent of the land would remain green space, he said.
"The key thing is that it is not up to the city to finance the whole project," Mr. Mihevc said. This month, the city asked cultural groups to submit proposals for uses of the space that could be financed by other government and cultural agencies.
The city might have to put up as much as $1-million to get the project started, but the groups that intend to use the space have to arrange about $7-million in financing to complete the renovations, Mr. Mihevc explained.Report Typo/Error
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