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Towering, $3.5-million flagpole planned for North York

York West councillor Giorgio Mammoliti.

Sarah Dea/The Globe and Mail

After nearly 10 years of plotting, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti and one of his struggling North York neighbourhoods are on the verge of building the tallest flagstaff in North America. The 125-metre pole would bear a Canadian flag the size of a football field.

Mr. Mammoliti and the Emery Village Business Improvement Area approved in May a one-time special levy that will see the BIA's 2,500 business owners pay the full $3.5-million cost of the flagpole, whether they want to or not.

The pole proposal lands at the mayor's executive committee next Monday, where a report is expected to make recommendations on acquiring and governing the 4.65-acre proposed site for Emery Village Square, future home of the flag and a public space Mr. Mammoliti likes to call "Dundas Square North."

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"I'm hoping we'll be called the most patriotic community in the country," said Mr. Mammoliti, a recent dropout from the mayor's race.

The Ward 7 York West councillor's discarded mayoralty slogan - "Let them call me outrageous" - could easily apply to his dreams for Emery Village Square, now a dandelion-strewn field at the corner of Finch Avenue West and Arrow Road.

He and the board of the Emery Village BIA have a long way to go to transform the wasteland of strip malls and industrial buildings into a tourist destination worthy of a flagpole that tops the reigning Canadian champ, an 86-metre pole created for Expo 86 in Vancouver.

The future Emery Village Square backs on to the Prayer Palace, a sprawling mega-church. There's a hydro corridor to its immediate north, the rumble of Highway 400's traffic to the east and a provincial courthouse and the razed old Finch West Mall site to the west. The mall's rusted-out sign still bears the name of one of its last stores: Bankruptcy Clearout Centre.

"I don't like this area much," said Renato D'Armento, owner of Da Peppino, a restaurant located in a strip plaza across from the flag site. "This neighbourhood, there are no houses around here. Only factories."

Indeed, follow Arrow Road south and you'll find a Purolator shipping centre, a TTC bus yard, a massive storage facility and plaza after plaza of industrial operations. Lifetime Kitchens, Multi Lampshades Co., American Industrial Machines Co. and the abandoned former homes of Canadian Cylinder Service and Jollimore Snow Removal and Roofing are all in a single plaza, one festooned with fresh hanging baskets and new Emery Village flags, evidence of the BIA's efforts to connect the Finch and Weston area to a 19th century village that has disappeared entirely.

Sandra Farina, executive director of the BIA, said the neighbourhood has slowly but steadily improved since Mr. Mammoliti helped create the country's largest BIA in 2003. He led the charge to rezone some of the industrial land as residential and now developers are building, or planning to build, new neighbourhoods - including on the Finch West Mall site, Ms. Farina said.

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Emery Village even got its Tim Horton's back in 2007, she added.

"We're trying so hard to revitalize the area," she said. "We need public space. [The flagpole]would put us on the map."

But it could also put the BIA on the defensive with its own members, many of whom will likely be caught off-guard by the size of the flagpole levy.

Fewer than 40 people from the BIA's 2,500 member businesses attended the meeting at which those present approved a one-time, automatic levy spread over two years. Payment is mandatory and based on the assessed value of a property. The owner of an average property in the area, valued at $1.1-million, would pay $2,484 over two years. The owner of a smaller property, assessed at $250,000, would fork over $566 over two years, according to Eva Pyatt, the director of small business in the city's economic development department.

"I don't like it. I already pay too much, " Mr. D'Armento said.

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