Metrolinx denies plans to donate land to Jane-Finch Community Center and sell to highest bidder instead

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A Toronto city councilor said its residents were “duped” after Metrolinx abruptly withdrew from a plan to donate land in Jane and Finch’s area for use as an arts and culture center.

Anthony Perruzza (Ward 7, Humber River – Black Creek) said the city and local officials have been in talks with Metrolinx for years about the West Finch Avenue and York Gate Boulevard parcel of land, which is located on the site of a maintenance and storage facility. under construction for the $ 1.2 billion Finch West LRT.

The councilor said the provincial transportation agency assured that once construction of the facility is complete, Metrolinx will hand over part of the property to the city to build an arts and culture center there. But last week, the agency sent Perruzza an email saying it now plans to sell the land instead.

“We have the impression that we have been duped. It seems we’ve been misled from the start, ”Perruzza said, adding that the city“ would never be able to outbid the developers ”if Metrolinx puts the property up for sale.

Debra Eklove, co-chair of the community action planning group, said she was shocked by the Metrolinx turnaround. Her organization spent five years working on plans for the Jane Finch Community Hub and Arts Center project, and received funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation for a feasibility study of the project. The group had also drawn up a business plan for the facility.

“A lot of steps have been taken knowing that this piece of land will be in the best interests of the community,” Eklove said.

The planned cultural center site is just west of the Jane and Finch intersection on the border between Black Creek and Glenfield-Jane Heights, two of Toronto’s designated neighborhood improvement areas. More than a quarter of residents in both neighborhoods live in low-income households, and unemployment is several percentage points higher than the city average.

Perruzza said the LRT lands represented a “glowing opportunity” to provide new central equipment in a community where residents often have to travel far to access services. The idea was in part inspired by the Daniels Spectrum, a 60,000 square foot cultural center built in Regent Park in 2012 to provide space for performances, exhibits, community gatherings and youth programs.

A 2019 description of the Jane Finch Arts Center released by the Community Action Planning Group said the center would be a place where “community members can explore their passions and develop their knowledge and skills” and respond to “a longstanding need of the community for a central space and neutral location for residents to come together.

The center was also intended to help combat the stigma of the Jane-Finch community, which has historically suffered from higher rates of certain types of crime. “We see the proposed community center as an opportunity to reject current stereotypes, reduce prejudice and trauma, and restore confidence and hope in the neighborhood,” the CAPG document states.

Eklove said even if his group were blinded by Metrolinx’s about-face, they won’t give up.

“I think in this part of Toronto there is a great need for this facility, and I can’t wait for Metrolinx to reconsider its decision,” she said.

In the July 14 email to Coun. Perruzza, Luiza Sadowski, senior manager of community relations at Metrolinx, acknowledged that “the first conversations in the project cycle referred to a possibility of divestment at less than the market value to be considered for the land.

“While well-intentioned, this consideration had not been properly vetted internally or approved as a reasonable option,” Sadowski wrote.

She said that “as a responsible landowner” Metrolinx has a duty to “go through a rigorous land review process prior to divestment.” As a result of this review, “Metrolinx plans to bring the land to market when it is no longer needed for the project.” The LRT is expected to open in 2023.

Perruzza said that prior to last week, Metrolinx, which bought the property in 2011, appeared to adhere to the arts centre’s plan. In 2016, the agency agreed to include a 32 meter setback from Finch in the design of the LRT facility to free up the land for future community use. Public consultation documents the agency released last year indicated that the setback would be “used for the city’s future urban development” once construction is complete.

Metrolinx spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins said that by withdrawing from the arts hub plan, the agency was acting in accordance with the Ontario government’s real estate directive, which outlines the responsibilities of provincial agencies. respecting the disposition of surplus property.

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Aikins cited “the high value of the land” as the reason Metrolinx is forced to bring it to the market, but declined to say how much the agency considers the property to be worth. The city estimates its value between 7 and 9 million dollars.

“Metrolinx has engaged with the City of Toronto to explore different options to find the best possible solution to support this community hub project. We look forward to continuing to work with the city and the community as the project progresses, ”said Aikins.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto reporter who covers transportation for The Star. Contact him by email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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