A Community incensed by the Columbus Centre plan
A Community incensed by the Columbus Centre plan
The Honourable Joe Volpe, Publisher
TORONTO – Over 500 people, standing room only, crowded the Yorkdale Secondary School cafetorium, Thursday night, for two and a half hours. It was a mandated “consultation” held by City Planners, conducted by Cathy Ferguson of the Planning department, on the proposed shared use facility between Villa Charities Inc (a private developer of seniors’ condos) and the Toronto Catholic District School Board.
The meeting started late. The technology for the presentation had not been adequately tested.
The crowd was irritable from the “get go”. It had come with a seemingly determined and singular purpose: keep what assets the community had, and enjoyed, away from the wrecker’s ball.
“You can quote us”, Elena Mancini, Mary Nardi and Yolanda Caruso volunteered, “we want to keep our Columbus Centre; they have no right to take it away from us. We seniors have needs and we shouldn’t be so easily dismissed”. The meeting had yet to begin.
When it did, the verbal barrage launched against those in favour of the proposal was sustained and angry.
Trustee Maria Rizzo, who only a week previously maintained that a pool and a covered track were unaffordable and therefore out of the question, tried in vain to point out that the “new proposal” now accommodated both. The new CEO at Villa chimed in that there had been an unanimous vote by his Board to support a swimming pool.
Democracy is, on occasion, a messy exercise – both found out the hard way; they were shouted down.
Councillor Josh Colle did not fare much better. He jumped on a table to be seen and heard, but he appeared to favour the proposal, offering that (1) the laneway reserved for the “fallen workers” would be protected and (2) the Church would stay where it was. In fact, he had written the Cardinal on the matter. “This cannot be the only consultation”, he said. That seemed to re-ignite anger.
It did not help when the Planner, Ms. Ferguson, retook the microphone to explain that the application for the proposal prompted requests for zoning by-law amendments because “a school is not permitted on the site”.
This is just the beginning of the process, she said, unable to calm the shouts of opposition.
Intervenors, some with more emotion than others, began to dissect the proposal, calling into question its honesty and that of the two organizations behind it.
Odoardo Di Santo, Former MPP (advocate of Workers’ Rights, Social Rights issues) as well as former Chair of the WSIB, outlined the inconsistency between the “numbers and the claims in the proposal”.
Four minus two do not equal five, he said comparing the quantities of spaces lost to those “to be re-acquired post construction”and concluded angrily that “we are talking about the destruction of Columbus Centre as our cultural legacy”. He was supported by deafening applause.
An intervenor who followed pointed out that the initial proposal for all of Site 2 called for the construction of 3,000 condo units and ended with “do you think they are doing this for us?”
Mary Gatzos, the consultant for the Developer, protested that those numbers were in the original proposal but that the City had scaled it down to 2,400 units, asking (in the process) Villa Inc if the development “was appropriate” for the community.
The mix of professionals, entrepreneurs, residents and Columbus Centre members were loud in their view that it was not. Lawrence Princevero, “I’ve been a member for 37 years and a volunteer for 40 – this proposal is a total disrespect for the people – now Seniors – who built this Community. If you want to build a third school on the site, build it on the 4 acres of property occupied by the Sisters of the Good Sheppard; that will be available soon”.
It was abundantly clear that no one seemed impressed with the “vision” of the proposal.
Another resident at the microphone argued – to great applause – that “the Cardinal does not need to destroy the Community just to get another school”. Distrust and dishonesty surfaced as underlying themes at the base of the manifest anger.
Joe Nobrega of the Wenderley Park Ratepayers Association demanded: “be honest and tell us what you plan to do with the other two thirds of the Site”; you have four other places to build a school without tearing down the Columbus Centre.
Impatience and frustration became the order of the meeting.
One (non-Italian) Senior opined that she wanted “to use the facility all day, not just when the students were no longer there”.
Yet another lamented the loss of the Carrier Gallery – this unique location for culture and the visual arts in the city – and the Piazza Italia.
Though not Italian, “I am proud to be a part of the culture represented by the place”, she pleaded, “don’t destroy what has taken a generation to build.”
Elio Costa, an activist University professor, observed, as did his politically polar opposite, Franco Misuraca, that the Columbus Centre has been, for two generations, the Cultural Centre for the Italian community and to others who look to it for leadership in community building. “How did this concept [demolish and share use of diminished replacement] come about. Who is responsible?” he asked.
Someone identified as Renato affirmed “they want you to think about the school so that they can build the condos – you are being used”; he warned. Who is the unmentioned “they”?
The last speaker, Paul Cavalluzzo, a renowned constitutional lawyer, summed up as follows: this is an issue of transparency and accountability; who made this decision and under what authority? I think the whole process should start over again, he said.
North York Community Council resumes considerations on June 13.