Across Toronto, a three-sided war is raging between the City, the Toronto District School Board, and residents, over the school board’s decision to sell its surplus lands. At stake are the properties that the TDSB has left unused, which, over the years, have been adapted by local residents and transformed into important community hubs. This past Saturday, the WKRA (West Kingsway Ratepayers’ Association) held a rally in Etobicoke at Fairfield Park—one of the TDSB’s surplus lands—to try to save a section of it from being sold to developers.
Torontoist attended the event and talked to the community organizers and city councillors that are working to keep the space green.
The area within the yellow line is the land owned by the TDSB. Image from Google Maps.
Fairfield is one the nine sites that the TDSB has declared surplus and put up on the market since 2009. The lot is 4.7 acres and is described by the Toronto Lands Corporation—the entity the TDSB created in 2007 to sell off and lease some of its surplus land—as “well suited for a low density infill residential development.” The land is bordered on the east by the City-owned Fairfield Seniors’ Centre, which currently uses the parking lot on the TDSB’s land, and on the south by the part of the park that’s City-owned. At issue is the parcel outlined in yellow in the map above.
In the early 1980s, the former City of Etobicoke acquired the seniors’ centre, which was previously a school, from the Etobicoke Board of Education. “Probably because of the financial constraints, Etobicoke didn’t buy the rest of the site,” explained Councillor Peter Milczyn (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) to Torontoist. “The seniors’ centre can’t operate without a parking lot, so we know we have to buy the parking lot. And we know in our hearts that we have to buy the rest of the green space to make sure that it stays that way…Once we lose a space like this we’re never going to get it back.”
At the moment, the TDSB is asking one million dollars for the parking lot and eight million dollars for the whole package, a price tag that Milczyn argues is too high. “We would question whether it’s really worth eight million dollars,” he said. “But obviously, it has a lot of value…The goal is to buy the whole property. It just boils down to a matter of money and timing.”
According to Milczyn, if the City purchases the green space, it will most likely be fitted with nets and added to the inventory of soccer fields; if it’s unable to acquire the property, then the City’s goal is to ensure that intense development doesn’t take place. “The City’s position is if this were to be redeveloped, it would be redeveloped with single-family detached homes,” Milczyn told us. “The school board is talking about four-storey seniors’ housing or a very dense townhouse site. The city planning department has said “no” to these plans.”
For now, Milczyn says that he’s “cautiously optimistic,” and hopes that he’ll reach an agreement with the school board in the next few weeks.
The event also drew out Joe Pantalone—deputy mayor, councillor (Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina), and mayoral candidate. “The school board is selling a piece of property which looked like a park, acted like a park, and felt like a park, so therefore, the local community thought it was a park,” Pantalone told us. The market price the TDSB is asking is “not fair,” he continued. “We as taxpayers already paid for this property, and we shouldn’t be paying for it twice.”
Peter Milczyn, councillor for Ward 6 Etobicoke Lakeshore (left) and Monique D’Sa, environmental chair of the WKRA (right).
Although Pantalone was the only mayoral candidate physically in attendance, Councillor Rob Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke-North) made his presence felt though a contingent of volunteers sent to help cook hot dogs and hand out “Ford for Mayor” bumper stickers. (Ford had a previous engagement in Scarborough.)
Although issues of Toronto’s green space and the TDSB’s surplus lands will undoubtedly play a role in the upcoming election, citizens were at the heart of this rally, as they have been at similar rallies that have taken place across the city.
“If we don’t protest loud enough, this land is probably going to be sold,” Klass Vangraft, WKRA acting secretary, told Torontoist. “This is about the only flat green space left in this neighbourhood.”
“The WKRA’s stance is to save all of the land,” further explained Monique D’Sa, environmental chair of the WKRA, and the organizer behind the rally. “It’s not just us saying ‘it’s in my backyard, I want it!’ People come to Fairfield Seniors’ Centre from across the city, and people come here to play soccer from everywhere…The land is currently cut up into three pieces, but we don’t want to see anything cut up. We want it all.”
Photos by Stephen Michalowicz/Torontoist.