Charles Street West may turn two-way, input being solicited by city

Campus cohesiveness, dangerous traffic, accessibility among concerns at Victoria University

Charles Street West may turn two-way, input being solicited by city

Toronto City Council is in the process of soliciting feedback from Victoria University and the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) about the possibility of converting Charles Street West into a two-way street.

The proposal aims to alleviate additional traffic resulting from new developments in the area, according to Toronto Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.

Charles Street West, which currently runs one-way right through the heart of Victoria University, is, in its present state, fundamental to the “cohesiveness” of Victoria’s piece of campus, wrote VUSAC President Zahavah Kay in an email to The Varsity.

“Vic students cross Charles Street regularly, every day, multiple times a day,” said Kay. “You have to cross Charles Street… if you want to eat, and print something and go to class: you’re crossing Charles Street dozens of times a day.”

According to Kay, Charles Street West’s transformation into a two-way street, with increased traffic, would threaten the safety of students who hustle daily from residence to the dining halls to Vic administration offices. She noted that the street “literally divides Vic in half.” There are two residences and a student centre on one side of the street, with two residences and a dining hall on the other side.

Kay also voiced her concerns about parking and accessibility if Charles Street West stopped being one-way, and said that the “pedestrian campus feel” — with more benches and places to study — would be at stake if the proposed change saw the light of day.

Wong-Tam told The Varsity that the city is soliciting advice from the Vic community because they “want to make sure that there’s some predictability, with respect to pedestrian and cycling movement. So one thing that we’re doing is trying to get a sense of what the community wants.” In addition, “Transportation Service staff are prepared to consider [the change], but we need to know whether or not there is broader community support.”

The Bursar of Victoria University, Ray deSouza, wrote in statement to The Varsity that “no decisions have been made. Feedback is currently been solicited from all stakeholders. Wong-Tam has invited us to a meeting to discuss this issue. We are grateful to the councillor for this opportunity.”

Kay plans to accept the councillor’s invitation as well. “It’s not a set in stone plan, it’s very much a discussion right now,” Kay wrote. “We’re going to get to talk with them about what Charles Street means to the Vic community as it is right now, hear a little bit more about their feasibility report and then just go from there.”

Noble goals with limited scope

Proposed bylaw changes for fraternities and sororities will not effectively address concerns about noise or waste management

Noble goals with limited scope

Earlier this year, backed by a number of community residents’ associations, Councillor Joe Cressy called for fraternity and sorority houses in the City of Toronto to be regulated as multi-tenant properties. This would mean that fraternity and sorority houses, including those on U of T’s campus, would need a license to operate, a move that requires adherence to city codes and bylaws.

Cressy believes that this change will help fraternities and sororities become better neighbours. However, while changes to regulation may resolve concerns about health and safety, it will take more to lessen the negative impact fraternity and sorority houses may have on the neighbourhood at large.

Being designated as a multi-tenant property would force frat and sorority houses to abide by health and safety requirements, including property bylaws about waste disposal and the regulations outlined in the Ontario Fire Code. To maintain their housing license, fraternities and sororities would be required to pass an annual inspection by Toronto Fire Services and Municipal Licensing and Standards. Any violations would result in a financial penalty.

Currently, there is no way for the city to ensure the safety of those living and frequenting these buildings. Licensing would allow the city to make sure that students do not suffer the consequences of poor building maintenance. Although serious fires or building accidents have yet to be reported, we shouldn’t wait for these incidents to go viral before doing anything to prevent them.

At the same time, though a multi-tenant housing license might be helpful for improving property maintenance, it won’t do much to address issues on noise and waste, which are a major source of complaints from other residents. Out of the 16 known frats and sororities on campus, there have been a total of 20 noise investigations related to their properties within the last two years. Coupled with 27 investigations about waste over the same period, it’s a total of 47 city investigations since 2015. Only 14 of all investigations have resulted in orders to comply by the city.

Unfortunately, the changes being proposed do not address issues outside of property maintenance, meaning a multi-tenant housing license won’t spur fraternities and sororities to more effectively govern their behaviour in these cases.

There is also a case to be made that bylaws are an ineffective way of governing behaviour in the first place. According to its recent review on multi-tenant housing, the city believes that existing bylaws are “sufficiently” effective. Recent data on the frequency of complaints against fraternity and sorority houses — and their lackluster resolutions — shows otherwise.

As of late, one fraternity house at 157 St. George Street has had 14 noise and waste investigations in the past two years, with two happening on consecutive days this September. Another house at 152 St. George Streethas had nine investigations, and a third house at 180 St. George Street has had eight. This assortment of complaints and investigations have only brought forth eight notices to comply.

Statements from residents also reflect concerns about enforcing long-term regulations. As community resident David Sterns wrote in a letter to Mayor John Tory, “Toronto fraternities successfully defeated an attempt to remove their rooming house by-law exemption in 2011 by stating their desire to work with neighbours… As soon as the threat of regulation ended, any talk of working with neighbours ended and things quickly went back to the way they were.”

Certainly, this isn’t reflective of all fraternities and sororities on campus, many of which comply with regulations. However, it appears the current system for dealing with noise and waste concerns is ineffective in a number of cases, as the high frequency of complaints has persisted.

The power of orders to comply from the city is not a strong enough deterrent for noisy and messy behaviour. Any improvement in the way the city handles these complaints won’t come solely from a housing license.

The city, community, and students will have to work together to resolve the issues that the proposed regulations cannot fix on their own. For starters, the city should not rely on self-governance on the part of fraternities and sororities; consistent community inspections on the part of bylaw officers, as well as prompt and efficient city responses to noise or waste complaints, are necessary. Moreover, a strike system could be imposed, in which houses with three or more notices by the city will have to face severe financial penalties. These changes will help ensure that students are really cleaning up their act.

Multi-tenant licensing is certainly a good start but the issues at stake are multifaceted, and it will take more than a single solution to resolve them.

Andrea Tambunan is a first-year student at University College studying Life Sciences.

U of T needs 2,300 new beds by 2020 to meet housing demand, says housing report

Housing expansion projects met with opposition by City of Toronto

U of T needs 2,300 new beds by 2020 to meet housing demand, says housing report

Almost 2,300 additional beds will be needed by 2020 to reach the increased demand for student housing at UTSG, according to a housing issues report published in support of an amendment to the St. George Secondary Plan.

A residence demand analysis attached to the report claims 908 new residence spaces will have to be created to meet demand for first-year undergraduate students in three years’ time. 

In addition, over 1,100 new beds are required to meet the university’s goal of having 40 per cent upper-year students living on campus; about 200 spaces will be needed to accommodate graduate and second-entry students. If implemented, these additions would bring the housing capacity to 8,767 beds in 2020 compared to the 6,478 spots currently available. 

In the 2016–2017 academic year, U of T had approximately 66,599 students, 11 per cent of whom were living on campus. 

In order to satisfy the near-term housing demand, the university plans to build new residences around campus, specifically at Spadina Avenue and Sussex Avenue and in the Huron-Sussex neighborhood. 

The proposed Spadina-Sussex building, which is set to provide 547 new beds for both graduate and undergraduate students, will be a 23-storey student residence that will include office and retail spaces. It will also include the development of a three-storey townhouse to accommodate faculty and graduate student families. This project is a partnership between U of T, which owns 54 Sussex Avenue and 702–706 Spadina, and The Daniels Corporation, which owns the land at 698–700 Spadina.

The planned construction projects in the Huron-Sussex neighborhood are aimed mainly at housing graduate students. An eight-storey, 180-bed residence adjacent to the Graduate House is proposed to be built along 44–56 Harbord Street and will include a ground floor retail space and café. Other possible developments include 40–50 new laneway houses to be made available to graduate student families and two mid-rise buildings on Spadina, which will collectively house 520–620 new students. 

The report also states that among the locations currently being scouted for future developments is the corner of Bloor Street and Spadina, which would include housing for students, student families, new faculty, visiting faculty, and senior level staff.   

U of T says ‘yes,’ city says ‘no’

U of T’s new housing plans, especially the Spadina-Sussex residence, have been met with considerable resistance from the City of Toronto and the community. After four years of negotiations, U of T is seeking aid from the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), which will mediate between the university, the city, and community members, including the Harbord Village Residents Association, according to Elizabeth Burke, U of T’s Director of Campus and Facilities Planning. 

“We’re still waiting on the board to review the case to see if it’s eligible for mediation,” Burke told The Varsity. “The city is definitely on board with pursuing that path with us and once such mediation is agreed to then it’s the question of setting a date for the mediation, and this will be between the community members as well as the city and the university.” Burke also stated that the university is not pressing for an OMB hearing but to negotiate a settlement with the board’s help.

In an August 2017 report, city staff states that the proposed development at Spadina and Sussex violates the 2014 Provincial Policy Statement, as “the proposed development is not a level of intensification that is appropriate when taking into account the existing building stock and area.”

The city also claims in the report that the project does not comply with the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, as it does not conserve cultural heritage resources in strategic growth areas. This refers specifically to 698 Spadina, currently the Ten Editions bookstore, which was designated as a heritage site by the Toronto and East York Community City Council (TEYCC) in late February because “the building has design value as an example of a late 19th century corner-store building type designed with a high degree of craftsmanship in the late Victorian style,” according to a report from the Chief Planner and Executive Director’s Office. 

The city staff report concludes that the proposed development is “not appropriate for its context as it is too tall, too bulky, and does not provide appropriate tower setbacks” and “in its current form it is not good planning or in the public interest.”

In addition, the TEYCC sent a series of recommendations to City Council in September regarding the project. These included the suggestion of continuing to negotiate with the university to address issues such as appropriate heights and massing for the development site, as well as to participate in formal mediation with the OMB. The council also recommended that the city hold off on making a decision regarding an application to demolish six existing rental dwelling units at 698 and 700 Spadina until a decision is reached by the OMB. 

Joe Cressy, Councillor for Ward 20, where the proposed residence at Spadina and Sussex would be located, did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment. 

Students are residents, too

When discussing municipal issues that affect residents and the community, students should be included in the dialogue

Students are residents, too

An ‘us-versus-them’ mentality remains pervasive in discussions about city development projects. As reflected in the actions of some neighbourhood associations and city councillors, the relationship between residents and university students appears to be one of tension. At times, their interests are constructed as mutually exclusive.

Despite this dynamic, U of T and its students have been around longer than the residential neighbourhoods that surround them. Many students call neighbourhoods like the Annex and Harbord Village home and are integral citizens of these communities. City planners and councillors need to consider the interests of student residents when making planning decisions that affect them. Likewise, more students should take an active role in making it clear what their interests are.

In the latest chapter in student-city relations, Ward 20 Councillor Joe Cressy, heads of the Annex Residents’ Association, the Bay Cloverhill Community Association, the Grange Community Association, the Harbord Village Residents’ Association, and the Huron Sussex Residents’ Organization are all pushing to get the City of Toronto to remove the licensing exemption that lets fraternity and sorority houses operate without having to be licensed as multi-tenant residences.

It is true that students involved in Greek life need to be good neighbours, and complaints of poor property management, noise, and sexual assaults should be addressed. However, the proposal that Cressy and the residents’ associations have put forward would only affect property regulations and would do nothing to address behavioural complaints. Ultimately, whatever regulations that come about should be developed in consultation with U of T students: Greek and non-Greek.

Removing the exemption fraternities and sororities currently operate under could also affect student co-operative housing. Like Greek houses, student co-ops are also exempt from multi-tenant residence licensing and play a vital role in a city where affordable housing is scarce.

The lack of affordable housing around campus, despite its growing student population, has prompted U of T to pursue the construction of new residences throughout the years. Many of these projects have been met with opposition from residents’ associations in the spirit of ‘Nimbyism.’

Based on the acronym for ‘not in my backyard,’ Nimbyism often spurs residents to condemn development projects scheduled to take place near where they live, even if the changes being proposed would benefit the community as a whole.

Back in 2012 and 2013, various residents’ associations opposed the construction of the 24-storey Campus One residence at College and Spadina. Concerns were raised that the building would cast large shadows and that it wouldn’t fit in with the style of the rest of the neighbourhood.

Most recently, U of T proposed a student residence on the corner of Spadina Avenue and Sussex Avenue. The Harbord Village Residents’ Association opposed this project, as it would result in the demolition of a building that has been around since 1885. The case will be heard by the Ontario Municipal Board; taking feedback from consultation into consideration, City of Toronto staff is siding with the residents’ association.

One might think students should play an active role in voicing their opinions on campus projects. Yet at public consultation meetings and City Hall deputations where these issues are discussed, it is rare to see anyone under the age of 30, with the exception of the occasional University of Toronto Students’ Union executive.

In the past, good things have come about when students worked in tandem with the city and with residents’ associations. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, residents’ associations and student activists were successful in lobbying the provincial government to stop the construction of the Spadina Expressway. Had the proposed highway been built, it would have extended from today’s Allen Road to the northwest corner of the St. George campus. The province would have had to tear down Casa Loma, some campus buildings, and large portions of the Annex. To this effect, students took part in demonstrations and participated in deputations.

Today, students are too often sidelined from the conversation when it comes to municipal issues. City planners and councillors need to understand that students are members of the communities in question, and therefore that they should listen to students’ opinions on matters that affect the areas around campus.

In addition, more students should take an active role in lobbying for the issues they care about. This is ultimately our community: we all study on campus, and many of us live and work in the surrounding areas. Voicing concerns at consultation meetings or contacting city councillors will help ensure students play a role in shaping Toronto’s development — preferably before the pylons come out.

City to address overdue zoning of fraternities, sororities

Redefining buildings as multi-tenant houses may cause grief for the Greeks

City to address overdue zoning of fraternities, sororities

On June 5, City Councillor Joe Cressy published a letter addressed to the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee calling for fraternity and sorority houses to be properly regulated as multi-tenant houses. Cressy is the councillor for Ward 20, which includes the majority of the UTSG campus, where Greek life is most salient in Toronto.

The committee made the decision to review the feasibility of the status change back in June — from there, city staff will publish a report on Toronto’s multi-tenant houses and recommendations for potential changes, which will be voted on by City Council in late September.

Regulating the houses being used by fraternities and sororities as multi-tenant houses may come with strict regulations related to property maintenance, waste management, parking, and written confirmation of the maximum number of tenants. This comes on the back of support for Cressy’s letter from housing associations in the Annex, Bay Cloverhill, Grange, Harbord Village, and Huron Sussex neighborhoods. All have had issues with the behaviour of tenants and visitors to these houses, as well as the amount of garbage that they produce. The vote to re-classify Greek houses as multi-tenant houses will come as the city is completing its review of these types of dwellings and strengthening requirements to ensure the health and safety of tenants and mitigate neighbourhood impacts. If the city successfully re-zones fraternities and sororities as multi-tenant houses, they will likely have to apply for a license to operate as such. If they are denied this licence, Greek life around U of T may find itself forced out of traditional real estate.

A matter of safety and civility

“Frankly this is just a straightforward move to ensure that all multi-tenant houses including fraternities and sororities are safe,” Cressy said in an interview with The Varsity. “I don’t see why anybody should see this as something objectionable.”

Several housing associations submitted statements of support for Cressy’s efforts, citing complaints they’ve received from members in their community about the actions of fraternity houses. “Every few years the concerns about the offending Frats boils over and municipal attention increases and the offending Frats promise to do better,” David Harrison, Chair of the Annex Residents’ Association, wrote in an email to The Varsity. “The promises always fade. And, every year brings a new crop of students who need to be taught manners and civilized behaviour.”

The Annex is home to many of the fraternity and sorority houses in Toronto. Harrison adds that parents of students who live in fraternity and sorority housing usually assume that the houses are overseen by the University of Toronto, but this is not the case. “Actually, the UofT wants no role in the supervision of these establishments,” wrote Harrison.

University distances itself from Greek life

Sandy Welsh, Vice-Provost of Students at U of T, also submitted a letter to the Executive Committee, clarifying the university’s relationship with surrounding fraternities and sororities. According to the letter, the university does not recognize fraternities or sororities as campus groups. This is “consistent now with our policy on recognized campus groups — that primarily the reason they’re not recognized is because they’re not open to everybody who wishes to join,” said Althea Blackburn-Evans, Director of Media Relations at U of T, in an interview with The Varsity.

U of T hasn’t had any affiliation with fraternities and sororities since the 1960s. Blackburn-Evans explained that in the late 1800s and early 1900s, fraternities and sororities were acknowledged as part of university life. “[But] for quite a few decades now, they haven’t been recognized by the university. So we don’t have any relationship with them,” she said.

Greek houses are legally exempt from Toronto housing regulations that would otherwise govern the buildings as multi-tenant houses. These regulations include the requirement of holding a housing licence. A housing licence ensures that the building is up to fire code standards and fulfills the requirements of the Health Protection and Promotion Act. Due to the nature of Greek housing’s exemption, there is no guarantee that these general requirements are being met.

“Licensing these houses not only provides the City with a mechanism to effectively respond to these concerns, but also entitles those who live in the houses a guarantee that their living environments meet building code and safety standard requirements,” wrote Cressy in his letter to the Executive Committee. “It can also provide the city with a mechanism to deal with houses that are chronically unsafe, for both residents and visitors, and those with demonstrated issues related to problematic behaviour.”

Cressy highlights some aspects of what he calls “problematic behaviour” as being mostly tied to fraternities. Alongside “garbage, extreme noise, and property standards violations,” he identifies the increase of sexual assaults at fraternities, “incidents that often, due to the stigma faced by survivors, can go unreported and unsolved,” as being a key problem with the current system.

Student groups respond

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union have voiced their support of Cressy’s efforts, expressing concern for the students’ safety.

Anne Boucher, Vice-President External of the UTSU, explained that while fraternities and sororities are not affiliated with the university, “[because] many of them are mostly made up of U of T students, and many of our students frequent them, we need to ensure that action is taken to ensure these places are safe.” Boucher did note that aspects of Greek life “can be valuable spaces for our students’ personal development,” but she said the union “cannot ignore the sexual violence and problematic behaviors that have repeatedly manifested in these spaces.”

An advisor to the Panhellenic Sororities Society explained that there are self-enforced regulations in its sororities, telling The Varsity that “each house is individually operated by their International headquarters, and follow guidelines, rules and standards specific to their organizations.” They went on to explain that, to their knowledge, no one from the city has reached out to the society on this issue, but that they would welcome a collaborative opportunity.

Sam Jenison, President of the Inter-Fraternity Council, said that the council acknowledges the changes but cannot provide further comment at this time.

A review of fraternity and sorority housing status is underway, and an official vote on the matter is scheduled to follow in September.