City proposes solutions for conflict between Greek life community, residence associations

Executive Council poised for decision on Greek house licensing

City proposes solutions for conflict between Greek life community, residence associations

The city’s review of multi-tenant housing regulations, which encompasses fraternity and sorority houses surrounding U of T, has opened up a rift between the residences of these houses and the communities that surround them. The outcome has been a six-month-long deliberation process at City Hall between students in Greek life housing and their neighbours regarding changes to the way these multi-tenant houses are licensed.

Issues of excessive partying, lewd behaviour, and improper garbage disposal have been raised by members of housing associations around the U of T campus, with local residents citing problems such as “numerous fires” and “numerous sexual assaults” occurring at nearby fraternities.

In a recent public meeting, city staff presented six possible solutions to provide the public with a general idea of what could be suggested in January and then voted upon in February, when the Executive Council meets.

The six solutions

The first solution is one that was initially proposed in a letter from Ward 20 Councilor Joe Cressy in early June: that fraternities and sororities should no longer be exempted from the housing regulations that all other multi-tenant buildings are required to follow. This suggestion is what first sparked the debate over the status of these houses in September. It is believed that for fraternity and sorority houses to be fully compliant with multi-tenant housing regulations, they would have to fundamentally change their operations, putting their continued existence in jeopardy.

Decades of tension between fraternities — more so than sororities — and surrounding residents have come to light from residences in the neighbourhoods that surround frats and sororities in the wake of Cressy’s letter.

This tension has spawned a few of the proposed solutions, which directly target the relationship between Greek life residences and their neighbours. Three of these solutions are community-led meet and greets with Greek house residents, proactive community outreach to fraternities and sororities before school starts, and the establishment of a community working group consisting of both Greek and non-Greek residents to help bridge the gap and improve communication between the two groups.

Along the lines of communication, another proposed solution is creating a contact list within the neighbourhood so that residents have a number to call to voice their complaints.

The last of the solutions is the establishment of proactive enforcement of bylaws within the area during peak times of activity. One major concern for this solution is that the city may lack the resources for full enforcement. In addition, according to a comment made during a public consultation reported by Toronto Community Houses, “many fraternities and sororities are dry and/or have education on alcohol and housing.”

Speaking to stakeholders

University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Vice-President External Anne Boucher was initially skeptical of Cressy’s original proposal, stating that it appeared to have the intention of slowly removing fraternity and sorority houses from the city. However, Boucher said she was repeatedly met with the assurance that the city is simply looking to ensure that Greek houses are safe and regulated.

Boucher said she was presented with a detailed presentation of the licensing change and is convinced that the proposal truly aims to improve the safety of Greek housing. She wrote that “this change specifically would not harm the operation of Greek houses.”

Boucher said that while some of the other solutions look to solve long-standing residential grievances such as noise complaints, they fail to really address how Greek houses could be made safer.

The Annex Residence Association’s David Harrison highlighted the long-standing tension between Greek houses and their neighbours, saying that “clearly, the Greek group didn’t see any need for change to their status or additional rules and regulations.” He insisted that the residents he represents find the enforcement of some form of regulation on Greek housing to be the most pressing solution.

City staff will develop a summary of consultations in a report to the Executive Committee in early 2018.

The Inter-Fraternity Council, which represents the majority of U of T fraternities, declined The Varsity’s request for comment.

The U of T Panhellenic Association, which represents the majority of U of T sororities, did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.

City Council votes in favour of keeping Bloor Bike lanes

Plans for bike lane expansion in the works

City Council votes in favour of keeping Bloor Bike lanes

On November 7, the Toronto City Council voted to maintain the bike lanes on Bloor Street, with 36 in favour and six against. This follows a year long Bloor Street Bike Lane project to make the lanes permanent.

Last month, the city staff released a report that the bike lanes had reached their goal of improving the safety of cyclists, increasing the amount of people who cycle, and reduced the inconvenience of cyclists to other road users. There was no major increase in travel time for motor vehicles along the streets where the bike lanes were implemented.

The bike lanes themselves stretch 2.4 kilometres along Bloor, from Shaw Street to Avenue Road. Toronto Transportation Services General Manager Barbara Grey said the pilot came out of a 10 year cycling plan.

“We worked very closely with the BIA’s, the business community, the adjacent communities through a series of public consultations, to come up with the design that we ultimately implemented through the term of the one year pilot,” said Grey.

In the first year of the project, there was a 56 per cent increase of cyclists on Bloor Street, 25 per cent of which were new cyclists. Bloor Street now has the second-highest volume of cyclists in the city as a result of the pilot project.

The project also saw a 71 per cent decrease in motorized vehicle conflicts, a 61  per cent decrease in conflicts between cyclists and motorized vehicles, and a 55 per cent decrease in conflicts between pedestrians and motorized vehicles.

There was, however, a 61 per cent increase in cyclist and pedestrian conflicts. Overall, the project increased the overall safety of drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians with a 44 per cent decrease in total road conflicts.

During the City Council meeting, there was also discussion of an expansion plan in the works, in 2019 or beyond. This would expand the bike lanes westbound, following the pilot project. There is also an expansion project underway to move the bike lanes eastward.

“One of the things we’re most excited about with Bloor Street is that when you have people who can safely choose to cycle then they’re not driving in [congested traffic],” said Grey.

City report supports permanent implementation of Bloor bike lanes

Council to vote on report on November 7

City report supports permanent implementation of Bloor bike lanes

Toronto’s transportation services released a report on October 3 summarizing the results of a year-long pilot project researching the effect of bike lanes on Bloor Street. The results have revealed that the bike lanes have had a positive impact on the community and the report advocates for their permanent implementation.

The project was established in May 2016 in response to rising concerns about cyclist safety on Bloor Street. According to the final evaluation, the project sought to improve safety for cyclists while encouraging more Torontonians to travel by bike. Since the addition of bike lanes in August 2016, there has been a 49 per cent increase in cycling on Bloor Street with 25 per cent representing new riders.

The comfort and safety of cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians were all found to have increased since the implementation of bike lanes. Preliminary data shows that there is a 44 per cent decrease in the overall number of conflicts on the road as well as an increase in road users’ feelings of safety.

Mayor John Tory said in a May 4, 2016 Toronto City Council meeting that he wanted an “extremely rigorous, objective measurement” of the effects that bike lane implementation would have on the community.

The bike lanes that run along Bloor Street West between Shaw Street and Avenue Road are used by many U of T students to commute to campus.

Emily Doucet, a PhD candidate at U of T’s Department of Art, said she is “definitely in support of the bike lanes.” Doucet uses the Bloor bike lanes daily and said that the presence of bike lanes makes her feel safer during her commute.

“I rode down Bloor before and you [were] just that much more in the way of car doors and stuff. It’s still not perfect because people move doors the other way now, but it definitely makes a difference, and I see a lot more different kinds of people biking now too.”

Matti Siemiatycki, an Associate Professor at the U of T Department of Geography and Planning, thinks that the permanent implementation of bike lanes on Bloor would be “a critical step for the city of Toronto,” and will “contribute to making cycling a viable option across the city.”

Siemiatycki, whose research interests include transportation policy and planning, believes that this project has significance beyond simply improving cycling culture.

“Because of that evidence-based process, we can now look at this project and accept its merits,” said Siemiatycki. “I think this points to an approach that should be used more broadly for infrastructure.”

The project has garnered significant support from members of the community, including Tory, who recently tweeted his support for the permanent implementation of the bike lanes.

The report is to be presented to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee on October 18 and then voted on by City Council on November 7.

Annex residents speak out against fraternities

“Numerous fires, numerous drug issues, and numerous sexual assaults” among cited issues

Annex residents speak out against fraternities

Fraternity and sorority housing may face significant licensing requirements changes by the end of the month. As The Varsity previously reported, the city’s Executive Committee will review whether or not to remove the multi-tenant housing licensing exemption from fraternity and sorority houses. If the change proposed by Ward 20 Councillor Joe Cressy is approved, then Greek houses around U of T may be shut down if they do not successfully secure a multi-tenant housing license.

Residents push for action

Cressy’s move to have the Executive Committee address the role of fraternities and sororities came on June 5, and it was supported by letters from the heads of the Annex Residents’ Association, Bay Cloverhill Community Association, Grange Community Association, Harbord Village Residents’ Association, and the Huron Sussex Residents’ Organization.

Following repeated incidents going unpunished, Sterns wrote a letter to Mayor Tory about the issue on June 15. The letter listed several cases of inappropriate conduct on behalf of the fraternity houses residing in the Annex, including a police raid confiscating over $125,000 worth of drugs in 2008, the death of a young man who fell from a window of Beta Theta Pi fraternity house in 2013, and the stabbing of three people outside of a frat party in 2015.

Following the 2011 decision, Sterns expressed skepticism of any more collaborative promises on behalf of fraternities and sororities, and urged the Mayor to support Cressy’s efforts to get rid of the licensing exemption.

The Executive Committee will address the situation on September 26; executives from the University of Toronto Students’ Union are expected to speak.

Greeks dodge licensing in 2011

Former Ward 20 City Councillor Adam Vaughan advocated for the removal of fraternity and sorority houses’ licensing exemption back in 2011 for reasons similar to Cressy’s. “The idea is simply to find a way to say to the ones that are holding parties at 4 o’clock in the morning where they’re peeing on people’s cars and doing all kinds of bizarre stuff in the parks, could you just please get on with your neighbours?” Vaughan told the National Post in 2011. “Find a way to help us help you grow up.”

There were certain obstacles that Vaughan faced in accomplishing this task, though, laid out in the staff report requested by the Licensing and Standards Committee at the time.

Specifically, there were two hindrances that kept the committee from bringing forward a licensing proposal. The first was that, according to the staff report, the city “does not have the authority to license people or organizations purely on the basis of their affiliation,” meaning that since a fraternity or sorority does not fall specifically under one classification, it is difficult to define how it should be licensed.

The second reason was that licenses cannot limit the behaviour of tenants. While a license would require the building to be fully up to code, issues that may arise related to behaviour would not be regulated.

Vaughan met representatives of the fraternities and sororities at the time and attempted to establish a collaborative system, as recommended in the staff report, resulting in the Joint Working Group meant to address neighborhood complaints. The working group took the approach of allowing fraternity and sorority houses to rely upon their organizations for regulation and enforcement, as fraternities and sororities have rules for any affiliated chapters. Despite this, complaints continue to be filed to the Annex Residents’ Association, and residents say they have had a hard time getting in touch with anyone of influence in the fraternity community.

Concerned residents speak to The Varsity

Permanent residents of the Annex — the neighbourhood home to many of the Greek life houses in Toronto — have expressed concerns about noise pollution, littering, and general disturbances coming from fraternities much more so than sororities.

David Harrison, chair of the Annex Residents’ Association, said that they “get a steady stream of complaints from neighbours of the Fraternities. There are three or four frequent offenders. The Sororities are generally much better behaved.”

Rita Bilerman, a resident of the Annex for 11 years, said she has had multiple experiences dealing with fraternities. Bilerman alleged there have been “numerous fires, numerous drug issues, and numerous sexual assaults” attributed to fraternities in the time she’s lived in the Annex. She said she is concerned that if the houses are allowed to continue on as they are, there is the potential for real tragedy. She recounted stories of fraternity members sitting atop the roofs of houses, daring each other to run naked past oncoming traffic, and passing out on her front yard.

In addition, Bilerman has kids — the oldest of which is a high school student. She said that fraternity houses in the area have invited her son to parties, and, according to Bilerman, plenty of high school students attend these parties, some of which she claimed serves alcohol to minors.

Mayor Tory’s office is refraining from commenting on the issue until the full staff report is completed.

The Inter-Fraternity Council, a representative body of 10 fraternities around U of T, declined The Varsity’s request for comment.

Data compiled by Tom Yun

Evidence of a deficient relationship

Re: “Yonge Street tax revolt”

Evidence of a deficient relationship

Amid the bright lights of the corporate fast food locations around Yonge and Dundas, one cannot help but notice the pervasiveness of empty windows and for-lease signs. Following a property value assessment last month, property tax rates on Yonge Street businesses are set to rise by 500 per cent over the next four years, forcing many to close up shop. Among the most notable to leave are the House of Lords hair salon, Eliot’s Bookshop, and Remington’s, Toronto’s most popular male strip club.

Recent increases to the provincial minimum wage and forthcoming federal tax increases have left some attributing the outrageous increases to a government-led war on small businesses, though Mayor Tory’s office has been quick to direct blame toward the real culprit — an unpopular provincial government.

Toronto, like every Canadian city, remains a creature of the province, finding itself constitutionally unable to generate revenue from the public outside of property taxes. Cities in countries like the United States are able to employ revenue tools such as sales taxes and road tolls. Aside from the occasional provincial or federal grant, Toronto remains bound to property taxes to fund its extensive infrastructure needs and community services. When Mayor Tory suggested the implementation of road tolls to start easing the city’s financial burden last year, the Wynne government stomped on the idea — presumably with the 2018 election in sight.

If it can avoid the media stunts of the Ford family, the Mayor’s office should work with all provincial parties to craft platforms that work for Toronto, so that the unfortunate yet all-too-common headache of skyrocketing tax rates does not occur. With a 44-person council, Toronto is mature enough to manage its own destiny, let alone its tax revenue.

James Chapman is a third-year student at Innis College studying Political Science and Urban Studies.

Bloor bike lanes now open

Follow-up evaluation to be held in 2017

Bloor bike lanes now open

Bloor Street West now boasts demarcated bike lanes from Shaw Street to Avenue Road, spanning approximately 2.4 kilometres.

The newly-installed lanes are part of a pilot project that was approved by City Council in May. The $500,000 plan was given the go-ahead with a majority vote of 38–3.

Construction on the lanes began in late July; signage and barrier installation is almost complete. The marked lanes have been painted and are currently in use.

The targeted strip of road between Shaw Street and Avenue Road sees an average of 3,350 cyclists a day. In regards to UTSG accessibility, the bike lanes run past Bedford Road, Devonshire Place, St. George Street, Huron Street, and Spadina Avenue.

The lanes are temporary until a follow-up evaluation takes place in late 2017. According to the City of Toronto, Transportation Services will conduct “extensive monitoring and evaluation, as well as public feedback collection” over the next year, before making a final decision.