April 18, 2012
Right in the heart of the Forest Hill Village, no curbs exist. The sidewalk has been levelled and resembles an old English town courtyard. During the day businesses have room for customers to park in bays outside their store, but by night, restaurants extend their patios. Traffic is minimal, cyclists zip around trees and the village is hub of activity.
If you live close to or in the village, you’ll know these streetscape improvements haven’t happened yet. But it soon might be a reality.
Corrine Spiegel, a Forest Hill BIA board member for six years—and also head of the village vision committee—says she wants the new streetscape re-design to engage the community.
“When I first joined the BIA there was no long-term direction, no theme, it was completely adhoc,” says the banker. “We want to encourage life in the street, increase sidewalk space, decrease road traffic. We want more pedestrians and more bike traffic.”
On April 5, the Forest Hill BIA commenced discussions with Councillors Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s West) and Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s), in hopes to attract $12 million through fundraising or sponsorship to help cover the costs of its latest revitalization plan. It’s the first of many talks with the city, says Spiegel, but the hope is to acquire such funding to go towards extended patio spaces for businesses along Spadina, bold lighting fixtures for greater visibility and in-built trees along the sidewalk.
Matlow will be holding discussions at the Forest Hill Town Hall before summer arrives to draw feedback from the community that will help shape the re-design master plan.
“These chats with the BIA are all about how we can improve our parks, parking, the streetscape, which all bodes well for local businesses,” he said. “This multi-million dollar plan won’t be an overnight journey.” At the town hall meeting scheduled within the next few months, Matlow said it’s likely the BIA will be able to unveil the master plan to the community that will open up discussion among the village residents.
“We want to engage the community and get their thoughts on things like, should that tree be protected? Or should there be more parking?” Matlow says. “We want people who live in the village to contribute to these discussions—that’s the point.”
Mia Kim, the tenant that has occupied the Village Market Grocery store for 15 years, said she’s like to see bike racks, more trees and a place where dogs can go while their owners are shopping. But, high on her wish list is more parking.
“It would be great is there was more flexibility with parking. We want residents to come and buy their gum or magazines without getting a $60 ticket,” she said. “More parking would be great but I just don’t know where they’ll get the extra space from.”
The BIA undertook a planning study on the village that focused on the long-term vision. From that report sprung five projects and the street re-design plan. Stage one was completed last year: the south end’s Montclair Parkette that provided a gateway into the village and bold lighting. While the latest master document cannot be released yet, the BIA has been given the go-ahead by city council on two urban projects due for completion in the next two years that includes a pavilion-gazebo at Suydam Park near Spadina Road, and additional parking spaces at the north end of the village which will add to the spots already at the corner of Thelma Avenue and Spadina Road.
The discussions have come at a good time for the village. Some of the storefronts here have not been rented for years; Spiegel says these lots are controlled by private ownership.
“It makes the village look like a black hole and rundown. Sadly, we don’t have any control over private property,” she says. “Southside restaurant-bar was on the market for a month and now Hero Burger will be opening up. So anything that is on the market, goes fairly quickly.”
“But, we are also installing some interesting seats. They are rocks that glow in the dark using the heat from the sun during the day. At night they’ll glow, “ Spiegel said. “When we add the new parking lot, the existing one will be closed for two months so that’s going to affect parking in the village. So there is going to be more pain before gain.”
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