Councillor Josh Matlow

Toronto Star: Will the city buy this multi-million-dollar lawn bowling club for a park?

June 9th, 2014

Graham Slaughter

Toronto Star



There was an old-timey charm to the Glebe Manor Lawn Bowling Club, a 91-year-old greenway in Davisville Village.


“At night it had that soft white light, everyone dressed in white,” recalled Derek Tilley, 44, who lives across from the quaint clubhouse and its manicured lawn. “It looked like a Norman Rockwell painting.”


Those days are over. Dwindling membership in the leisurely sport forced the club to shutter last fall, spelling an end to the picturesque bowls.


Now a tug-of-war is being waged between a property developer and Councillor Josh Matlow over whether the multi-million-dollar property will become a public park or a row of new houses.


Developer Michael Volpentesta recently submitted an offer on the lawn bowling club with the intention of severing the lot for five new homes. He said the club’s board, responsible for brokering the deal, has accepted his bid.


“It’s pretty much a done deal,” Volpentesta told the Star, refusing to disclose how much he offered.


“If I was selling these as five individual lots, they’d have to be subdivided; they’d sell for $850,000 to $900,000 a lot. You do the math,” said real estate agent Patrick Rocca.


News of Volpentesta’s offer came as a surprise to Matlow, who had repeatedly approached the club since late 2013 with interest in buying the land for a park. At this week’s city council meeting, he will ask council to dip into a municipal park acquisition fund to buy the land.


“Anyone who thinks they will have an easy time severing or developing this site has another think coming,” said Matlow. “They will see an enormous amount of community resistance.”


Matlow is confused as to why the board refused to entertain his offer.


“I’m very upset that the board president seemed to ignore our interest in acquiring the land for a public park. I very much hope that the board president shared our interest with his fellow board members … to work with the city on creating a public park. To this day, I don’t know if that’s occurred,” Matlow said.


Members of the board have not responded to the Star’s questions about the deal.


An online petition supporting the proposed park has amassed 800 signatures, and many agree that the neighbourhood could use more green space.


“No one can understand why the board would want to sell to a developer rather than the city so it would remain a park,” said Derek Tilley, an ex-board member who started the petition.


The club first opened in 1923 and quickly became a hotspot in the lawn bowling world. A Toronto-wide competition divided by men’s and ladies’ divisions was hosted annually, with trophies handed out at a lavish banquet.


But in the past decade, membership at Glebe Manor has petered out. In 2013, lawn bowlers only came out two or three times, Tilley said, and the space was often rented out for church fundraisers or birthday parties.


Still, that wasn’t enough to keep up operations.


“The numbers just didn’t make sense anymore. There was no money left,” Tilley said.


Meanwhile, the plot’s future is muddled in a bit of confusion about exactly who owns the place.


According to 2013 records kept by the bowling club’s board, there are 872 shareholders with stakes in the property. Shares were bought for either $5 or $25 and automatically passed down through generations — likely unknowingly — since the club opened.


“Great-grandma could have had one in her estate; (the share) would go to whomever inherited her estate and down the lineage,” explained Tilley. “It would take Sherlock Holmes a hundred years to find all these people.”


Now that the land is up for sale, the fractured ownership raises questions about where the money will go. The club’s board did not respond to questions about how they resolved the shareholder issue.


However, Volpentesta said all funds from the purchase will be donated to Sick Kids Hospital.


“I’m led to understand that all money is donated,” he said. “It’s going to a very good cause, and that’s one of the reasons I like this.”


Depending on Matlow’s offer, Volpentesta said he would consider selling the lawn bowling club to the city once his deal closes, which is expected within the next month.


“The city as I know is interested and we’re going to see what the outcome of that is … I’d have to think about that and see what the offer is,” Volpentesta said.


Matlow will hold a community meeting June 18 about the lawn bowling club. Regardless of who owns the land, he will keep fighting to keep it green.


“The bottom line is we’re ready to acquire,” Matlow said. “We’re serious and the money is available if they say yes and do the right thing.”


To read this article in its original form, click here.


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