Views / Toronto

Margaret Atwood and her fellow Annex alarmists must learn to share: Elliott

Wealthy homeowners in the Annex are recycling the same old NIMBY complaints about neighbourhood character, Matt Elliott says.

In a letter to the Toronto & East York Community Council, author Margaret Atwood cites concerns about privacy, the health of six trees, and the city-wide precedent that will be set by allowing this development.

Deborah Dundas / Torstar News Service Order this photo

In a letter to the Toronto & East York Community Council, author Margaret Atwood cites concerns about privacy, the health of six trees, and the city-wide precedent that will be set by allowing this development.

If you live in a great neighbourhood, you ought to want to share it.

That’s doubly true if you’ve been lucky enough to settle somewhere that ticks all the boxes of good urban policy: neighbourhoods that offer walkable streets, nearby amenities and easy access to transit.

In an era of wasteful suburban sprawl and carbon-spewing car commutes, growing these kinds of places only makes sense.

But maybe not if you’re author Margaret Atwood. Or supermarket bigwig Galen Weston Jr. Or any of the other wealthy homeowners in the Annex neighbourhood who have banded together to oppose an eight-storey condo development proposed for Davenport Road.

They don’t seem big on sharing.

That’s frustrating. By any measure, the development site in question is ideally suited for a residential building. According to WalkScore.com, it’s a “walker’s paradise” and also boasts a transit score of 96 and a bike score of 100.

The immediate area is largely underused too. There’s a carwash, some interior design showrooms, a surface parking lot, and a few low-slung houses and apartment buildings. Plenty of room to grow.

But to hear Atwood and the other homeowners tell it, building in this transit-adjacent, underdeveloped area could be disastrous.

The application proposes to redevelop the site at 321 Davenport Road by constructing an eight-storey, mixed-use building with 16 dwelling units and 30 parking spaces.

Vince Talotta/Toronto Star

The application proposes to redevelop the site at 321 Davenport Road by constructing an eight-storey, mixed-use building with 16 dwelling units and 30 parking spaces.

In a letter to the Toronto & East York Community Council —the committee that will meet to decide whether to proceed with the plan next week— Atwood cites concerns about privacy, the health of six trees, and the city-wide precedent that will be set by allowing this development.

In a separate letter, Atwood’s husband Graeme Gibson writes that the plans “hover close to a brutal and arrogant assault on a community that has been here since the 19th century.”

The hits don’t stop there. Grocery guy Weston Jr. writes that the development “will devalue all of the assets we currently love about living here.”

A reminder: this is an eight-storey building, with a mere sixteen condo units.

I won’t claim there aren’t legitimate issues with this development proposal. There certainly are, as there are with most development proposals.

Atwood’s concern about trees is worthy of consideration, for instance. And the lack of retail space is a drag. It’s also unclear why this building — with such great transit access – needs 30 parking spaces.

More importantly, as Atwood herself has pointed out, these 16 luxury condo units will be nothing resembling affordable. They will become home to other millionaires— like Atwood and Weston, for example.

If Atwood and the Annex alarmists were to make their objections largely about that — to call for, say, adding a bunch of affordable rental units — I’d be here for them every day of the week. But instead most of their written comments about this plan take the form of the same set of tired NIMBY complaints: home value, privacy and nebulous “neighbourhood character.”

Everything points to this not being about accommodating growth but rather stopping it.

And so as it always is with these kinds of stories, I’m left asking why so many people who have found great neighbourhoods seek to close the door behind them.

What’s so hard about sharing?

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