While accolades are being heaped on the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp's plans for the $234-million redevelopment of the moribund West Don Lands, a revered community agency with deep roots in the area is being threatened with forced relocation.
True, there's been talk of providing Foodshare with new headquarters at no cost for its monthly distribution of 4,000 boxes of fresh produce and promotion of gardening and healthy cooking skills. But Debbie Field, the organization's executive director, can't understand why the powers that be are so intent on evicting her non-profit group from its home. The plan is to demolish the structure at 200 Eastern Avenue without fully exploring alternatives that would allow it to stay put at considerably less cost to taxpayers.
"Why do we always tear everything down?" Field asks, standing outside the modified warehouse, looking east toward the Don River.
"Why don't we build around things? If this were a historic building it would get to stay. In fact, we're actually thinking about going to the [Toronto and Region] Conservation Authority and suggesting it be designated a historic cultural building."
What has put Foodshare at odds with the West Don Lands Precinct Plan and its designs for a 32-hectare downtown neighbourhood complete with 6,000 new homes and 1 million square feet of commercial space near a spacious riverside park? It all comes down to the agency's location on real estate intended for construction of a huge flood-protection berm that will slope down from the river bank to where the centre now sits.
The berm will be an integral part of the foundation of the proposed park and is intended to shield the area west of the Don between King and the Gardiner Expressway from floods.
But as Field told city council's policy and finance committee last week, Foodshare has consulted with respected local architect Eberhard Zeidler, "who believes that a flood-protection platform could be built so it coexists with our current building."
Field said such a solution would have "significant benefits" for the neighbourhood by providing it with a "dynamic community food and environmental centre.' Foodshare has had considerable success with soil and water remediation while developing Toronto's only certified organic farm and beekeeping operation on land the city expropriated 20 years ago for its doomed Ataratiri project.
The province later took the property off the city's hands, and it's now under the control of the Ontario Realty Corporation, whose representatives insist Foodshare must move.
But Field counters: "At 200 Eastern, we grow food on the roof, produce honey in the backyard, compost tons of organic waste in the the city's most successful mid-scale composting operation, cook up thousands of servings of soup for shelters in our fully industrial kitchen and distribute tens of thousands of Good Food Boxes and cases of Ontario produce to Toronto student nutrition programs."
Although she concedes that Foodshare pays no rent or property taxes, Field notes that "we have taken an abandoned building that had no pipes or heat and made it into a living, functioning demonstration centre of sustainability." In other words, why mess with a good thing if it's not absolutely necessary, especially if making slight changes to the proposed berm can be done for an estimated $150,000? More than $600,000 in city, provincial and private foundation funds went into making 200 Eastern what it is today.
Representatives of the West Don Lands citizens committee and the Gooderham and Worts Neighbourhood Association applauded the TWRC's plan for "exceeding the community's expectations for consultation and collaboration." But Field notes that a city report presented to the policy and finance committee didn't even mention Foodshare's existence in the middle of the West Don Lands.
"There's a whole section on community and how they're going to bring community organizations in, yet nobody has consulted us about the implications of having to move all that we've done in this building," she says.
That lack of consultation has upset deputy mayor Joe Pantalone. He insists that councillors have "an obligation to explore" Foodshare's suggestion that the flood-protection berm can be redesigned for considerably less than it will cost the agency to move elsewhere.
Mayor David Miller has also expressed considerable sympathy for Foodshare's position.
But Ward 28 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) Councillor Pam McConnell, who represents the West Don Lands area, isn't so supportive. She calls Foodshare "a cherished agency" but insists that "it's not more important than moving forward" with the redevelopment plan. "These things look possible, but they're not possible," McConnell says of the proposal for the amended berm.
She got committee support for a motion calling on the city to find Foodshare an alternate location at no cost. But councillors also backed Pantalone's call for staff to report directly to council next week on the points Field raised.
"It's pretty obvious that Foodshare is an important piece of the city fabric," says TWRC chair Robert Fung. "It's also important to the work we're doing in the West Don Lands. I have absolutely no doubt that people who are willing to try to come to a conclusion can get this resolved."
Fung won't speculate on whether that resolution will involve a wrecking ball at 200 Eastern. But he's quite satisfied that "we're going to have shovels in the ground this fall."
The folks at Foodshare should be able to use the help harvesting this year's vegetable crop.