Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney says the province will ensure that a community hub is built in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood.
Mulroney said at a daily news briefing that the provincial government is fully committed to the project. The hub is slated to be built on a parcel of land now owned by Metrolinx in the Finch Avenue West and York Gate Boulevard area.
“Well, obviously, this is a project that’s incredibly important to the residents of the Jane and Finch area,” Mulroney told reporters on Monday.
Mulroney said she and Ontario Premier Doug Ford co-signed a letter to Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster and chair of the Metrolinx board this past weekend that highlighted the importance of the project and advised the regional transit agency that the province wants to see the land used for construction of the community hub.
“It’s unfortunate to say the least, as you pointed out, it wasn’t formalized and it fell through the cracks,” Mulroney said in response to a question.
Mulroney said the government has indicated to Metrolinx that it wants the agency to outline options to the province on “paths forward” on the project.
“This community hub will be built. It’s going to be part of the plan. And we’re just waiting for options. But as I said, we have committed to moving forward with it.”
The future of the community hub seemed in doubt last week when Coun. Anthony Peruzza, who represents Ward 7, Humber River-Black Creek, said he was told by Metrolinx officials that the agency intended to sell the land at market value after finishing construction of the Finch West LRT project, which will run through the area.
Peruzza said he received an email from Metrolinx staff, dated July 14, saying it would “put the land to market when it was no longer needed for the project after 2023.”
Metrolinx, for its part, has said it has not reneged on its promise.
On Monday, Verster told CBC Toronto that he is still fully committed to the project and the community will not have to pay for the land. But he declined to say exactly who would own and maintain it. He said the agreement is that Metrolinx will not charge for the value of the land to build a community hub.
Verster said the land is zoned to support a six-storey building and Metrolinx is exploring what else could be built there in addition to the community hub.
“The community hub will be built on this location of land and the community hub will not have to buy the land. In the end, where the land ownership resides or not will be a matter of discussion with the all the people that are involved with the community itself, with the city of Toronto,” Verster said. “All of those decisions will still be made.”
Verster said he has met with community members to discuss the project.
“I think what’s important, what we are doing now, is we’re saying, ‘There’s more than can be done on this site that has more value for the community and we will work with the community to figure out how we maximize the overall value for the community and work with the community on what that solution looks like,'” he said.
Community ‘cautiously welcomes’ comments by Metrolinx
Members of the community, meanwhile, gathered at a news conference near the proposed site on Monday to call on Metrolinx to make good on its pledge to donate the parcel of land for use as a community hub.
“Shame!” they chanted.
Community members said they “cautiously welcome” Metrolinx’s statements that it will work with the community to ensure the hub is built.
Peruzza, who spoke at the news conference, said years of planning have already gone into the project.
“We have significant densities of people that lack services, social, recreational and cultural,” he said.
Young people, who make up nearly a quarter of the neighbourhood’s population, have very few places to go and COVID-19 has made it worse, he added.