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We’ve lost the fight, get ready for Costco

We had all the accurate facts. We asked all the right questions. We challenged incorrect assumptions from the developer’s consultants, pointed out their reports’ flaws and many omissions to the city’s planners. We raised danger flags about traffic impacts – gridlock, greater air pollution, and dangers to pedestrians, including thousands of school children – if the development went ahead. We pointed out how local shops would be forced out by rising land rents and local jobs would be lost.

LPOA, with concerned Thorncliffe residents, also visited City Hall to present this information to councillors from across the city.

But once again we’ve been let down by city planning and traffic staff, who approved the development anyway, and by City Council, which approved it 23-7.

I’m talking about the Costco warehouse membership store which, following council’s vote in early November, will be built on Overlea Blvd. where the Coca-Cola office and plant used to be. This not just a big box store. It’s a BIG box store.

This is an issue that has been in process for some time. When I first wrote a Leaside Life column about it just under two years ago, I noted that, while Costco may be known for their prices, what was proposed to be built on Overlea was no bargain for the communities of Leaside and Thorncliffe Park.

While distinct communities from each other, we have much in common beyond our geography and proximity. We are both family neighbourhoods. We support local businesses. We share history. We share certain TTC routes. Development proposals in one area affect the other. This is why a coalition of Leaside and Thorncliffe residents and businesses worked together to prevent the Costco being built in the wrong place: a place with maximum negative impact on transit, traffic, local shops, and the businesses in the Leaside Business Park.

Some proponents of the development tried to portray the fight as a divisive Leaside versus Thorncliffe issue, which it was not. They claimed that a Costco would create jobs for Thorncliffe residents, although Costco is under no obligation to hire from the community. Indeed, many local jobs may disappear when the small community-oriented shops where residents work close or move away as rents become unaffordable. Those rents are already rising now that the Costco has been approved.

All of Leaside will be affected: our streets will bear Costco-related traffic from and to the north and west. The LPOA’s traffic consultant estimates increases of 4 percent to 44.5 percent in Leaside, depending on the intersection.

Costco originally planned to build a gas bar next to the store, with 18 pumps. Imagine the chaos of cars turning across the HOV lane on Overlea to get to the gas pumps, cutting through Heritage Funeral Home’s property and blocking off customers for Iqbal’s Halal Foods, the largest Asian grocery store in Ontario and the major employer of local Thorncliffe residents. Imagine long delays to the seven TTC routes along Overlea, including the 88 South Leaside buses, as drivers waiting to turn into the gas bar block traffic along Overlea and create further congestion at the Overlea/Millwood intersection. Imagine the air pollution from all of those idling cars waiting for their turn at a pump.

Fortunately Councillor Jon Burnside has negotiated with Costco a deferral of any gas bar, at least for another couple of years, until an independent traffic study and analysis is done once the store has been open for six months. But it’s no certainty that a gas bar can be prevented in the future.

LPOA intends to ensure that this traffic study is done properly, looks at ALL of the facts, and is indeed independent. We will work with Councillor Burnside to press the city’s planning and transportation staff to take into account ALL of the data this time around, and to hold public consultation meetings in both Leaside and Thorncliffe.

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The LPOA board meets at 7:30 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month, at the Trace Manes building on Rumsey, by Leaside Library. These meetings are open to the public and we encourage you to attend, with questions, with issues you’d like advice on, or just to listen in. Note: Our next meeting is on Thursday Dec. 3 due to a conflict with the Community Consulation Meeting for 3-5 Southvale on Dec. 2.