GARA is a duly constituted Residents Association (RA) representing some 1100 households. We serve residents in the area bordered by Steeles Ave E. to the CN railway line and from Yonge Street to Bayview Ave. All residents are encouraged to become members, to actively participate and contribute to community activism.
THE PAST 3 DECADES…and counting
GARA FOUNDED. In 1989, a group of 40 residents came together to oppose a planned 6,500 square foot home. It was seen as a significant victory when the home owner chose to renovate instead of building what would have been the first ‘monster’ home in our neighbourhood. That was the beginning.
COMMITTEE of ADJUSTMENT (COA). GARA has a designated member on its Executive Committee who represents the neighbourhood at the City of Markham Committee of Adjustment meetings, a committee authorized by the Planning Act. That member makes deputations, on GARA’s behalf, when necessary to ensure that new homes comply with the zoning by-laws, which are meant to preserve the character of the neighbourhood.
HENDERSON AVENUE PUBLIC SCHOOL (HAPS) DESTROYED BY FIRE. HAPS has been a community hub since 1952. It suffered a catastrophic fire on July 20, 1998. Through incredibly hard work, despite fierce opposition, GARA and its Chair at the time, along with the Henderson Parents’ Council, lobbied the School Board (which was originally not in favour of rebuilding the school) and the Ministry of Education to rebuild. In December 1998, the School Board gave the greenlight and on March 27, 2000, the students moved back into their new home.
HAPS PLAYGROUNDS. A committee, drawing from the strength of the rebuild HAPS organization, engaged in fund-raising efforts for two new playgrounds at the school. On May 11, 2000, the new playgrounds, which were built by school parents and community members, were officially opened.
STORMWATER CONTROL / INFRASTRUCTURE REMEDIATION. Many homes experienced flooding over the years but nothing like August 19, 2005 when a number of basements were flooded. Active residents galvanized and a committee of 4 local women worked for several years researching global warming, aging infrastructure and storm water control. As a result of a number of spirited deputations, along with great attendance and support by members of the community, Markham Council eventually agreed to upgrade the sewer infrastructure in the GARA area but decided that costs would be borne, through increased property taxes, by those residents who benefited directly
Deemed unacceptable, GARA and the committee sought the help of other Markham RAs, and through extensive lobbying, eventually convinced the majority of Council that the upgraded storm water infrastructure should be a shared cost paid for by all residents of the City, the same as all other municipal services. All home owners and businesses now pay a modest annual fee towards improving flood protection for all the other older areas of the City. This initiative saved local home owners thousands of dollars. Since the sewer upgrade, there have been no reported incidents of flooded basements.
WORLD ON YONGE AND FUNDS ALLOTTED UNDER SECTION 37 OF THE PLANNING ACT.
In 2008, an agreement was reached between the City and the Liberty Development Corporation with respect to the construction of the World on Yonge complex (Doncaster and Yonge). $2 Million would be contributed by the Corporation for community development in the Ward One area of Thornhill.
Following a comprehensive and lengthy consultation process, a decision was reached to allocate funding as follows:
- new playground equipment at E.J. Sands Public School;
- a mural on the bridge at Henderson and Proctor;
- a community stage;
- splash pad;
- skateboard spot;
- improved base for the annual community ice rink;
- public washrooms.
Various venues for these facilities were considered; the final decision was to construct everything in Grandview Park with the exception of the first two items. There were no funds available for the community stage and it remains on the “To Do List”. GARA is proud and pleased that residents are making full use of these facilities.
FREIGHT TRAIN TRAFFIC. A study commissioned in 2015 by the municipalities of Toronto, Mississauga, Milton and Cambridge recommended that rail traffic through Thornhill be increased, a move that would have benefited those communities to the detriment of ours. Since there had been virtually no consultation with the communities that would be adversely affected by this increased freight traffic dangerous goods, GARA sprang into action. Through extensive lobbying efforts and active involvement to “derail” this proposal, particularly in light of the Lac Megantic rail disaster in Quebec at the time, GARA together with other community organizations succeeded in curtailing higher rail traffic, thereby diminishing the potential for a rail disaster.
GARA’S OTHER INITIATIVES OVER THE YEARS:
Pedestrian Safety. The safety of pedestrians around Henderson Public School has remained a top priority and concern for GARA. Henderson Ave. is extremely congested especially at the beginning and end of the school day as parents arrive to pick up their children. Drivers continue to park in front of the school in spite of “No Parking” signs. Paved paths have been constructed along the area to encourage pick-up and drop offs in a safer area. GARA continues to monitor the situation, including working with by-law enforcement on new traffic measures.
The CN bridge on Henderson Avenue also posed another safety risk for both pedestrians and drivers as a result of very large icicles forming on the underside of the bridge. In order to prevent severe harm or damage, with great persistence the matter was discussed with relevant authorities. Eventually CN Rail agreed to install heating elements.
Pedestrian sidewalks Followng GARA consulatations with Keith Irish, Ward 1 Councillor, sidewalks have now been built along Doncaster Ave.(both sides); along Henderson Ave.on the west side and on the east side from Grandview to Doncaster; along Grandview (north side) and on Willowdale Avenue. They were completed in 2021 and 2022.
Vehicular Traffic. Traffic in our neighbourhood is increasing at an alarming rate and is getting worse each year. This is a particular concern as more and more development is expected over the next few years. GARA members have consistently worked with Markham staff and Council to address the issues and propose management solutions.
Widening of Bayview Avenue. A proposal by York Region to widen Bayview Avenue to 6 lanes from Elgin Mills to Steeles Avenue was the subject of several open house community meetings. GARA raised a number of concerns including the creation of a chokepoint at Bayview and Steeles, increased traffic, increased pollution and the expropriation of property, and the creation of a traffic bottleneck at Steeles and Bayview due to the fact that the City of Toronto will not widen Bayview south of Steeles. We will continue to monitor these plans.
Proctor and Bayview. GARA was instrumental in limiting the incursion of heavy traffic into the area by restricting right turns onto Proctor during the morning rush hours. Efforts were also made to limit usage of Steele Valley Road as a shortcut to avoid the lights at Proctor and Bayview.
Library Box. The inspiration for Little Free Library Boxes which are now in 90 countries is from Tod Bol who wanted to honour his mother, a teacher who loved books. In 2017, GARA created the first local Little Free Library Box which is located on Almond Avenue and operates on the principle that adults and children may take a book and/or leave a book. The Library Box has become so popular that GARA is considering installing additional boxes throughout the neighbourhood. If you would be interested in hosting a library box on your street, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Relationship with other RAs. It is without question that synergy is derived by RAs supporting each other. GARA will provide assistance to other Ratepayers’ Associations on matters of mutual and common interests. Since 2014, individually or as a joint initiative, we have hosted All Candidates’ Meetings for municipal, provincial and federal elections. Our most recent joint collaboration was offering support to RA’s north of us who will be impacted by the Yonge Street subway extension diversion under people’s homes and the accompanying unprecedented (over)development along Yonge Street which will change our community landscape forever.
Communication. In order assist our neighbours in staying in touch with important local issues, GARA maintains its website and produces and distributes a newsletter twice a year.
GARA’S ON-GOING ACTIVITIES:
Meetings. From September through June, the GARA executive meets monthly (currently via ZOOM ) with dates listed under Upcoming Events on the website.
Grandview Park. This is our “Gem”, the pride and joy of our residents. Storm water sewer upgrades were completed in 2017. Whether playing sports, walking, meeting or engaging in general outdoor activities, the park requires on-going monitoring and maintenance in order for it to be a source of enjoyment. Our intiatives at the park have included:
- Annual Park Cleanup. One of our board members leads the charge with their ‘army’ of volunteers for the annual cleanup of leaves and garbage, and inspection of invasive species, etc.
- Annual Invasive Species Removal. The team also chooses a number of days throughout the spring and summer to remove weeds and other unwanted vegetation.
- Regular Inspection for broken, damaged property or signs of vandalism. The City is informed of any needed repairs and/or maintenance.
- Keeping the Park ship-shape. While the City provides regular maintenance, we contact them several times a year for improvements such as planting a natural hedge, repairs/additions to the fence, proper placement of signage, garbage bins, the patrol of inspectors, wildlife management, security cameras (recently installed), monitoring warranty issues regarding new installations (and we had some major concerns with our splash pad and skateboard spot).
- Winter Activities. Since the Winter of 2013, each year when weather has permitted, Brian Forrester and volunteers have built and maintained a natural skating rink. Family Skate Day in February, is the highlight of GARA’s winter activities. Keep a lookout for these annual dates.
- Woodlot Renewal. During the spring and summer of 2022, willing volunteers coordinated by Peter Cox planted over 250 plants and shrubs and many native flowers to ensure the ongoing health of the site.
Making deputations, attending Council meetings. Over the past year (2021/22) due to the number of MZOs (Ministerial Zoning Orders) issued by the Province, the GARA executive was unusually active with respect to the Yonge Street subway extension and the massive developments planned on Yonge street and Highway 407.
Where do we go from here?
WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR
For 15 years, between 2000 and 2015, Gord Miller served as the environmental commissioner of Ontario. It’s a position that the Ford Conservatives eliminated shortly after coming into office in 2018. Miller has stated that he has seen a lot of changes to the way Ontario safeguards the environment. But he worries about the recent “nibbling” around the edges of various rules and regulations. Our regional plan has been undermined by the Government of Ontario’s issuance of two Enhanced Ministerial Zoning Orders (EMZOs) and the passing of Bill 109, which occurred on April 14, 2022, at 6:30 pm on the evening before Good Friday and Passover. The issuance of the EMZOs and the passing of Bill 109 was to fast-track residential developments, including two local ones proposed for two transit-oriented communities (TOCs) along the Yonge North Subway extension in both municipalities (Markham and Richmond Hill).
Phase1 of the Planned Development at Hwy 407 and Langstaff.
As it pertains to GARA….
These are the immediate concerns facing us…
The Yonge North Subway Extension is coming, with its resulting construction and traffic chaos.
The Developments along Steeles and Yonge will start soon... a jungle of concrete structures...which will create the second most dense residential area in the world, second only to the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, India, as seen in the movie, Slum Dog Millionaire.
Traffic in the area will grow worse and we will face the renewed challenge of getting the City and Region to help keep it off our local residential streets.
The fabric of our neighborhood, its vibrancy, and the preservation of a safe and sustainable environment is up in the air and is of grave concern.
GARA has fought many valiant battles and overcome many obstacles over the years, but the future looks daunting with a Provincial Government that is bent on overturning many of the valued, legitimate concerns of residents and local municipal planning. Our neighborhood will dramatically change. Along with higher densities, crime, traffic and other social problems will follow.
GARA favours planned and livable development so that more people can come and work here and enjoy the attractiveness and character of our community. But all communities and cities are facing unprecedented opposition from a Province that is pro-developer and tone-deaf to our concerns about unmanageable traffic, lack of parkland, inadequate library and community centre space, and over development.
The government is using the housing crisis as an excuse. There’s ample room to reach Premier Ford’s arbitrary housing targets by adding density to the existing urban centres without creating concrete jungles and building on world class farmland, threatening already endangered species, and destroying environmentally sensitive wetlands.
Only if we actively participate in a concerted, unified, decisive manner for the very things we cherish most: a sustainable environment with parkland and green space for people to gather and meet, employment opportunities, community and recreation centres for all ages, biking and walking trails and safe streets, health care facilities, all the things that make for a thriving, healthy, quality-of-life community, will we have accomplished what is best for our families and for future generations.
There is strength in numbers and GARA needs your voice and active support. There is work to be done. We invite you to help us make that meaningful difference.
|GARA NEEDS YOU!