Next steps for Wesley Mimico United Church: Nov. 20, 2012 community forum

Re-purpose, renew, add

In this blog post, I will share information from a Nov. 20, 2012 community forum concerned with redevelopment of the Wesley Mimico United Church. A more recent blog post provides a further update.

Some attendees at the Nov. 20, 2012 meeting are members of the congregation; some work with groups now using the building; some are local residents with a stake in the impact of the redevelopment. Some residents originally learned about the redevelopment from a flyer distributed in the neighbourhood.

This was, as I understand, the eighth meeting involving the community. A mandate had been presented on June 23, 2012, which can be summed up as: Re-purpose, renew, and add. The church has subsequently contacted the City of Toronto Planning Department, initiating a rezoning process slated to take place in 2013.

Working groups

The Ground Floor planning working group is focusing on what kinds of space would be needed on the ground floor, and how they will be used. Five community groups have been contacted to determine if they wish to be involved with the space, through use of the space or as equity partners.

The Financial Resources working group will focus upon a business plan and a plan for governance of the new building. The Design, Innovation, and Green working group is engaged in feedback and dialogue as the architectural design is developed. Recently the group has been looking at design concepts and details related to the building exterior. The reference to innovation relates to the creation of a green, efficient building.

The church met with the United Church of Canada Presbytery, a regional body, on Oct. 23, 2012. At that time, the church received the go-ahead to proceed with its plans for redevelopment.

Heritage report

A consultant has been researching the history of the building. The planning process at the City of Toronto requires a heritage report, prepared in accordance with a template provided by the planning department.

A new name will be required for the facility. Various names have been discussed. Incorporation will be required as well. A new facility will be created, in which the church congregation is a component. The Faith and Hope Committee will be the main player, but there will be community involvement in decision making as well.

The congregation is never entirely on its own, it was noted; it has a relationship to a wider church. The United Church of Canada has affirmed the congregation’s incorporation plans. Under incorporation, the United Church would have residual interest in the local entity. If the centre were at any point to run into problems causing it to close down, the net assets would go to the United Church.

The local congregation is the trustee of the asset of the land. Under incorporation, the land will continue to be held in trust for the United Church of Canada. If the property were ever sold, the trustees would effect the sale.

Life leases

A distinction exists between life leases and a condominiums. A new corporation will be responsible for construction of the building, which will continue to house a church, along with residential units above the ground floor.

The units will be sold to seniors through a life lease contract from a new non-profit corporation. There are, according to information shared at the Nov. 20, 2012 meeting, 135 such life lease  arrangements involving non-profit sponsors and seniors across the province. If the seniors move, the corporation helps them sell the space.

A life lease is a more complicated than a condominium, given that the church has an ongoing and special relationship to it. With a condominium, a separate corporation is set up to handle the selling of the units; after that, the developer disappears. A life lease, on the other hand, involves an ongoing relationship, and a contract with the users of the space.

The contract will specify shared obligations and rights, and will recognize the continuing presence of the church. A clause will note that church bells will continue to ring. The people part of the church will be honoured, along with the heritage of the building. Each buyer of a life-lease becomes a member of what is envisioned will become a strong community.

Is there a role for the real estate industry?

A question that was raised following this overview involved the real estate industry. Another question was: Will the apartments always be for seniors?

The answer was that there will be a role for realtors. However, the context is that it’s a non-profit building. If a person wants a bigger unit, with a great view of the lake, they will go elsewhere. In discussion about unit sizes, it was also noted that smaller-sized units are often a feature of condominiums currently under construction in Toronto.

Most life leases, it was noted, develop a relationship with a real estate agent who helps with the process of buying and selling of spaces.

Probably it won’t be possible to sublet a unit. One of the people in a household would have to be a senior, or to be in a situation where they would benefit from living in a low-rise, accessible building.

There won’t be enough space for a car in every unit. It may be possible, however, for residents to rent Zip Cars. In some ways, the building will look like a condominium, but the community space inside won’t be typical of a condominium. There won’t be a concierge and pool. As well, the building won’t have the marketing, with costs passed on to the purchaser, of a typical condominium development.

Another question: What’s the market for seniors residents of this kind? Are there buyers? The answer was that a market study is under way.

What if the project, with the passage of time, turns out not to be viable? Changing of the rules would require 75 percent of unit holders to agree; the community would be protected through site-specific zoning.

Aging in place

There was a discussion regarding the concept of aging in place. Many design features will address this concept, including visual cues such as different colours for different floors; corridors and doorways that can accommodate wheelchairs; non-slip surfaces; automatic door openers; grab bars; light switches at a lower level; plugs at a higher level. The design is for a wide range of abilities.

The Ground Floor working group is looking at a community space, which is in addition to space devoted to the church. Previously, the community space had been slated for housing units, but that would have restricted community programming.

The meeting broke into small groups, during which time participants discussed possible uses for the community space.

It was noted that a market study, related to potential matches between the planned community space and potential requirements for extra space for specified uses, among community programs and institutions, would serve an important role in the ongoing research process.

The rest of the meeting involved a discussion related to the architectural design of the redevelopment.

History of church buildings across Canada

The story of this building is part of a larger story involving church buildings across Canada. By way of example, here’s a link to a church story from Nova Scotia. An underlying theme is that church congregations have diminished in size while costs associated with maintenance of buildings have increased as the buildings age.

There is much value in learning about how these issues – which typically give rise to divergent and occasionally conflicting interests – are addressed in jurisdictions across Canada.


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