By David Nickle, Toronto.com, February 7, 2019
Small businesses losing customers and sales because of major transit infrastructure projects like the Eglinton Crosstown LRT might see relief in the form of business tax deferrals and property assessment freezes among other measures to help ensure their survival.
That was the word from Toronto council, which voted unanimously Jan. 31, to press staff for a report on a strategy to protect not only property owners but businesses hard-hit by road shutdowns and construction work on major projects.
The vote at council came from a notice of motion from Ward 14 (Toronto-Danforth) Councillor Paula Fletcher, who was concerned that businesses in the Pape-Danforth area would be decimated by the upheaval around the downtown relief subway line construction.
But that concern stemmed from ongoing problems experienced by small and large businesses along the Eglinton Crosstown LRT construction — particularly in the west end, in the former City of York.
There, according to local Ward 8 (Eglinton-Lawrence) Councillor Mike Colle, businesses have been wiped off the map — 100 of them, by his reckoning, on the stretch of roadway between Bathurst and Keele Streets.
“There needs to be a rethink on these megaprojects, because the impact on communities is enormous,” said Colle during the debate. “It’s long term — on Eglinton West, we’ve gone through this for literally a decade.”
From Eglinton Avenue West, business owner and Eglinton-York Business Improvement Area chair Nick Alampi said the small, older businesses between Dufferin and the Allen Road have been hard hit by the ongoing construction.
“It’s been feeling like the wild wild west,” he said.
Alampi’s business, Andrew’s Formals, has been at its spot on the north side of Eglinton since 1969 when his father opened it. The front door is just steps from what Alampi calls a “dead end” — a stretch of sidewalk boxed in by fencing and construction buildings and terminating at the site of the future Oakwood station. The sidewalk is blocked off to the west, and anyone wishing to continue along the narrow sidewalk still blocked off by fencing has to cross Eglinton twice to continue westward and visit some of the other shops there.
Further along the road widens, but on-street parking that had serviced the businesses is gone.
“There’s a massive disorientation for pedestrians,” said Alampi, during a Monday morning walk down the narrow passageway between mostly-empty storefronts and the construction equipment.
“This is not bad right now because we’ve got sunlight,” he said. “But if I’m doing this walk at night, it’s not the best feeling to walk down this area.”
John Ferrari, who owns Latina Ladies Wear, called the combined impact on his shop “devastating.”
“There’s no accessibility to my clients — there’s no visibility. They’ve enclosed us to the extreme.”
Ferrari says that many of his now-former customers have called wondering where the store has gone, because they can’t see it from the road.
“We’re not a going concern any longer,” he said. “I come to work and I don’t earn from my work anymore.”
Ferrari and Alampi both agree that compensation would be a help — but Alampi is skeptical that the program would help the businesses, which unlike the property owners are feeling both short- and long-term pain.
So far, he said the city and Metrolinx have been able to provide little meaningful help to the businesses. The BIA has used a $10,000 hardship grant to, among other things, install art in store windows that have shut down.
There are banners extolling the benefits of the light rail line when it comes, and signs indicating that the stores along Eglinton are in fact still open.
Alampi had some hope following the council vote.
“The motions that were put forward — we’re hoping Toronto will take the lead to help small businesses within the strip here,” he said. “With that said, it’s still all to be seen.”
Toronto economic development staff told council that a more fulsome plan for helping small business will likely be coming forward in 2020, informed by the council motions and also studies of how other jurisdictions have handled the matter.
Economic Development Committee Chair Michael Thompson said that going forward, some form of tax relief for businesses affected by major infrastructure construction was a distinct possibility.
“But we’re not going to create a complete luxury gift in kind where we say no to property taxes,” he said. “We still have to pick up garbage, provide water. We know that there might be some reduction due, if there’s a reduction of 20 to 30 per cent in sales and you can prove it.”