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Weston homeowners have a year to decide
whether to stay or GO

by Patty Winsa
Urban Affairs Reporter

The letter Metrolinx sent last month to nine homeowners along the Weston rail corridor was straight and to the point.

It said their property “will need to be acquired,” in the process of expanding the tracks to accommodate expanded GO service and the coming airport rail link, and that “a member of our real estate team will be contacting you shortly to discuss the property acquisition.”

That impersonal message, delivered not by hand but to the mailbox, triggered a wave of resentment that culminated in property owners angrily shouting down Metrolinx executive director Stephen Lipkus during a design presentation at a public meeting in October.

Since then, the agency has learned its lesson.

An apology letter has been hand-delivered to homeowners. “It’s a major decision for everybody and we give a lot of time for dialogue,” says Dina Graser, the agency’s director of community and stakeholder relations.

“In most of these cases, people have a choice to relocate” and move back, she says. But the project could take three years to complete and some homes are only a metre from the track.

Here’s what property owners had to say:

John Fage, 12 Windal Ave.

Fage now rents out the four-bedroom brick house that he lived in with his wife Elena for 16 years, but he has never planned to sell it. Instead, Fage, who lives minutes away, is keeping the home to give to his sister when she moves here from his native Romania. Fage defected in 1987 and his wife came to Canada a year later.

But he also doesn’t want to stand in the way of progress. “I understand them. The city should improve, but on the other hand they should understand me,” said Fage. To him, that means an offer large enough to enable him to purchase a similar home nearby.

13 Windal Ave.

The owner didn’t have time to talk to us, but a 2008 real estate listing described the 2,300-square-foot house as fully renovated with an asking price of $449,900. A neighbour said the owner was angered by the letter and didn’t want to sell.

35 King George Ave.

The grey brick house is on a narrow lot at the end of the street, wedged into a piece of land so small that the street serves as the front yard and the rail corridor as the back. The owner wouldn’t return our calls.

Pietro Valeriani, 45 Church St.

A longtime resident of Weston, Valeriani was outraged after receiving a letter in his mailbox that said his property would be affected by construction of the tunnel and “will need to be acquired.”

The widower, who has resided in his three-bedroom raised bungalow for 21 years, says “I was disappointed. The way the letter was written, ‘we need to acquire…’ What does that mean? Expropriation and acquired is the same word.”

But Valeriani was slightly mollified when the second letter from GO Transit president Gary McNeil was hand-delivered to him.

“They came up with options,” said Valeriani, which include paying for living expenses if he chooses to move out during construction, and lawyers and moving expenses if he should decide to sell.

Valeriani says he would like to stay in the community. “After 20 years, you know who’s good and bad. And it’s all the facilities — the school, the shopping centre is a minute away.”

Nina Gutierrz, 47 Church St.

For Gutierrz, moving won’t be the only hardship. She operates a small daycare in the basement and rents out the other half, generating money she needs to supplement her husband Juan’s disability income.

“It’s really hard,” she says. “But I’m getting ready. I can’t stay out for three years and then come back. That won’t work,” says Gutierrz. Officials have told her construction in her area would start in January of 2012.

The couple has lived in their raised bungalow for 14 years and Gutierrz loves the area. “Every store is handy for me. If I don’t have a car I can walk,” she says. And “it’s easier to rent because the TTC bus goes to my door. The subway and GO train are right there. It was much easier for me. Until now.”

Angela Polsinelli, 32 and 34 Fern Ave.

If there’s one thing Polsinelli is passionate about, it’s her neighbourhood. “The residential community in the old village of Weston is really close-knit and it’s a lovely place to be,” she says. “We really feel that we belong. And we want to … bring back the spirit of Weston that used to be here.” Polsinelli and her husband, Ciro, an architect who designed the house and built another beside it for his parents, have lived there 33 years.

Angela says the initial outrage triggered by the first letter has been lessened by GO’s apology. “Right now, we’re at a point where they’ve apologized for the way they approached us and are giving us some different options.” Polsinelli has asked for technical information about the project so she can determine if it’s possible to stay in her house or move back after construction.

“When we heard … that we would have to move, it really hit us hard,” Polsinelli said. “I would move if I have to, but right now I would like to see what the possibilities are.”

Adriana Prado, 44 King St.

“It’s not just our house, it’s our home,” said Prado, about the four-bedroom semi-detached she shares with her husband, Nelson, and their three daughters and three grandchildren.

“I don’t know about finding another house in Weston that is as nice as this house. I love this house,” she says, noting the location is minutes away from her grandchildren’s school and close to work.

The couple has been told they have a year to make a decision, but already they are worried. What value will the appraiser sent by Metrolinx put on the house? Could they make it through construction only to find the increased train traffic unbearable?

“But where am I going to move?” asks Prado. “Everything changes for me, for my kids, for everybody.”

Sylvester (surname withheld), 46 King St.

Sylvester says he’s “one of the lucky ones.” Officials told him that his house, which he shares with his wife and three children, is far enough away from the rail corridor that the family may not have to move out during construction. But Sylvester says he’ll sell the house if he gets a high enough offer. The realty team was supposed to come to his house and speak to him two weeks ago, but, he says, “Nobody has come yet.”




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