A group of North York business owners say Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti pushed to have their street parking removed from a stretch of Islington Avenue just a few years after his own relatives had sold off their interests in an affected plaza.
Businesses had relied for decades on the ability for customers to park in front of their stores on the paved sides of Islington Avenue. That included the businesses that operate out of a small, multi-unit plaza on the south side of Vanhill Avenue.
But that changed when Mammoliti pushed to end the parking situation during a meeting of the Etobicoke York Community Council on Oct. 7, 2008.
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Citing a need for beautification improvements, Mammoliti made the case that the city had been trying to reclaim the space for years, it owned the land in question and should "take back what's ours."
Only one member of that community council, then-councillor Rob Ford, opposed the measure.
At the meeting, Ford said that if the parking was taken away, the city was "going to put these people out of business" and would create "a ghost-town plaza."
"And what happens to ghost-town plazas? They get re-zoned for residential and I personally wouldn’t want to see that happen," Ford said.
But in the end, the community council directed city staff to "take appropriate action" to recapture city boulevards along Islington Avenue between Finch Avenue and Steeles Avenue West.
The city would soon install concrete curbs, ending the ability of the Vanhill Avenue plaza business owners and their customers to park there.
Family connection to plaza
Current business owners tell CBC News that they have learned that Mammoliti’s relatives previously owned four of the five units at the plaza located at the corner of Vanhill Avenue and Islington Avenue. But all of those relatives sold their units within weeks of one another in 2004.
For these current business owners the move to quash the parking came as a surprise.
Adriana Fanti purchased one of the units in the plaza just a few years before Mammoliti made his push on the parking issue.
Fanti told CBC News that she bought the property under the impression that she had the parking at the front of the building.
But she would learn that when the building was first constructed in the 1960s, it was built too close to the street. The city expropriated the land in 1980, but tenants and owners were continued to be allowed to use the boulevard for parking.
No success at reclaiming parking
Fanti and other business owners tried to get their parking back, but they were not successful.
"We tried to negotiate with the city afterwards to get boulevard parking, for myself as well as these other four owners," said Fanti.
But she said the city said no.
However, there was another plaza on the other side of Islington Avenue that had its parking blocked off by the city, but subsequently restored.
But those businesses joined the local Emery Village Business Improvement Association as Mammoliti and others had asked them to do.
The councillor did not mention at the community council meeting that the businesses were being asked to join the BIA, which he helped start.
Some business owners, including those at the Vanhill Avenue plaza, told Mammoliti they couldn’t afford the levy that would accompany joining the BIA.
For Fanti and her fellow business owners at the Vanhill Avenue plaza, the land where they used to park has been grassed over and three trees have been planted there.
But the people who joined the BIA across the street still have access to parking on the land that the city had been pushing to take back.
Mammoliti's office sent an emailed statement to CBC News in response to a request for comment.
"It is my understanding that in an effort to beautify their plaza the owners at Italian Gardens collectively agreed to work within the City of Toronto policy to legalize the use of their boulevard parking," the statement said.
"As the City has indicated, the current illegal boulevard parking at 2956 Islington Avenue has been a long standing issue and has no bearing on the City's consideration of a BIA in that area. This matter is between the business owners and a City of Toronto policy."
Dampened business prospects
Without having parking available, Fanti said she and her fellow owners have had to make concessions.
"Financially, it was a burden initially and we’ve had to… lower the rent to accommodate our tenants because of the parking issues," said Fanti.
"So it has been a financial burden. The taxes are high and we find it very, very difficult."
Rina Marchese owns a unit at the Vanhill and Islington plaza that she rents out to a tenant.
As a result of the parking issues, her tenant isn’t getting enough business and she in turn is being squeezed.
"They are very behind, I can’t get any rent. Yet I still have to pay my taxes," Marchese told CBC News in a recent interview.
Marchese and her husband have owned their unit for years. It was supposed to be their nest egg.
But now she is unsure what potential it holds for them.
"What are we going to do with everything that is going to shambles in this plaza?" Marchese said.
"I mean we have to sell at [a]
lower price if we do want to sell. That’s all we can do."