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‘Where was the notice?’: Toronto businesses caught off-guard by construction projects, councillor calls for changes

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The Church-Wellesley Village is well-established as one of the largest 2SLGBTQ+ communities in the country, full of bustling shops, cafes and restaurants, which become especially lively in warmer weather.

Last Easter Monday, the sun was shining with temperatures hovering above 11 C, prompting The Garage, a bar and restaurant on the corner of Church and Maitland Streets, to open its patio for the first time this spring.

“Customers were out on our tables enjoying the sun,” said bar manager Frankie Palermo.

But that enjoyable afternoon hit a roadblock.

“All of a sudden, construction crews showed up and began digging up our sidewalk at the front entrance. People had to move inside because of the noise and the dust.”

The work also blocked access to the customer exit and entrance at the front of the bar.

Palermo contacted the bar owner asking if he knew what was happening.

“Neither he nor I had any notification this was going to happen,” he said.

Palermo said customers began trickling out of the establishment, forced to use a back staff entrance, “which goes right through our garbage and recycling area.”

Crews also tore up sidewalks located in front and on the side of the establishment.

“If customers wanted to enter they had to walk out onto the street to access our back door, so people just assumed we were closed.”

Palermo said they were told by the on-site construction manager, who works for a third-party contractor hired by the city, that the work would be done quickly but after rain showers moved in, the project was stalled.

“There was no access to our main entrance during this time,” Palermo said. “We put up signs to use the back entrance but it impacted business for sure, it was dead in here.”

City of Toronto construction outside The Garage restaurant and bar in the city’s Church-Wellesley Village. (CityNews)

Due to the heavy rain, the work was finally finished six days later.

“I estimate we lost around $15,000 because of this work,” bar owner Tyler Oliveira told CityNews. “We’re trying to figure out why we were not notified. We could have planned ahead for this.”

Oliveira and members of the Church-Wellesley Business Improvement Area (BIA) began reaching out to the city to investigate but said they had a tough time getting answers.

“Nobody seems to know what went wrong here,” BIA president Adam Wynne said.

City of Toronto construction outside The Garage restaurant and bar in the city's Church-Wellesley Village.
City of Toronto construction outside The Garage restaurant and bar in the city’s Church-Wellesley Village. (CityNews)

This case is not isolated, councillor says

In their search for answers, the BIA reached out to Ward 13 councillor Chris Moise, who represents the Church-Wellesley Village. He told CityNews this project, to create curb and other improvements to increase pedestrian safety, had been approved by Toronto City Council several years ago.

“But what we didn’t know was when that was actually going to happen,” Moise said. “Normally, my office along with the BIA and businesses impacted should be given a written notice by the third-party contractor and that did not happen for whatever reason.”

Moise dug into this a bit deeper, reaching out to other members of council.

“I heard from other councillors that this same thing has happened in their wards as well. Projects started without notification, so clearly there’s a gap in the system that we need to rectify.”

Moise is meeting with city staff this week to discuss what went wrong.

“I’m looking at whether or not I need to bring a motion before council to make sure that this sort of thing does not happen again,” he said.

CityNews reached out to city staff who said they were told by the contractor that a verbal notice was given to The Garage owner’s father due to the owner not being present at the time, a claim that Oliveira and his father deny.

“We had no warning, whatsoever,” Oliveira said.

Regardless, city staff responded by saying proper protocols were not followed.

“The City of Toronto follows a multi-faceted notification protocol that is determined by the size, scale and scope of a project. These may include pre-construction and construction notices, onsite signage, in-person notification and letters to impacted parties, which are delivered at various stages in the lifecycle of a project,” a city spokesperson said.

“In this case, while in-person notification was provided, it does appear that a more involved notification process was better suited to the property owner’s needs. The City is taking their feedback very seriously and will take steps to ensure any construction or maintenance work is undertaken with proper notice and in partnership with individuals and/or businesses involved.”

Bar owner wants compensation for lost profits

Oliveira said he wants to be compensated for money he said he lost due to the construction but according to Coun. Moise, there’s nothing in current city policy to ensure that but it is something he’s looking into.

“The city is paying these contractors and if businesses are harmed, there should be some sort of penalty,” he said. “Those are the things I’m looking at. I want to gather as much information as I can and possibly bring a motion before council.”

But Coun. Moise said it’s unlikely any policy shift in the future will compensate Oliveira.

“We cannot retroactively take action like that as far as I know. My job now is to see what I can do going forward to make sure it doesn’t happen again and that’s my focus.”

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