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CSI Annex, residents look to solve dispute

March 26th, 2012 · No Comments


The first floor of CSI Annex (720 Bathurst St.) is now a large-scale space for events, including this launch of Spacing's national magazine in mid-February. Perry King/Gleaner News.

By Perry King

The issues that have plagued residents of Markham Street and the Centre for Social Innovation for nearly a year has resulted in a public meeting to sort them out.

On Mar. 27, this meeting—called by Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina)—will discuss significant noise and facility usage conditions between CSI, who acquired their Annex building  (720 Bathurst St.) in 2010, and the longtime residents who directly reside across the alley. The local community has been invited to sit in and contribute to the meeting.

Much of the current dispute was initiated when CSI informed Markham residents of construction of CSI Annex’s first floor, now a 7,000 square foot facility. CSI had informed the residents that the work would require an adjustment to the space. Many of the residents were fine with an adjustment, and implicitly assumed the space would be used for meetings, conferences, and the like. The subsequent events after the committee hearing were not pleasant. “First off, we had no expectation [that] the construction process would be such a protracted, and messy one,” said Roy Sawyer, one of the residents.

Ken Balderson, in an email on behalf of the residents, cited that the construction obstructed access to garages. As well, “they left garbage strewn all over the alley. Heavy equipment ripped up the roadway. Although complaints were lodged for months, CSI was unable (or unwilling) to resolve the problem,” wrote Balderson.

CSI, despite being perceived by some residents to be negligent and cold, have been trying to empathize act in the interest of the residents. “Before the noise issue, our construction general manager and his trades frequently parked their vehicles in the lane behind the building, also causing a disruption. I spoke with the tradespeople, but they often continued to park in the alley, forcing the neighbours to complain and take action,” wrote Colleen Diamond, CSI Annex’s community animator.

CSI then began licensing their space for various events in December and January, and the situation became too much to bear. Donna McFarlane, also a Markham resident, cited vibrating floors and loss of sleep. When Layton’s office received word of these issues from some residents, they called the meeting, offering to host. “I can say quite clearly, that if we had known they had intended to play amplified music and serve alcohol late into the evening, I think we would have raised a concern with the Committee of Adjustment when we got the request,” says Sawyer,  who endorses CSI’s purchase and repurposing of the building, but has found this experience jarring.

Eli Malinsky, CSI’s director, says they have also made internal adjustments in order to be more considerate. “We’ve reduced the number of late night events, ensured that a paid CSI representative is on site, and lowered the volume of music that is played in our space. I think we are on the road to sorting out the challenges we’ve been experiencing and establishing a positive relationship with the community,” wrote Malinsky.

Erin Cluley, who runs the CSI Annex Coffee Pub, says that the facility is also seeking a liquor license, rather than acquiring Special Event permits for late evening events. “ Having a liquor license, rather than working off of special event permits, can and likely will help regulate the events situation here. We want them to know that we are looking to add more professionalism with the liquor license, and not the opposite,” she wrote in an email.

The March meeting will be the first formal face-to-face discussion of issues. They are staying tight-lipped about what they would like to see emerge from the meeting, and Malinsky says that they will take a lead from how the discussions emerge.

Markham Street residents are not unfamiliar with noise disputes. McFarlane cited a healthy exchange of ideas with Victory Cafe (581 Markham St.) when the restaurant was planning for a patio expansion in 2010. The Victory does not get “extra privileges,” and neither does CSI, says McFarlane.

Sawyer would like the late night events to completely stop, but is open to compromise. He believes that CSI has used up the residents’ good will. “At this point, my feeling is I’m still happy with CSI as a neighbour. They’ve made a couple of fairly serious missteps in terms of having good neighbourly relations,” said Sawyer. “I’m looking forward to the meeting on March 27, and I’m really hoping that the CSI team are going to address the current issues in a forthright and leaderly [sic] fashion, and that they’re also going to demonstrate to us, in good faith, that they want to be good neighbours and that we’re not going to have an ongoing series of neighbourly disagreements.”

Gleaner Community Press, a former tenant of 720 Bathurst prior to and after the acquisition of the building in 2010, moved out of the facility in early January.

The meeting takes place March 27 in the first-floor of CSI Annex, beginning at 7 p.m.

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