In three hours of debate this week, northeast Scarborough residents and some city councillors revealed one reason why people were strongly objecting to a new Malvern Family Resource Centre in their neighbourhood - the fact it was named for Malvern.
“Malvern’s got a lot of negative connotations,” Ray Mistry told Scarborough Community Council on Tuesday, asserting he and his friends around the intersection of Sewells and Littles roads lived in a neighbourhood called Rouge 131, not Malvern.
Malvern Family Resource Centre, which has run programs in its quadrant of Scarborough over three decades, was applying for a zoning amendment permitting a two-storey community centre at the intersection, on vacant land Ontario’s government sold the agency for $5.
But Mistry said “there is a fear” in the surrounding streets that just the use of the name Malvern could lower home prices. “Every time you mention the word Malvern, the prices drop.”
Councillors seemed to concede this impression of Malvern, a city-designated priority neighbourhood.
Norm Kelly asked MFRC officials if they would consider changing the United Way-backed agency’s name because it has grown “beyond Malvern,” a community he said was “built for a distinct purpose” and which “hasn’t had the highest reputation.”
Glenn De Baeremaeker, another councillor, proposed a motion asking MFRC to consider naming the proposed two-story building the “Rouge River” Centre or using another name “that emphasizes the Rouge community” after the neighbourhood is consulted on this.
The motion passed, narrowly.
Executive Director Girmalla Persaud said she would take the name-changing request to the MFRC board and membership, but said the agency is proud of helping Malvern improve as a community.
“We would be giving up a lot of our reputation,” if the name Malvern were removed, she said.
The non-profit group, however, maintained it already had a history of serving the area around its proposed new location.
Sheridan Cyrus. a board member, said MFRC had enroled 198 families from the immediate neighbourhood in programs. “Basically the people that we’re serving are the residents,” he said.
Cyrus and Persaud said the new centre would house Ontario Early Years programs, MFRC’s Women’s Place and senior’s programs. Youth and other seniors’ programs will continue at a Nielson Road location, and after-school programs will also stay where they are, they said.
The building would be evenly split between program space, a gymnasium (open to neighbours who sign up) and office space for 25 staff. As a neighbourhood amenity, it will bring property values up and its activities will strengthen families and make the neighbourhood safer, said Cyrus.
MFRC representatives said they had looked unsuccessfully for any alternative site and that a $800,000 provincial grant for the building, which could cost $4 million, must be used by March 21, 2013.
“I don’t think there will be a lot of people coming from outside the community,” Persaud said to some audience laughter.
Residents stuck to the argument the proposed building would be in the wrong place.
One neighbour, Sam Joshi, said he’d be willing to buy the land himself for $2 million and offered to write a cheque that day for a down payment. “Let me build 10, 15 houses (there) and I don’t think any of the residents will disagree with me,” he said.
Questioned by councillors, Joshi said he wouldn’t mind if a church, a mosque or a public library were built on the property, but not the resource centre.
Mistry said there are fears for safety in the area after MFRC moves in.
He appeared not to trust the agency’s pledge the building would not be home to any youth programming. “That is not what is going to happen down the road,” he said.
Raymond Cho, the local councillor, said he faced a difficult decision because the MFRC “has done excellent work.”
Cho, however, said he opposed the application because of the community’s opposition, his feeling the location was wrong and concerns the resource centre would contribute to the risk of local flooding.
Later, he was one of only two councillors voting against the application.
Among those supporting the application was Scarborough Southwest Councillor Gary Crawford, who recalled many in his Birch Cliff neighbourhood had opposed plans for the Birchmount Residence, a shelter there for older homeless men, yet fought to keep it open a decade later.
He predicted the same would happen with the resource centre. “I hope over time you will realize they are a very good neighbour,” Crawford told the meeting audience.
Kelly said he supported the application because it is a permitted use in the Official Plan, and warned residents thinking of appealing the decision the Ontario Municipal Board was much like a court and won’t be swayed by anything unrelated to planning matters.
Earlier, Seetha Subramanian, a MFRC volunteer said the organization is important to seniors and their families.
“It helped me settle in my new community. I would be very lonely without some programs to go to,” said Subramanian, but she added her Tamil senior’s group’s activities are bumped from place to place, especially during summers.
The new MFRC building will help with this problem, she said.