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IN AN IVY LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
English Ivyway Townhouses' Revitalization Success Story
By James Russell | Other articles by James Russell
It was their 2016 AGM and the board was carrying exceptionally painful news when they walked into the room packed with owners. What happened over the next few hours is what makes this story remarkable.
MTCC 537 is a sixty-nine-townhouse community perched on the northern boundary of North York. The area is officially known as Bayview Woods – Steeles, a residential community nestled between Bayview to the west and Leslie to the east. The wide, well-paved street designated by the city as English Ivyway begins and ends on Bluffwood Drive.
The three-storey townhouses of the English Ivyway community are one, two, and three-bedroom units. About half of the townhouses have conventional basements and the remainder, on-grade walkout lower levels. Five of the townhouses enjoy fully enclosed backyards and all units include one-car garages.
The architectural firm of Raphael-Burka won several design awards for the English Ivyway neighbourhood. Construction began in 1979 on farmland owned by John Coates back in 1878 and earlier occupied by First Nations communities – mostly the Huron and the Iroquois – long before the concept of 'owned' land was introduced to Canada.
The English Ivyway townhouses went on sale in 1982 and were snapped up quickly. "Many of the subsequent unit sales were to 'empty nesters', anxious to downsize but keen on remaining in the neighbourhood," says the Board's secretary-treasurer Michael Moore who adds, "Often these down-sizers were members of the Bayview Golf and Country Club," which is located across the street from the English Ivyway community.
Former Board President Don Velanoff, one of the original residents and long-time member of the Bayview Golf and Country Club, recalls that nearly half of the townhouse buyers were members of the Club. Even today, nearly forty-years later, at least five members of the Club still reside in the community, some for the convenience of being able to walk across the street to reach their club and a few, simply because, like Don, they, "love living here." Not surprisingly, that exceptional quality of life has resulted in a low turn-over, "Only three or so townhouses go on sale per year," says Michael.
"We have a very cohesive Board," says the Board's president Natalie Brock. "We may not totally agree with everything but we are on the same page." That shared sentiment and love for their community was uppermost on the Board member's mind's when they walked into the room hosting their 2016 AGM carrying with them the knowledge that the English Ivyway community they loved was in a sad, sad state.
Over the years, previous Boards and management endeavoured to keep condominium fees low but in doing so, maintenance had suffered. The community's dated infrastructure, rotting wood, cracked sidewalks and peeling paint had not only besmirched the English Ivyway community's once lovely exterior but trampled property values.
"Historically, selling prices in MTCC 537 have been more or less the same as the TREB 'all categories' average for Metropolitan Toronto. Selling prices began to fall in the first decade of 2000 as the community began to slide into disrepair," says Michael.
Additionally, a sixteen-year gap in comprehensive Reserve Fund studies contributed significantly to the English Ivyway's fiscal and physical predicament. "When the current President & Secretary-Treasurer took office in 2015, we called in an independent building engineering firm to conduct a Class 1 (from scratch) Reserve Fund study. In the prior 20 years, the reserve fund contribution had always increased by exactly 2% a year, and the Board had concerns that the Reserve Fund was underfunded." says Michael.
Over the course of the 2016 AGM, the board, many of who were new to their positions, laid out the current state of affairs, even using a forty-four slide Power Point presentation to illustrate both the present condition of English Ivyway and the Board's well-conceived plan to restore their community to its former glory.
Faced with the reality of their situation, the Board had no choice but to increase owner's maintenance fees by an average of sixty-five dollars a month, a substantial amount considering that approximately half the owners subsisted on their retirement income. To the Board's surprise, their plan to restore the English Ivyway community to its former glory was met with nearly universal enthusiasm by the owners.
The maintenance fee increase allowed the board to expand their painting budget from sixteen thousand dollars per year to forty-six and their 'other maintenance work' budget from thirty-two thousand dollars per year to fifty-six. As of 2021, more than half a million dollars has been spent on upgrades and repairs, including repaving the roadways and repairing the fa ades of each townhouse, in Natalie's words, "in order to restore uniformity of appearance."
Now that the majority of the restoration has been competed the board of MTCC 537, made up of Natalie, President; Michael Moore, Secretary-Treasurer and directors: Norma Tidd, Sheila Psek and Ziyang Zhang is looking at a variety of upcoming projects, including roofing repairs and refurbishment of the unit's rear facades.
It has been five years since the Board presented their 'bad news' at the 2016 AGM and Michael is proud to say, "Owners have been very understanding about the need to increase the Reserve Fund contributions, and they have also been very pleased with the increase in average unit selling prices."
The board and residents are just as pleased with their management company, "We have an amazing property manager. We never want to lose him," says Natalie of Alberto Alonso, a ten-year veteran of property management and the MTCC 537's property manager for the past three years. Alberto is equally impressed with the Board, "They have a huge respect for management," says Alberto of not only the Board's devotion to the physical and fiscal health of the English Ivyway community jobs and also the board's willingness to, "take into serious consideration anything that comes from management."
Communication with owners and residents is straightforward and instantaneous as all residents of the English Ivyway community are computer and smart phone savvy, which allows the board and management to send all notices electronically. Their seasonal newsletter, titled 'Town Homes at Steeplechase', also sent electronically, keeps residents up to date on important health, safety and administrative announcements.
The English Ivyway community is proud of the more than one hundred mature trees and shrubs that grace their 5.3 acre footprint. So, in order to keep their diminutive perennial and towering topiary residents healthy, the Board and management of the English Ivyway community have put in place an active tree care program that not only hires professional arborists to monitor the health of their trees and shrubs but replaces the trees whenever necessary. Townhouse owners are given the option of specifying a particular species for replacement.
Individual townhouses have their own gray (trash), blue (recycling) and green (organic) bins, additionally, "We (the Board) rent a huge dumpster every Victoria Day weekend, and put it in the visitor parking lot. Residents are welcome to fill it up with anything that they want to get rid of. This has proven to be a big success, some years we need to rent a second dumpster the following weekend to satisfy the demand. The dumpster costs us, on average, about $500 per load, which is a lot less than it would cost individual unit owners to purchase excess garbage tags from the city," says Michael.
English ivy, or Hedera helix, to us latin lovers, is a particularly hardy plant native to Europe and western Asia. Four years ago, the townhouses edging the street of the same name received bad news but because of effective fiscal management and foresight of their Board, their hardy, lush neighbourhood has been restored to its former glory and from bad news has sprouted good.
"Our community looks so much better," says Natalie.