By Mike Anderson
Velma and Delbert Storie have lived in a ground floor patio unit at Keswick Gardens, a seniors building located at 43 The Queensway N., for the past eight years.
For most of that time, they’ve enjoyed their front lawn and flower garden, and the convenience of being able to walk out to the sidewalk and nearby parking lot.
But that all ended in 2019 when their landlord, Housing York Inc. (HYI), replaced a small privacy hedge in front of their unit with a rope fence, which, last month, was upgraded to a more substantial wood fence. The only gate, which is more than 50 feet away, is padlocked.
“By putting a lock on the gate, we’re basically closed in. It’s not justified; we’re seniors, not kids,” Velma said.
HYI also completed an expensive landscape redesign for the building in 2019, which included replacing the grass in front of their patio with river rocks.
Velma, 84, says the river rocks, which covered up most of her lawn, have become a serious trip hazard, especially in winter.
“For some reason, this part of the building is being discriminated against. We’re the only part of the building that they’re blocking residents in,” she said.
Velma believes the fences and landscaping are unnecessary and wonders why the money wasn’t spent renovating bathrooms in the building’s 120 units, something HYI promised more than four years ago.
“I’d like to see no fence here and the rocks removed. We need more work done inside the building. The fence does not benefit us. These bathrooms haven’t been done since the building was built,” she said.
The couple has joined a group of Keswick Gardens residents, led by Doreen Whetter, who are calling on HYI to remove the fence and rocks in front of 20 patio units and restore the building’s communal gardens, which have been replaced with low-maintenance river rock and planters.
Whetter and her neighbours also want the building’s management and staff to drop their unofficial ban on residents watering plants.
“Last summer, at least twice, possibly three times, all the plants were replaced, because no one watered them,” she said.
“The residents who were watering them were told you are not allowed to water the plants.”
Whetter points out that other buildings managed by HYI, like nearby Pineview Terrace, allow their residents to tend communal gardens. And she doesn’t understand why her building can’t do the same.
“Our name is Keswick Gardens. The gardens we had were universal to our building,” she said.
“The Keswick Gardens sign out front, there’s not a flower in it. It’s full of rocks.”
“The circle with our flagpole also used to be full of flowers. We now have, what a lot of people refer to as, funeral urns. Tall plastic planters with the plant part dropped in it.”
Keswick Gardens is one of six seniors buildings, offering market rent and subsidized units, managed by HYI in Georgina.
According to Kerry Hobbs, Director of Housing Operations for Housing York Inc., management and staff at Keswick Gardens should not be stopping residents from watering plants on the property. Actually, she says they should assist them in doing so.
“We know that tending to plants and flowers helps build a sense of community and belonging. As such, residents are welcome to tend to the plants,” she said.
“Residents can also request assistance with watering, subject to Superintendent availability.”
Still, Hobbs says the maintenance of “common areas” should be left to contractors.
“Residents are encouraged to beautify their space using planters and other containers on their patios. Small gardens are also permitted within a two-foot perimeter of the patio area. Beyond that, green spaces are common areas maintained by a grounds maintenance contractor,” she said.
Hobbs also says the fence is necessary to protect residents from tripping or falling in front of their units.
“As the grassy areas between the walkout patios and parking lot are not maintained or intended as walkways, they can be a trip and fall hazard in the winter months. With safety in mind, the fence was built to separate the parking lot from the patios and direct visitors and residents to the sidewalk,” she said.
However, when asked if fencing had been recently erected at other HYI properties, like Pineview Terrace, Hobbs did not respond.
In fact, residents in patio units at Pineview Terrace, located at 190 Church St., are not fenced in, and are free to walk across their lawns to access the sidewalk and parking lot area.
Whetter, 70, who lives in a patio unit with her husband Malcolm, doesn’t believe that her front lawn is a trip and fall hazard.
She also says HYI installed the fence without adequately consulting residents.
“According to them, they consulted us. They stuffed a half sheet of paper in the apartment doors, asking us did we want an A or B fence? No question of do you want a fence?”
“We don’t want a fence at all,” she said. “We’re not senile. We’re not animals in the zoo. We’re not prisoners. It’s ridiculous”
In an email response to Whetter, dated July 4, Randall Profitt, Manager of Housing Operations for HYI, said the fence not only addressed “walkway safety,” but also “concerns with privacy around ground floor suites.”
“HYI understands that you may find it more convenient to access the sidewalks and parking lot directly from your patio and across the lawn from your home, but in the interests of safety and fairness, HYI requests that all residents and their guests continue to use the designated sidewalks and entrances,” he added.
Whetter says privacy has never been a significant concern at Keswick Gardens.
“We don’t have security issues. We don’t have break-ins. We don’t have drunks walking around. We don’t have doors knocked or windows smashed,” she said. “We don’t have any of these issues.”
Whetter, a former police officer and nurse in the U.K., also argues the fence is actually unsafe because it prevents ground floor residents from escaping a fire quickly via their patio door.
She adds that EMS will take longer to reach residents in the patio suites because the fence gates are always locked.
Whetter knows seconds count because she had a medical emergency two years ago, and paramedics entered her suite through the patio door.
“Before we had the fence, they were in here dealing with me in a matter of minutes. It was very quick,” she said.
Whetter also believes the issue of fairness is a red herring.
She and a friend polled more than 40 residents in the building, asking them if they had an issue with ground floor units having flower beds and direct access to the parking lot via their patio — 97 per cent said there they didn’t have any issues.
On July 9, Profitt and Christina Bonham, the building’s property manager, met informally with more than 20 residents to address their concerns.
But, according to Whetter, they did not offer to remove the fence.
Whetter is not holding out hope for a quick resolution, but she is vowing to keep up the fight.
“We may have won a battle or two, but we want to win the war.”