Danforth Mosaic BIA faces internal strife

Empty flower planters along the Danforth are a bitter reminder of the internal conflicts that have been plaguing a local business improvement area.

In May, four original members of the Danforth Mosaic BIA board resigned, citing budget and program cuts that the departing members say are a sign of poor leadership and decision-making.

“The board has decided not to do any of the initiatives that have really branded us and made us a desirable area,” says Pat Silver, entertainment business owner and past chair of the original BIA board.

Created in 2008, the business improvement area represents businesses along Danforth Avenue from Jones Avenue to Westlake Avenue.

All businesses in a business improvement area pay a mandatory levy that goes to a collective fund, some of which the city matches. More than half of the businesses in a designated area must be in favour of a BIA before one can be created.

The conflict arose from the departing members’ mounting dissatisfaction with a platform Litsa Kostouros, the current chair, promoted before being elected to the board of management last December.

Kostouros pledged to halve the board’s budget and freeze it until the next election in four years, while maintaining the same programs through sponsorship funding.

The departing members say that instead, the new board has canceled or ignored the seasonal flower and decoration initiative, the local jazz festival, an outdoor movie night, garbage cleanup and representation on the community police liaison committee.

It’s understandable that business owners jumped at the proposal to give the same services for less money, according to departing member Jordan Ison, president of Toronto Honda and treasurer of the original board.

“But I think they were fooling themselves because they’re getting a heck of a lot less,” he says.

In fact, Ison had lobbied the original board to increase the levy, even when the budget was double what it is now. He says the Danforth BIA is the longest strip in the city, stretching three kilometres, and yet collects significantly less in levies than neighbouring BIAs.

Silver cited the summer flower planting initiative, which made up half of this year’s city-approved budget, but was canceled by a majority vote of the 20-member board at a meeting in March.

“When you cancel a program that is nearly half of your budget and replace it with nothing, it begs the question of where is the money going,” Silver says.

Kostouros did not respond to the Town Crier’s requests for a phone interview, but sent an email refuting several of the resigning members’ accusations. She stated the city did not approve the flower bid the board wished to pass. However, Eva Pyatt, the city’s director of business services, says this was not the case. The board is looking at having a meeting to move ahead with the flower initiative, Kostouros said.

Kostouros also stated in an email said that the movie night wasn’t popular and instead, the board is extending the June Family Fun Fair from three hours in one location to three days spread throughout the BIA.

Kostouros said the Board has planned a weeklong music program but did not provide details, or make mention the jazz festival.

She also said that the previous board paid for private litter cleanup only during the municipal strike.

The resigning board members think ignoring initiatives that don’t figure in the budget, like the police committee, shows a lack of effort and effectiveness.

However, Kostouros said in her email the board will be sending a representative and the only reason they hadn’t done so before was a lack of space on the committee.

Ison also thinks the city could have been more involved.

“They say their hands were tied and I understand that, but I think they know what’s good for an area and what’s not good,” he said.

Pyatt would not comment on the specific allegations made by any of the board members and said she is not familiar with the details of the status of the contested issues, as the city is not mandated to manage the BIA.

She said it’s up to members to make their wishes known by voting for the budget annually, and for the board of management every four years.

“It’s their money,” she said in explanation of why the city takes no position.