Toronto man builds park stairs for $550, irking city after $65,000 estimate

A Toronto man who spent $550 building a set of stairs in his community park says he has no regrets, despite the city’s insistence that he should have waited for a $65,000 city project to handle the problem. The city is now threatening to tear down the stairs because they were not built to regulation standards.

Retired mechanic Adi Astl says he took it upon himself to build the stairs after several neighbours fell down the steep path to a community garden in Tom Riley Park, in Etobicoke, Ont. Astl says his neighbours chipped in on the project, which only ended up costing $550 – a far cry from the $65,000-$150,000 price tag the city had estimated for the job.

“I thought they were talking about an escalator,” Astl told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.

Astl says he hired a homeless person to help him and built the eight steps in a matter of hours.

Astl’s wife, Gail Rutherford, says the stairs have already been a big help to people who routinely take that route through the park. “I’ve seen so many people fall over that rocky path that was there to begin with,” she said. “It’s a huge improvement over what was there.”

Astl says members of his gardening group have been thanking him for taking care of the project, especially after one of them broke her wrist falling down the slope last year.

“To me, the safety of people is more important than money,” Astl said. “So if the city is not willing to do it, I have to do it myself.”

City bylaw officers have taped off the stairs while officials make a decision on what to do with it. However, Astl has not been charged with any sort of violation.

Mayor John Tory acknowledged that the city estimate sounds “completely out of whack with reality” on Wednesday. However, he says that still doesn’t justify allowing private citizens to bypass city bylaws to build public structures themselves.

“I think everyone will understand that it will be more than $550,” he said on Wednesday. “We just can’t have people decide to go out to Home Depot and build a staircase in a park because that’s what they would like to have.”

He pointed out that the park already has an accessible path for those who worry about falling down the incline, which is essentially a shortcut from the parking lot to the garden area.

Tory also cited safety and accessibility issues in terms of the staircase’s design. City inspectors have said the stairs are unsafe because the railing is unsafe, the incline is uneven and there is no foundation.

The mayor says his staff have been asked to revisit the project and come up with a more realistic estimate, as the last one was based on projects in other parks.

Coun. Justin Di Ciano, who represents Astl’s area, said the spot seems safer with stairs than without them, so he’s asked his staff to leave them for now while plans are made for a city-approved upgrade that won’t cost too much.

“I think we all need to have a bit of common sense here,” he said.

Area resident Dana Beamon told CTV Toronto she’s happy to have the stairs there, whether or not they are up to city standards.

“We have far too much bureaucracy,” she said. “We don’t have enough self-initiative in our city, so I’m impressed.”

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