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Westbank towers over 4 Corners

January 15th, 2016 · No Comments

Application to be reviewed in context of study

By Annemarie Brissenden

Residents attending an open house dedicated to the Bathurst Bloor 4 Corners Study Area were keen to focus on Westbank Corp.’s proposed Mirvish Village development instead of commenting on Toronto City Planning’s draft policies for the City of Toronto’s Official Plan.

So much so, in fact, that Liora Freedman, the planner overseeing the process and leading the meeting, had to keep redirecting the audience’s attention to the task at hand: commenting on the proposals that, if approved, will govern future development at Bathurst and Bloor streets.

“This is not a meeting on Honest Ed’s, this is a 4 Corners meeting,” Freedman patiently kept replying to questions regarding the height and density of the Westbank development.

That said, City Planning’s presentation — posted online — includes a draft policy direction summary that states, “Development applications within the Study Area, including the current one for the SW quadrant, will be reviewed in the context of the Bathurst-Bloor 4 Corners Study principles and policy.”

It also notes that, “The south-west quadrant has a larger Mixed Use area which is large enough to accommodate a built form beyond mid-rise in some of the area, with potential for taller buildings, and also achieve other planning objectives including appropriate transition to Neighbourhoods.”

For some in attendance, though, it was difficult to reconcile those two statements with what had been discussed in earlier community consultations.

“Twenty-nine-storey towers doesn’t meet the design principles from previous meetings,” said an audience member. “There is a disconnect between what was talked about in the early days and the exhibits presented here today.”

The November open house was only the latest in a series of community consultations that have contributed to the development of area-specific policy amendments to the Official Plan.

The culmination of the first stage was when Toronto City Council endorsed a policy objective characterizing Bathurst-Bloor as “a diverse, historic, and walkable hub of activity”, and emphasizing the fine grain, small-scale character of this gathering place at the heart of four neighbourhoods. In the second stage, council endorsed a series of principles relating to public realm, movement, heritage, land use, and built form. The focus of this third stage is to develop policy direction for each of those five categories, which will ultimately become an Official Plan amendment.

The draft policies under consideration include coordinating unified streetscaping, acquiring new park land, improved pedestrian crossings and new mid-block connections, sufficient stepbacks for new developments on the main street buildings, no residential uses allowed on ground floors, as well as the encouragement of cultural and office uses.

Some Markham Street specific policies include the preservation of the volume of house-form buildings (including historic roof forms), discouraging cantilevering or balcony projection above buildings, and reinforcing the house-form scale and character south of Bloor Street to maintain the street’s special character and sense of place.

The draft policies for built form, particularly on the main streets, directs that base buildings should ensure a minimum of five hours of continuous sunlight over midday from spring to fall, that taller buildings should minimize the duration of shadowing on public streets, and that taller elements should be designed to be consistent with the smaller scaled, fine-grained built context of Bloor and Bathurst streets.

These draft policies are based on a series of principles that “emerged from a year of meetings”, explained Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), “and will guide any changes at these four corners”.

“We can all be involved in how our city grows, really how our neighbourhood grows,” added Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina).

Cressy stressed that the 4 Corners study doesn’t just reflect the importance of the intersection — “anything that changes at this corner will change the neighbourhood” — but is aimed at ensuring “we are not just adding density, but creating a livable neighbourhood”.

Despite the focus on the 4 Corners study, many in the audience kept returning to the Westbank proposal, raising concerns about the potential increased traffic such a development would bring, the impact construction would have on the surrounding area, and whether the city’s physical infrastructure would still function with the added pressure of the increased density.

But many of these questions went unanswered, as the meeting was not about the proposed development, which would — planning officials at the meeting reminded the audience — be the subject of many future community consultations.

The comment period for the draft policies ends Jan. 15, after which the planning department will finalize the Official Plan amendment and present its report to community council, followed by a public community council meeting. City council will then render its decision on the proposed amendment, and third parties will have a period of time to appeal any decision to the Ontario Municipal Board, after which the amendment will be in effect.

To follow the study, please visit www.toronto.ca/planning/bathurst.htm.

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