Toronto is growing. The downtown population residing south of the Canadian Pacific Rail tracks at Dupont south to the lake and from Bathurst in the west to the Don Valley Parkway to the east is presently 250,000 and by 2041 is expected to be 475,000. New condo towers that dominate the skyline south of Queen Street are just the beginning. Like a tsunami, the wave of residential development needed to accommodate this population growth will migrate quickly north to the Annex.
We are seeing the early ripples now. According to Councillor Joe Cressy “there is more development in Ward 20 than all of Scarborough and Etobicoke combined”. But unlike Scarborough and Etobicoke, we lack the large sites, brownfields, and vacant land. Our challenge in redevelopment is primarily on smaller parcels and infill.
“Heritage is a consideration which should not trump all other things. These designations ought not freeze-in-time properties and make spaces such as those adjacent to 666 Spadina Avenue unable to be utilized.”
There is opposition of course to infill and intensification. One sees it at community consultations for Annex-area developments. More people means more pressure on infrastructure, including electrical grids, sewers, schools, and subways. Even space on the sidewalk is something that current residents legitimately worry about losing.
The impact on heritage, quite broadly defined, is a familiar part of the lexicon used by those that oppose development. Adam Vaughan, then the Councillor for Ward 20, tried to claim that the grass on the back campus of the University of Toronto had heritage value and tried to block the university from upgrading the field surface to artificial turf to allow for the Pan Am Games.
The debate over whether to allow the owners of a 25-storey apartment building at 666 Spadina Avenue to add additional buildings is heritage-themed. Those opposing the plan to build the 11 storey rental apartment building on the open space on the south end of the existing building argue that the open space is part of the heritage designation, and that much is true, but so is the fact that the “monochromatic colour scheme and the repetitive nature of the balcony elements” are also part of its heritage detail. At some point, one has to weigh preserving all things heritage against the greater good. We need rental units, we need to plan for growth and get ahead of the curve so that the growth is smart and sustainable.
Heritage is a consideration which should not trump all other things. These designations ought not freeze-in-time properties and make spaces such as those adjacent to 666 Spadina Avenue unable to be utilized. The 11-storey plan for there is reasonable. Not all development plans for the Annex are as reasonable. The 42-storey tower proposed for the corner of Madison and Bloor, now before the OMB, is out of scale with the neighbourhood and does not contribute to a liveable community.
Westbank Development’s plan to build nearly 900 residential rental units (half of which are two or more bedrooms) on the site of what is now Honest Ed’s, together with 300,000 square feet of small scale retail, is a case of true city building. In this application, heritage is largely preserved and integrated.
Another infill initiative called “laneway suites” is being advanced by Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32, Beaches-East York) and Councillor Ana Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport). They are working together to advance the dialogue around creating new neighbourhoods in the alleyways. According to a release from the councillors, laneway suites can transform underutilized spaces such as rear garages and parking pads into sensitively scaled housing. As Toronto grew rapidly from 1870 to 1930, laneways were home to workshops, lumberyards, and, yesm housing. Croft Street near College and Bathurst is one example. What’s old is new again apparently.
The need for infill and intensification is not new. It takes some creative thinking to get it right but it’s important not to draw the heritage line so broadly that it prohibits responsible growth.
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