Development – taking stock and moving forward

One hundred issues of Leaside Life, nine years of community building and place-making – stories that link people and place. My contribution over that time has been to maintain a watching brief (and a measure of advocacy!) on Leaside as an “established neighbourhood,” a place undergoing rapid transition from its roots as a planned low density “model garden city” on the edge of Toronto to an intensifying centre facing new high density development. And the key driver of recent change – the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit (LRT) is about to go into service in two (or more likely three) years. That’s when we find out if Leaside still “works,” or if the post-pandemic chill affects people’s willingness to travel on transit under the “new normal.”

Development changing our face

Taking a look at my Leaside Life anthology (193 articles to date), I find a header that seems to capture the ongoing challenge Leasiders have faced throughout the magazine’s existence: “Capitulate or fight? Which is it to be?” (Issue #54, November, 2016). This was about the Diamond development application at 939 Eglinton Ave. East, but its point is applicable to all the high-rise developments underway that mark Leaside’s entrance into being a “grownup” community. There’s more of a feeling of inevitability than enthusiasm for these large developments.

High-rise developments on Eglinton are setting Leaside’s path forward, likely over the next 30 years, so we need to get it right, for local residents, and for the city. Several high-density developments were proposed and approved in the past nine years: at Bayview (Sunnybrook Plaza, RioCan), Laird (815-845, RioCan), and Brentcliffe (939, Diamond). Our focus in each project has been on developing a cohesive vision of a vibrant community that integrates well with the surrounding community. 

At Laird and Eglinton the scale and level of intensification demanded the development of a civic space that works at both the community and city scales as the emerging new centre of the Leaside community. Indicative of this perspective are: (1) the creation of a gateway and public plaza framed by the new transit pavilions for Laird Station; (2) placing the park to front onto Laird and Vanderhoof and adjacent to the community space; and (3) moving the office building to the southeast of the site. 

We have continued to be concerned about the massing, heights, and densities, and other issues, including traffic, school capacity, infrastructure like hydro, sewer and water, as well as transportation impacts and school capacity…and the high proportion of residential uses compared with employment uses. We believe the Leaside community continues to have these concerns. 

Finally, the design of the public realm in these high-density developments should be inspired and developed from the traditions/style of the Leaside community and its legacy as a Model Garden City, while maintaining and encouraging the daily public interaction of the Leaside community and the public in general. 

Enter the mid-rises

The second grouping of developments is the mid-rise projects –7-8 storeys on Laird (25 Malcolm and 3-5 Southvale) and on the west side of Bayview (1408-1420 Bayview) midblock between Merton and Davisville, 1500 Bayview (Valu-mart site), and 1674-1684 Bayview – between Hillsdale and Soudan. While again there was hesitation on the part of the community, maybe these developments will be the salvation of the adjacent businesses, in particular along Bayview?

Singles and semis get makeovers

The third grouping of developments is the renovation, demolition and rebuilding of single and semi-detached homes. This mostly amounts to massification, not intensification with larger, higher homes replacing modest homes with designs that in many cases do not fit with the prevailing character of the built form. Developers are increasingly attempting to build three-storey houses in a stable neighbourhood of two-storey homes. 

The Leaside Business Park? 

The Business Park recently welcomed its seventh self-storage facility! Will its future be sealed (embalmed perhaps) as a home for (dead) storage? Let’s hope its future involves something more vital. One Business Park proposal which engendered wide enthusiasm was for an innovation centre in Leaside Business Park where knowledge workers toiled in flexible modern workspaces, set in an innovative “mass timber” building, and walked or biked to work from their homes in East Leaside or from the Laird or Leslie LRT stations. (“New Business Park Projects Reflect Different Visions,” #81, February 2019). In a post-COVID world, this project appears to offer a new vision of Leaside as a live/work community. As we enter the post pandemic “new normal” there is talk of rebuilding a “15-minute city” where people walk and bike to work from their homes or the subway station. The project’s location steps away from the Laird Centre’s apartments and the Laird and Leslie (Sunnybrook) LRT stations seems to fit perfectly. New vision? Not really, just a return to Leaside’s pre-WWII reality as a community complete with homes and jobs close by.

About Geoff Kettel 137 Articles
Geoff Kettel is a community connector and advocate for “making places better”. He is currently Co-President of the Leaside Residents Association, Co-Chair of the Federation of North Toronto Residents‘ Associations (FoNTRA), member of the Toronto Preservation Board and Past Chair of the North York Community Preservation Panel. He writes a monthly column on heritage and planning in Leaside Life.