Proposed Laird in Focus Plan policies and RioCan’s development application for 815-845 Eglinton Ave. East both passed major milestones recently. North York Community Council adopted staff recommendations for policies, called Special Area and Site Policies (SASP) for the plan’s two areas: Area A – the section comprising large properties in the block south and east of Laird and Eglinton; and Area B – the commercial strip along the west side of Laird Drive. And the Committee adopted a Directions Report concerning the City’s opposition to RioCan’s appeal of the City’s refusal of RioCan’s application for its project, the appeal for which goes back to 2016.
Why are these events important and how are they linked? At long last the City has a plan and a set of policies to serve as a basis to assess this longstanding application (and any others that may materialize). While it will be up to LPAT (the provincial tribunal that replaced the OMB) to decide on the RioCan application, the three Parties (RioCan, the City and the LPOA) have each agreed to sit down and try and reach a settlement rather than engage in a contested hearing. (Full disclosure: I will be a representative for the LPOA.)
Progress has been made
As reported in Leaside Life’s October issue, progress has been made to create and begin to implement a cohesive vision for the RioCan site as part of the Laird in Focus Plan. The scale and level of intensification in this location demand that this intersection develop a civic space that works at both the community and city scales. The current submission demonstrates a big improvement from the earlier proposed plans (a series of similar blocks with little planning basis, other than open space links and roads), of how the parts might work together to form a cohesive and vibrant new community.
The proposed density and the high proportion of residential uses compared with employment uses remain as issues. Resident comments at the September 17, 2019 open house and subsequent correspondence mention concerns regarding the application’s building height and massing, design and “fit” (architectural character) as well as impacts on mobility, physical infrastructure, social services, and schools. However, the LPOA acknowledges that the City Planning context has changed as a result of the revised Growth Plan, changes to the Planning Act and the LPAT. The LPOA now supports the City’s proposals regarding assigning specific density and heights, based on the Laird in Focus Planning Study recommendations.
The current submission includes a proposed four-storey office building. The LPOA supports the creation of employment opportunities as an integral part of the development, especially those that would link to the evolving industrial economy of the Leaside Business Park, such as an incubator hub.
The LPOA believes that detailed design of the development should be done in such a way that:
• The public amenities (community space, LRT station entrance and public space at the corner of Eglinton and Laird) be a gateway/anchor/hub of Leaside and along the Eglinton corridor, and the architectural character of the above spaces (“Leaside Centre”) to be the most prominent of the complex.
• The architecture of the future east (secondary) entrance of the LRT be read as a public amenity and a distinct pavilion within the complex, and as such construction above it should be avoided.
• The architectural design of tower buildings be visual icons representing the future of the community while complementing the distinct architectural shape/details of Leaside Centre and the TTC entrance, which should be celebrated as the main attractions at ground level.
• The design of the public realm 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.
The RioCan application represents the keystone of the Laird in Focus plan for major development around the Laird transit station and the major project affecting Leaside’s path forward, likely over the next 30 years. We need to get it right, for local residents, the City, and the developer. Overall, we are optimistic.