‘Make it right-sized, not might-sized’

Sunnybrook Plaza meeting
A crowded William Lea room listened to Kate Whitehead about RioCan’s plans for Sunnybrook Plaza. Photo: South Bayview Bulldog

Kate WhiteheadMy name is Kate Whitehead. I am a mother of three and a resident of Leaside. I live on Bessborough Dr. in North Leaside.

The proposed high rise at Sunnybrook Plaza threatens the very fabric of our community. Leaside is not downtown Toronto. Anyone who has driven downtown, with all of the massive high-rise development occurring there, may have noticed the same thing I have.

The city is getting dark. As walls of condos fill in every available space in the streetscape one is left with an impression that they are driving through a tunnel. A tunnel where every building looks the same. A tunnel that blocks out the sun.
Leaside is not downtown Toronto. Leaside is a community where children can ride their bikes to their soccer games at Leaside High. It is a place where you can grow a garden. It is a place where you know your neighbours. It is a place where, during the ice storm, a group of neighbours spontaneously arranged themselves to walk the streets with willing hands and saws to clear the debris from people?s lawns. It is a safe place to retire. It is a safe place to raise a family.

If developments like this one are allowed to proceed, this will end. It will end and with it will go something that is very valuable to the residents of the entire city. Something that makes Toronto somewhere you would want to live.

Do we want Leaside to simply become part of the tunnel? It seems to me that the city is in an ever accelerating process of abolishing neighbourhoods in favor of streamlined, profit-maximized, large scale development. In so doing new housing goes up quickly and at great profit to developers, but at what cost? It seems to me that citizens of this city will have few alternatives to large scale developments. There will be no place like Leaside left for people who find themselves wanting such an alternative. If we pave communities like Leaside over with condos, there will be no turning back.

660 Eglinton elevationI can see why someone would want to buy a condo in Leaside. I can almost envision the promotional material that RioCan will produce. There will be pictures of families playing in the park, pictures of tree-lined streets. An invitation to be part of the vibrant community that is Leaside.

The irony is this. The concept that will be promoted in those cheery brochures is the very thing that will be destroyed by the development. Developers like RioCan will have been successful in selling out two groups of citizens: those whose neighborhood has been lost and those who thought they were moving to the Leaside of old.

I’m sure many other people will highlight what we already know. Large-scale developments like this will clog an already gridlocked Bayview where development is intensifying all the way up to the 401 with no new infrastructure planned. Increased traffic will spill into the residential streets. Overcrowded schools will become more overcrowded. These concepts almost seem to lose their significance in their repetition.

I think of it on a more personal level. What does adding this level of density do for the average person in Leaside?

It means a parent spending part of the evening stuck in Bayview traffic rather than being home with family. It means a teenager going to an overcrowded high school and getting a strained education. It means a seven-year-old riding his bike down the sidewalk and getting hit by a car.

Members of the community participated in the Eglinton Connects consultations. We are not naïve. We know that, with the LRT, and with the growing population of the city, that some development is coming. Putting a mid-rise on the site of Sunnybrook Plaza, even with the current bylaws, will change the neighbourhood and be difficult for many members of the community.

But with the ink still dry on the new bylaws, RioCan proposes to ignore them and ask for more. This begs the question: What is the purpose of a bylaw in the first place? It is not a platform for upward negotiation. It is a limit. It is a negotiated limit. It is a statement of collaboration between the city, business and citizens.

If I look at the diagram of the proposed development I see some very clear demarcations. The eight-storey base upon which the two towers sit is the kind of building that was envisioned for this corner by the Connects collaboration. Those eight stories without the two towers, are what we, the community, thought we were agreeing to when we actively participated in making a development plan in light of the LRT.

This is what RioCan can build if it respects the community and the bylaws.

The eight-storey building (still larger that what was originally envisioned for the block and a significantly larger structure than what is there now) represents a compromise and a win win solution. It provides a mixed-use building. It provides a building in keeping with the proposed new streetscape of Bayview and Eglinton. It provides intensification and new taxpayers. It will undoubtedly provide a more than reasonable profit for RioCan.

So let’s look at the towers. What is the benefit of seven full stories on top of the maximum allowed (even by the most liberal definition)? The downsides I have already mentioned and they are numerous. I would argue there is no benefit to the community, either those of us who are already here or those of us who are coming. Who gets the benefits? RioCan. Only RioCan. I challenge them to outline a benefit to the towers other than profit.

In the last election, the Toronto Star noted that our community had more SLOW DOWN child safety signs than election signs. We are a community that is united on the common cause of safety for our children and preservation of our streets. We are engaged and we are able and we are invested. We have the power to harness the potential of the community and we will. We believe Leaside is worth preserving for our children.

We will oppose allowing Leaside to be an extension of the wall of condos stretching out a shadow from Lake Ontario.

Why is RioCan proposing 19 storeys? I think it is audacious and they are floating it to see if we are complacent enough to let them get away with it. RioCan, we are not.

Let’s put aside unreasonable and unworkable plans. I would ask RioCan and the city to listen to the community and respect the bylaws. Let’s work together to find a win win situation that we all can support. Let’s collaborate to build a Leaside that both present and future Leasiders can be proud of and flourish in. Lets demand right-sized (not might-sized) development.