Province overrides city plan for Leaside

Saving old Leaside

Leaside Station.
Leaside Station.

Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, has a different vision for Leaside from the City’s. In announcing his changes (all 194 of them) to the Midtown in Focus secondary plan approved by the city in July, 2018 and to the TOCore Plan (over 200 changes) he focused on Leaside (despite Bayview’s being only a small part of the study area). He said his revised plan would allow towers 20 to 35 storeys tall at the corner of Bayview Avenue and Eglinton Avenue East, whereas the City’s plan called for buildings no higher than eight storeys.

In fact, Minister Clark’s assertion is only half right. The City’s plan does allow for 20-storey towers at Bayview and Eglinton. But maybe not where he would like them! As usual, it’s all in the details. The City’s plan called for:

• 16 storeys and11 storeys in the northeast corner – Sunnybrook Plaza – which reflects the OMB mediated settlement between RioCan and the LPOA); construction is set to begin soon.
• 20-23 storeys in the northwest corner – Metro – no sign of anything currently.
• 6 storeys in the southwest corner, which reflects the existing mid-rise condo.
• 8 storeys in the southeast corner, former McDonalds’s and now the Leaside Station site.

Aha! Methinks that development of the Leaside Station site is behind the Minister’s issue with Leaside. Seems to me the province wants a tall building there to maximize its real estate value. Coincidentally, the Minister’s announcement was made on the same day that the legislation to upload the subway/Light Rail Transit system from the City was passed by the Legislature. I recall persistent rumours a couple of years ago that Metrolinx’s plans incorporated infrastructure below the station sufficient to allow a 22-storey building to be built there. A recent (May, 2019) Metrolinx News article, “As Toronto looks to future growth, Leaside Station holds design secrets to grow with,” confirmed the presence of underpins, and boasted “We’re building a time machine in Leaside.”

So, why did the Midtown in Focus plan show eight storeys? There are reasons for restraint. For one, the station site is right next to Talbot Park with its baseball diamond and Leaside High School playing fields, which are located well below grade due to the ravine of the Walmsley Brook. The City’s plan maintained midrise in order to minimize shadowing. The plan as a whole put a premium on preserving sunlight, requiring that no net new shadow be cast by a building, while the province’s changes say that only “adequate” sunlight is required.

For another, the station site is adjacent to the historic Talbot quadraplexes. To date, only two, including the one at the north end owned by Metrolinx, have been preserved. (See column in Leaside Life August, 2018.)

The provincial changes to the Midtown in Focus Plan clearly reflect the government’s recent policy changes on housing, which are driven by the idea that the City needs to allow even more new housing units than previously planned near public transit stations. In Leaside the minimum density target for the Leaside Transit Station Area is increased from 160 residents and jobs per hectare to 200 residents and jobs per hectare, an increase of 25%. The province also plans to require “inclusionary zoning” near transit stations, which would reserve some of these units for affordable housing.

The predominant characteristic of the changes in the plan is the removal of certainty in the direction of City policy, providing instead simply “guidance.” For example, prescriptive words such as “will,” “preserve,” and “ensure” are replaced with more permissive wording such as “may,” “generally” and “encourage.” This clearly makes it easy for lawyers to argue the need for flexibility in the plan’s application.

And that’s not all. Another recent change, the Growth Plan’s increase from 500 to 800 metres around major transit station areas could have a major impact on spreading intensive development formats into the neighbourhood.

Footnote: The Minister’s changes seem to have been applied to the plan presented but not the one approved by City Council. City Council approved some further height reductions.
I wrote in August, 2018 that City Council maintained a Neighbourhoods designation for the set of 10 quadraplexes on the east side of Bayview, instead of re-designating them to Mixed Use as proposed by the plan. So, that would not have allowed eight storeys but maintained a four-storey height limit!

About Geoff Kettel 221 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.