What is the impact of 1,500 new homes?

Just another development that Leasiders oppose …same as always? Or is it “100 percent inappropriate” as Councillor Burnside stated in closing the Oct. 27 community meeting called to present and discuss the proposal, for 939 Eglinton East, attended by over 150 people?

At 1,500 units this is by far the largest development proposal in Leaside’s history. It’s 40 percent bigger than the previous largest project – the Kosmor development east of Brentcliffe, which was finally approved in 2001, after a bitter battle fought at the Ontario Municipal Board by the East York Council and the LPOA.

Let’s look at the proposal by the numbers. There are four towers, two with 19 and 24 storeys connected by an eight-storey mid-rise building, and two having 31 and 34 storeys connected by another eight-storey mid-rise building. There is also some retail and commercial/office space, less than exists on the site now.

Kosmor’s three towers (10, 14 and 18 storeys) and Hyde Park townhouses will undoubtably be cited by Diamondcorp as the precedent to justify their expansive vision of major residential development in the Eglinton corridor section of the Leaside Business Park. They have first-hand knowledge of the Leaside industrial area site; Steve Diamond was the lawyer for Kosmor at the time.

But from a planning perspective we need to ask: What is the impact of another 1,500 units (on top of Kosmor’s 1,146 units) in Leaside’s industrial area, along with another 900 upcoming units in the Leaside residential area?

These large scale development applications both approved and currently under consideration pose a host of planning challenges for the community that stem from the massive and unprecedented scale of development.

The challenges include dealing with pressure on traffic, water and sewer infrastructure, schools, parks, and other community facilities. Such infrastructure satisfactorily handles the needs of Leaside as a town of almost 7,000 homes and 20,000 people, but can it cope with an influx of 2,400 units and perhaps 5,000 people?

Sure the Leaside industrial area now has lots of retail (there’s no food desert here!) but the schools are at capacity, and the parks and community centre/arena are barely adequate now.

Of course while these are the “tangible” and quantifiable impacts of large high density developments, there are also the subtler aspects of Leaside and Bennington Heights that we value: the small town feel, the leafy streets, peacefulness, cleanliness, safety, consistent streetscapes and setbacks, good schools, recreation and community facilities, walkability/ bikeability, and ease of access to public transportation and downtown. How will these be impacted by new development?

Just another development, or 100 percent inappropriate? What do you think?

Here are the LPOA preliminary comments on the development proposal to city Planning.

1. Official Plan Conformity

The proposed zoning by-law amendment does not conform to the intent of the Toronto Official Plan’s Mixed Use Area policies for the following reason:

The Official Plan envisages a decline in residential density as one goes from the Downtown, to the Centres, to the Avenues, and then to other Mixed Use Areas. As the city generally associates mid-rise development as being appropriate for the areas identified as Avenues, the proposed 19-, 24-, 31- and 34-storey residential “tall building development” is completely contrary to what the Official Plan envisions for Mixed Use Areas, particularly those not designated as an Avenue.

2. Eglinton Connects Planning Context

The Eglinton Connects planning work identified the need for a number of Focus Area studies along Eglinton. The Laird Focus area study was to examine the area bound by Laird on the west, Eglinton on the north, Aerodrome Cres. on the east and Vanderhoof on the south, and therefore encompass 939 Eglinton East. Unfortunately the Laird Focus Area study has not begun.

We understand that subject to availability of funds, the project may commence in 2016. The absence of the Focus Area study means that the suitability of the site for intensification has not been considered in any meaningful way.

3. Excessive and Inappropriate Massing and Density

While there is provision for office uses on the southern part of the site, the major component of the proposal is for high-rise, high-density residential development. The massing and density is out of scale, and out of character for the area, which includes a low-rise residential community north of Eglinton, Kosmor development farther east, and commercial uses to the immediate west, east and south.

This one project, if approved, would create a 22.3 percent increase in the number of residential units currently in place in the Leaside residential area and Leaside Business Park. Such impacts need to be carefully considered – NOW!

4. Business Park Context

The implications of the proposal are difficult to evaluate in the absence of a detailed plan for the Leaside Business Park. The continuing erosion of the industrial base of the Business Park and its conversion to retail “power centres” on the Laird Dr. side, residential on the east side, and “soft commercial” on Wicksteed, negatively threatens the future of the “core” industries of the Park.

The city badly needs to consider the future direction of Leaside Business Park in light of these pressures to have a basis for decision-making on individual properties.

5. Traffic

The Leaside community is experiencing major increases in traffic on Laird and on local streets near the subject property. With the ongoing construction associated with the Light Rail Transit and the commercial development to the south of it, it is imperative that a comprehensive traffic study be undertaken to ensure that whatever development is permitted on the subject lands will not cause a further deterioration in what is already a tenuous situation.

The LPOA made a number of recommendations:

  • that the proposal be scaled back to one that would be in keeping with the Mixed Use Areas policies;
  • that the city move to accelerate the initiation of the Laird Focus Area study and expand it to include the west side of Laird, the Eglinton frontage from Sutherland to Laird and the Leaside Business Park;
  • that a comprehensive traffic study be undertaken to ensure that the area’s existing traffic problems are not made worse

We await a response by the developer to the concerns of the community as expressed at the Oct. 27 meeting, and the LPOA.

About Geoff Kettel 219 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.