Why Costco would be a big headache

The death of Georgia Walsh was a wakeup call to all Leasiders. The Slow Down Kids At Play signs hit a chord in Leaside and demand for these signs has “gone viral” with demand from across the city. City council has approved a “no right turn on red” at McRae and Millwood, and has requested staff to report back to the next meeting on several legislative measures, like a reduction in speed limits on local roads in Leaside from 40 kmph to 30 kmph.

These are good measures but we need to take a larger perspective, and ask, “What is causing the traffic in the first place?” People are going “somewhere,” whether to work, to shop, or for other reasons.

The Eglinton Crosstown will eventually help with travel to work, but in the meantime drivers seeking an alternative route to Eglinton will increase traffic in our community for years. The travel to shop issue is affecting Leaside big time and is the only one that the city could affect if there is a determination to do so. 

The city has allowed development of  power centres along arterial roads, and the Laird development is the local result. Leaside gets local shopping but mainly it gets the traffic from elsewhere.

The next wave of power centres is already underway and it is on Overlea Blvd. The advance guard, a Costco warehouse store on the former Coca-Cola Canada property, has already applied for planning approval.

The proposed Costco Warehouse store would have a gross floor area of 14,752.4 square metres and a four-island, eight-pump gas bar. A detailed analysis by Wayne Robbins of the Traffic Impact study dated June 2013, and its revision dated May 2014, submitted to City Planning by the developer, indicates that the operation of the Costco retail store and gas bar will result in an increase in traffic of 39 percent for weekdays and 47 percent for Saturday over ‘background,” or non-Costco-related, traffic on Overlea and Thorncliffe Park Dr.

A Costco on Overlea would result in an estimated additional 2,246,400 vehicle trips per year into the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood, with the majority coming from the west, that is, through Leaside.

Overlea Boulevard is only 1.9 kilometres in length with T intersections at both ends plus one at Millwood at Laird controlled by traffic signals. It has six traffic-light controlled intersections, that is to say, at present you can be stopped by six red lights as you drive from Millwood, at Laird, to Don Mills Rd.

The traffic consultants point out that “within the immediate study area, there are capacity constraints noted at a number of intersections, which will require signal timing improvements to meet the traffic demands of the Costco site and other background developments”.

These “improvements” would include increases of up to 33 percent in how long a red light would last at the five intersections on Overlea and the Laird/Millwood intersection.

So yes, this is a “Leaside problem”. There are direct effects on travel in Leaside, not just the increase in traffic passing through Leaside to get to the store. And these traffic light changes will have a major negative impact on TTC bus routes using or crossing Overlea, which include the South Leaside (88) bus.

So where does this development proposal stand at present? As with any rezoning application there are two phases: city staff analyze the developer’s application and prepare reports to council, with recommendations. The North York community council will make a recommendation to city council, either agreeing with or not with staff recommendations.

In this case we understand that the city manager decided that this application would not go forward before the civic election. So at this time we do not know what the staff will be recommending, and the council decision could depend on who is elected as Ward 26 councillor. You will have an opportunity to ask the Ward 26 candidates at the LPOA’s All Candidates Meeting on Oct. 21 where they stand on this issue. I hope you do so!

Condo at 25 Malcolm Rd. Where is that? It’s the former post office site at 2 Laird Dr., which has been re-addressed as 25 Malcolm, and that’s a good thing. As the LPOA pointed out in its submission on the re-zoning, the site was located at the corner of Malcolm and Millwood, not on Laird.

Regardless, the site is an important entry point to the Leaside community and when we last wrote about the project in this column in April of this year, it was to announce that the developer had won its appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board and the development would proceed as submitted, despite the concerns of neighbours and the LPOA. However that is not the end of the approvals process and in large developments such as this, a Site Plan Application is required.

Normally site plan applications are approved by staff, without public input, but by request of the councillor they can be bumped up to community council. The LPOA wrote to Councillor Parker requesting bumping up, which he got approved.

There are no more meetings of community council or city council till 2015 so we do not know when it will come back.

Residential infill construction can be disruptive, especially for immediate neighbours and nearby homes. I get lots of comments from Leasiders about how fed up they are with construction activity on Leaside streets. Noise, dust, damage to property and trespassing are all issues.

The City of Toronto has announced that it will be increasing its enforcement of construction activity within the city’s right-of-way to make sure those areas are safe for all road users. City staff will be making sure construction sites are cleared of litter and other debris, construction vehicles are parked in the proper locations, hoarding is properly located, and that signing and other traffic control measures are clearly visible, working properly and in the correct locations.

These measures relate mostly to large developments like condos and office buildings, not as much to small infill renovation/demolition projects that are so common on Leaside streets.

However Ward 25 Councillor Robinson brought forward a motion at council committee earlier this summer to ask staff for a report to improve and streamline the city’s response to problem residential infill construction sites, including the feasibility of identifying a single lead to better coordinate the city’s response and requiring key information to be posted on hoarding boards.

It also asked for improvements to the city’s response to infill residential buildings that are not built according to approved plans or permissions. As it stands, discrepancies are often noticed too late in the construction timeline to be resolved.

If you have any ideas or suggestions about this please let me know and I will make sure it gets to city staff for the report back to council.

About Geoff Kettel 223 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.