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A hidden river makes RioCan change plans

Sunnybrook plaza map 2015

By: John Naulls

The Sunnybrook Plaza redevelopment proposal includes obvious planning issues, such as massing, height and shadowing, raised by a proposed residential building with twin towers of 19 and 12 storeys.

But did you know that the site also features natural heritage interest because it is part of the Lake Iroquois shoreline and it includes the (now piped) route of the Walmsley Brook, the so-called “lost river” that crosses Bayview just north of the Eglinton intersection on its way to join the Don River in Thorncliffe Park?

Residents of 1801 Bayview, the condo on the north edge of the site, have voiced their concern based on their experience of periodic flooding issues in their building. The City’s response to the high water table to be encountered by the redevelopment was that these are engineering issues dealt with in detailed site and construction approvals.

On the west side of Bessborough, residents adjacent to the site began to realize that the heavily trod ravine slope starting at the back of their properties and continuing onto the plaza site would be replaced with a retaining wall a foot away from their property line, presumably resulting in a loss of infiltration and increased runoff.

After some nudging by residents, who hoped to preserve the heavily trod slope, City Planning did agree to require the applicant to conduct a “Scoped Natural Heritage Impact Study.” The study, produced by a consultant for the applicant, confirms that “the site is likely located within the extent of the former Lake Iroquois.”

Comments from Urban Forestry, the City department that required the study, offer important details: “Borehole information indicates that fill was placed onsite to raise and level the site for development (ca. 1950s) on land that would have been a valley. However the Study does not provide an indication of how much the slope face itself may have been altered in the past, whether the slope above the on-site retaining wall has been degraded, or in fact if any of the existing slope on-site and adjacent properties is natural. Further, the Study does not indicate the extent of alteration or impact to the slope that would be expected if the development were built. Where the proposed development requires modification to the existing slope, the Official Plan requires that measures be identified to mitigate negative impact of development, on the natural heritage system and/or improve the natural heritage system. This could involve, for example, avoidance of the slope and/or providing more than an equivalent area of planting adjacent to the slope.”

John Naulls, local historian and cartographer, has produced a map of the site showing the changes brought by the plaza development based on aerial photos. He also found evidence of land filling on the site in the 1940s, he thinks likely emanating from the excavations of Leaside homes under construction at the time.

The other impacts relate to removal of a number of trees. The City in its comments on the study states: “The canopy loss is comprised mainly of non-native, invasive species such as black locust, Norway and Manitoba maples, and very few native species. Regardless, it is tree canopy on a protected feature, and it contributes benefits to residents of the city, as well as its wildlife….. With respect to mitigating or offsetting the loss due to proposed tree removals, replacement planting area and species have not been identified by the study, so the long-term impact to the site is unknown.”

An arborist report, submitted by the applicant, indicates that there are 44 trees on and within 6 metres of the subject property having greater than the regulated minimum size, and therefore protected by the City of Toronto bylaw. Of the 44 trees, 17 are proposed to be removed, including two on adjacent properties! And the report also notes that “tree protection measures will have to be implemented prior to demolition and construction to ensure tree resources designated for retention are not impacted by the development.” Although the city encourages the planting of native species, nowhere does it mandate destroying healthy, mature non-native trees.

The LPOA and residents will continue to press with all their efforts to ensure that the Lake Iroquois ravine slope and its tree cover are maintained and continue to bring “benefits to residents of the city, as well as its wildlife” for years to come.

Update on the OMB appeals

At a pre-hearing conference on July 26 the LPOA requested and was granted Party status and can therefore play a full role in the proceedings. In addition, Adam Brueckner and Linda Martin, residents of Bessborough Drive; Marney Charles, resident of the condominium building at 1801 Bayview; David Sprague, resident of Hanna Road; and Heather Mitchell, resident of Cleveland Street, requested and were granted Participant status.

The Chair refused to allow a request from RioCan and the City for a mediation, as the Board procedures for establishing mediation had not been followed.

The date of October 12 was set for another pre-hearing conference when the Chair will decide the Issues List and the Procedural Rules for the Hearing.

The next step for the LPOA and the residents is to prepare for the November-December hearing, including submitting what we see to be the key issues for the Issues List, and working with our lawyer and planner on our case.