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EG-BRENT 1,280 condos in new plan

On March 6 Steve Diamond, CEO of Diamond Corporation, presented very big plans to redevelop the five-acre property at Eglinton Ave. and Brentcliffe Rd., with its 50-50 partner Dawsco Property Corp., to the Leaside Property Owners’ Association.

The LPOA board appeared in an ornery mood as Diamond and his architect, Sol Wassermuhl of Page + Steele, talked about 1,000,000 square feet of residential condominium space spread over four buildings ranging in height from nine storeys to 29, with approximately 1,280 one- and two-bedroom units for sale.

In addition, there’s a plan for a fifth building on the northeast portion of the property that would house a seven-storey office building with 107,000 square feet and another 70,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor along Eglinton. 

Also included in the current plan is a 3/4 acre park at the southeast corner bordering Vanderhoof and Brentcliffe.

If you go to Diamond Corp’s website you will find that they’re generally quite respectful of the areas where they develop new projects. Especially interesting is the nearby 129 St. Clair West project that’s incorporating the former Deer Park United Church into a mixed-use development that includes a 27-storey condo with 226 units, five town homes and retail along St. Clair West.

Diamond Corp. worked with city staff, Councillor Josh Matlow and all the other stakeholders to come to an arrangement that makes everyone reasonably satisfied. Diamond Corp. appears to be a good corporate citizen.

Observing the presentation I found that those in attendance were quick to judge the project in a negative manner even though they’d only just heard the plans for the first time.

The usual concerns about traffic quickly arose in the Q&A that followed the presentation. I doubt there’s a single development in Toronto proper that hasn’t fielded this concern. It doesn’t mean I’m dismissing the issue but in density-phobic Toronto, it’s not original. More compelling was the concern about schools in the area being over-burdened by the additional children that would reside in Leaside. A quick back of the napkin calculation suggests no more than 500 additional students aged 5-19 would be absorbed into the school system. It’s really a non-issue because most of the residents will probably be empty nesters, singles, and couples without children. The actual number will likely be much smaller.

Finally, there were several calls to drastically reduce the size and scope of the project.

For whatever reason the people that sit on the board of the LPOA seem to believe that they are singularly qualified to speak for the community when it comes to issues of development. Further-more, that everyone in Leaside is against anything larger than a 10-storey building. That’s simply not true.

Christopher Hume covers urban affairs for the Toronto Star. In his Oct. 20, 2012, article entitled Urban Density is Key to Smart Growth, Hume states that “density is what will save the city and the Greater Toronto Area and enable its 5.5 million inhabitants to prosper in the decades ahead.” He’s 100 percent correct.

This project is an opportunity to increase the diversity of housing in our community while also creating additional potential employment for local residents interested in working closer to home.

Toronto is now the fourth largest city in North America; density is a fact of life and without it, we face a very grim future. It’s pointless for the provincial government to spend $8 billion on an LRT line across Eglinton if the city (yes, Leaside’s a part of that) doesn’t intensify its density along the route, specifically at LRT stations.

Conveniently, Diamond Corp’s new project will be 225 metres from the eastern entrance at Laird Ave.

There’s a saying: “Change is inevitable; growth is optional.”

What I saw March 6 was a community organization very much set in its way. There will be plenty of time for further discussion with Diamond Corp. regarding its development plans, which are at least two years away from getting underway.

I wonder what happened to the pioneering spirit of early Leaside that financed its growth with industrial expansion and a vision for the future. In Leaside’s 100th year it seems completely absent.

It’s a darn shame.

Traffic: Blame the mess on Bob Rae

On the front cover of the March edition of Leaside Life there is the headline “City staff OKs new SmartCentre”. The words in the article are those of Leaside Unite, who consider themselves a citizens’ action group opposed to this development and have joined forces with the Leaside Property Owners’ Association (LPOA) to fight this all the way.

Of course, this isn’t a new development. It’s something that’s been brewing since Home Depot built its 130,000 square foot store at the east end of the existing SmartCentre in 2001.

I wasn’t living in the area at the time but alarm bells should have been going off. If not then, at the very least when the first portion of the current SmartCentre was completed in 2002.

Concerns about traffic and the economic impact are legitimate issues but they won’t be solved by blaming the developer (SmartCentre/Calloway REIT) who seem to be playing by the rules. If you go through the staff report dated Feb. 5 from the Director of Community Planning for North York District to the North York Community Council, it’s clear that the city’s hands are tied.

http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2013/ny/bgrd/backgroundfile-56048.pdf

The most telling line from the 53-page report is on page 13: “Given the location of the site between two existing major retail centres, it is the consultant’s view it is unlikely the site could attract any uses other than retail and service uses proposed.”

The consultant in question is urbanMetrics, who were hired by Wicksteed Developments (SmartCentre) to produce an Employment Area Impact Assessment as well as a Retail Market Demand and Impact Analysis in support of its rezoning efforts.

Tate Economic Research Inc. were hired by the city in 2012 to conduct a peer review of the reports tabled by urbanMetrics. Tate agreed with urbanMetrics.

The city report paraphrased as follows: “The peer reviewer agrees with the consultant’s statement that because the site is ‘sandwiched’ between two established power centres it is logical to fill in this area with similar synergistic uses.”

It would be the same as if you bought an empty lot in Leaside situated between two houses. It would be illogical for the city to do anything but permit you to build a home there.

I’m not a huge fan of Walmart. In fact, I rarely shop there. However, they have as much right to occupy 78,000 square feet (the proposed size of its second-floor store) of the development as any other business.

Now that the horses are out of the barn, I think it’s more constructive to figure out how to solve some of the traffic problems that are building up in the area. We don’t need a traffic study to tell us the community’s got a lot busier.

The other day my wife needed gas before driving to Burlington for work. I suggested she head over to the Husky station at Southvale and once done, zip over to Bayview and south to the Gardiner.

It was like a funeral procession moving along at a snail’s pace. Virtually none of this traffic (we’re talking 7:30 in the morning) would have been caused by the additional retail businesses that have cropped up on Laird the last few years. Most of it would have come from Leslie and other north-south roadways east of there.

If you want to blame anyone for this mess, I believe it makes more sense to lay it at the feet of Bob Rae, his minister of the environment, Ruth Grier, whose ministry ultimately put the kibosh on the Leslie St. extension plan with an extremely negative review of Metro Toronto’s environmental assessment, and transportation minister Gilles Pouliot, who refused to consider funding for the project.

In July 1990, the Metro Toronto Transportation Department released its environmental and needs assessment study for the proposed project. It looked at 12 different alternatives to the extension, including doing nothing, and found that the extension would reduce through traffic by 61 percent during peak periods, saving 5.1 million kilometers travelled by motorists annually.

The two big problems it saw with the project were cost, which was estimated at $107 million in 1989, and the permanent removal of two hectares of woodlands. Nonetheless, David Johnson, the mayor of East York at the time, favoured the project in principle.

In an August 26, 1992, meeting between the City of Toronto, the Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Technology, Greg Sorbara said the following: “If Pouliot reviews the case, he will realize that the road is needed to relieve the congested Don Valley Parkway and keep southbound cars off residential streets in Leaside.”

Despite stating the obvious, Rae’s NDP government felt that the estimated cost–by then up to $141 million–was too much to bear in a recession. Worse still, it appears the residents of Moore Park and Rosedale managed to create enough political pressure on the powers that be to ensure their neighborhoods weren’t overrun with spill-off traffic the extension might have created.

So, in the end, it appears that the NDP decided it was more politically expedient to burden Leaside with additional traffic than its more southernly neighbours. It’s just another example of why Bob Rae’s four-year stint as premier is considered by many people to have been a complete and utter failure.

The Eglinton LRT will cost more than $8 billion to build. The Leslie St. extension at almost any cost would be a drop in the bucket for the city. These two projects in combination with a downtown relief line sometime around 2030 would go a long way to permanently solving the traffic problems in Leaside.

On the other hand, fighting over whether Leaside needs another retail complex or the world another Walmart seems entirely pointless, especially when you consider that these developments are just a small part of the traffic woes that exist in our community.

Let’s not blame business for something created by civic apathy many years ago. What we have today is in large part our own fault. Passing the blame only makes it worse.