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Optimistic about changing Leaside

Ever since my April article appeared in Leaside Life about the proposed mixed-use development at Brentcliffe and Eglinton and the subsequent deluge of negative comments, I’ve made it a priority to understand how the city and province view development in Toronto generally and Leaside specifically.

Councillor John Parker is on record suggesting the city and province see eye to eye when it comes to the size of buildings along Eglinton between Bayview and Brentcliffe; both envision mid-rise structures between 4 to 11 storeys. However, chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat recently discussed the issue in the North Toronto Post and seemed to indicate that Bayview and Eglinton could handle density similar to that at Yonge and Eglinton, which calls for residential buildings of 40-plus storeys.

Certainly all involved in the planning process have a desire to remain flexible as Metrolinx executes its grand plan for transportation in the GTA. Chief among those plans is the 19-kilometre Crosstown Eglinton LRT. 

Wanting to know more about the future of Eglinton, I went straight to the source. Lorna Day is project manager for the city’s Eglinton Connects study examining the street’s future growth, scheduled to be released in March.

Day and the rest of her colleagues in the planning department are conducting ongoing consultations with the people of Toronto to find out what they would like to see in terms of future development, taking into consideration the province is investing almost $7 billion to build the line and needs to see some sort of return in terms of commercial development, growing tax base, etc.

In late May I attended a three-hour workshop at Forest Hill Collegiate that allowed residents to discuss and ask questions about the Eglinton LRT with city employees.

What seemed like an incredibly chaotic process to this rookie bystander, yielded a lot of good feedback according to Day. They’re obviously constructive or the city wouldn’t continue to offer these consultative meetings.

The seniors present who stated their case for restrained development at Bayview and Eglinton were impressive. In the past I’ve been critical of long-time residents and their fear of change, but the people present on this night were rightly concerned that whatever development happens, it be architecturally suitable to the area (read not chintzy) and that the residential footprint remain as it is today.

It was refreshing to see residents willing to compromise on the future of Eglinton.

Initially, when I decided to write about development along Eglinton, I was going to go right to the chief planner herself. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it would be better to seek out Lorna Day, not only project manager for Eglinton Connects, but also the city planner for the area.

Ms. Day was kind enough to answer some questions. I’ve distilled her answers below. In the future I hope to gain further insight from Ms. Day, who’s clearly committed to doing what’s right for all of Toronto, including Leaside.

First of all, let me assure residents of Leaside that the Official Plan designates a majority of Leaside-Bennington as neighbourhoods, which protect and reinforce the character of the area. Except for Bayview/Eglinton and Laird/Eglinton, the city doesn’t anticipate much growth beyond the 17,000 residents that currently live here.

As for the five-acre development property at Brentcliffe and Eglinton, the city doesn’t have a standard density guideline based on acreage, etc. Instead, it looks at each development on a contextual basis, using many different design guidelines to assess appropriateness.

Residents who oppose the grand scale of this development should consider that any reduction in the size of the proposal could very well lead to more development at Bayview, or at other properties around Laird. However, the odds of this appear low.

As it stands right now, the city appears to favour low- to mid-rise developments at both Bayview and Laird. However, Day did suggest that both levels of government are acutely aware of the need for growth and intensification along Eglinton given the considerable expense of the LRT.

While the city is intent on managing this growth in a manner that respects the existing characteristics of the various neighbourhoods along the route, it recognizes that the official plan, which is currently under review, could be changed from mixed-use around Bayview, but isn’t likely to be.

From everything Day told me residents have nothing to fear but fear itself. Over the next seven years there will be a sea of change as we get closer to the opening of the LRT, which will be one of Toronto’s busiest transportation arteries. Change is coming to Leaside; from what I’ve seen and heard we have reason for optimism, not despair.