Toronto’s main street is in the midst of the most remarkable transformation in its history, with more than 20,000 condos that will house more than 30,000 people — the population of Orillia — under construction or in the planning stages.
By: Susan Pigg, Business Reporter, Published on Fri Sep 25 2015- Torontostar
And that’s just in a seven-kilometre stretch from Lake Ontario to the hotbed of midtown condo construction at Yonge St. and Eglinton Ave.
The implications are massive. Whole blocks could be revived or razed, more people will cram the subway and sidewalks, and there will be even more urban kids needing schools.
“It’s going to make Yonge St. a really exciting place, which it needs to be.”
City planners, politicians and business improvement groups are all grappling with the explosive changes coming — the need to protect heritage buildings while preserving Yonge’s unique character, and ensure it’s not simply lined with tall buildings and big-box stores.
There’s even talk of the need to reduce traffic to two lanes and widen sidewalks as Yonge St. turns into Young St.
“This is a huge, remarkable, quite wonderful transformation,” said former city planner Ken Greenberg, whose first job at city hall in the late 1970s was coming up with a plan to remake the main drag which, in the wake of the murder of shoeshine boy Emanuel Jaques, was in its darkest days.
“The biggest challenge is going to be making sure everything that happens at street level is exceptional.”
Few neighbourhoods illustrate the challenges of such rapid change as the ones at Yonge and Eglinton and at the foot of Yonge St.
On paper, at least, this mixed-use community was ideally suited to be designated an “urban growth centre” under the province’s decade-old Places to Grow legislation and targeted for higher density development.
But the applications from developers to build more and more — and at a size never anticipated on streets once lined mainly with houses — has area Councillor Josh Matlow so concerned that he wants a moratorium on any new highrise developments until the city can get a better grip on services needed to handle the growth.
Some 22 projects with 8,868 condo units are proposed or under construction just in the heart of this midtown area, according to Paul Farish, a senior city planner. Expand the circle out towards Bayview and Davisville Aves. and the number of potential condos jumps to 12,296 units in almost 50 projects.
Between 2001 and 2011 alone, the population of the Yonge-Eglinton area grew 32.6 per cent to 18,453 residents, according to census data,
While parts of the downtown are seeing similar pressure from condo redevelopment, that pressure is spread over 2,120 hectares, says Farish. Yonge-Eglinton is just 61 hectares.
“Dozens of applications have come in recently and I expect more to come,” said Matlow, whose Ward 22 office regularly fields calls from area residents frustrated by blocked streets and constant dust and noise that continues well into the evening, despite a bylaw that prohibits loud work past 7 p.m.
Planners are becoming especially concerned by development pressure to tear down old office towers and turn them into yet more condos, contrary to the city’s stated goal to maintain a live-and-work community at Yonge-Eglinton.
“The plan was to have tall buildings near the intersection, and I understand that. But now we’re seeing these taller buildings popping up in neighbourhoods that used to be sleepy little streets for single-family dwellings,” said Matlow.
“Transit, parks and other infrastructure haven’t kept up with the pace of development. Many of our schools are at or over capacity. It’s unfair that Yonge and Eglinton continues to see more and more condos being built while residents who now live here aren’t getting the services they deserve.”
Long-time resident and community activist Terry Mills fears far worse is yet to come. The member of the Federation of North Toronto Residents’ Associations has examined virtually every street with potential for redevelopment and believes as many as 80 more towers, with some 45,000 residents, could be built in the neighbourhood over the next 15 to 20 years, doubling the population.
The city has set some goals, through a study called Midtown in Focus, for wider sidewalks and public squares as part of new developments. Planners are now in the midst of looking at population growth — now and in the future — and what kind of schools and other community services will be needed to meet growing demand.