For decades, Humbertown mall was the shopping mainstay of leafy Etobicoke neighbourhood The Kingsway.
After 60 years, local customers recognized that it was in need of a facelift. So when owner First Capital Realty brought forward a multimillion-dollar, mixed-use development plan for the 3.6-hectare site, residents were curious.
But the plan first put forward in January, 2012, which proposed 65,000 square feet of residential space, did not win over the neighbours. Despite revisions by the developer after meetings with the ratepayers association that included reducing the number of towers from five to three and increasing the amount of green space, local residents say it’s still too tall, too dense, too big.
In an unusual move, the affluent Humber Valley Village Residents Association hired an architect, at a cost of thousands, to draw up its own plans, complete with a welcoming town square. Former Toronto chief planner Paul Bedford said it’s rare that residents would employ an architect, but what happens at Humbertown will be closely watched as other areas of the city see rethinking of decades-old developments.
“Look at all the plazas that exist throughout the city that were built from the 50s on,” he said, “valuable land resources that are going to be candidates for rethinking and intensification.”
The impasse between the Humber Valley ratepayers’ proposal of 202 residential units and the developer’s pitch to build 604 housing units will be at the centre of a meeting Tuesday of the Etobicoke York Community Council. In anticipation of a huge crowd, Etobicoke Centre Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby lined up the 3,200-seat Queensway Cathedral for the meeting to accommodate any overspill.
Ms. Lindsay Luby is opposed to the First Capital Plan, as is Etobicoke resident Mayor Rob Ford and his councillor brother Doug.
“We don’t want someone coming in there, putting eight to 10 high-rises [in] when the transportation can’t handle the volume and the community doesn’t want it,” Doug Ford said Monday, although the proposal from the developer is for five buildings in total (three towers of 12, 10 and eight storeys, and two buildings of two and three storeys).
Ms. Lindsay Luby, a Kingsway resident for almost 30 years, said she opposes the proposal for the simple reason that “the capacity of the neighbourhood to absorb something as dramatically large as this is at odds with the people who live here. We are not downtown, glass tower, condo types.”
Architect Kevin Weiss, who was hired by the residents group to design the “Better Humbertown” proposal, said the community “understands absolutely” that development is inevitable, and has proposed five buildings, three of which would be a maximum of six storeys.
“And we always talked about what would be reasonable. At the end of the day, we put forward a proposal that was what the community collectively agreed upon was acceptable to them, and put it on the table for the developer to react to it.”
First Capital said it has repeatedly reached out to Kingsway residents. “We’ve had lengthy discussions and many meetings throughout last summer,” says Jodi Shpigel, First Capital’s vice-president of development. “We’ve submitted our third revised plan, which we feel is the best development application as a result of all those meetings. We have established and zoned within the criteria of the planning framework. “Our position is it’s a modest development in keeping with the residential neighbourhood.”
Decision day is June 11, when city council will vote on Humbertown’s new look. Last week, senior city planner Michael Hynes weighed in, saying “it meets the intent of the city’s official plan for intensification in mixed-use areas.”
Niels Christensen, president of the ratepayers association, said if his group fails at council, it plans to fight all the way to the Ontario Municipal Board. “First Capital did the Liberty Village development in Toronto’s core, and they did a wonderful job.
“But Humber Valley is not urban,” Mr. Christensen said. “Humber Valley is not Liberty Village. And we want to keep it that way.”
The great density divide between The Kingsway residents who belong to the 900-member Humber Valley Village Ratepayers Association and First Capital Realty Inc., the developer that plans to revitalize Humbertown Mall.
First Capital’s proposal:
- 5 buildings
- 604 residential units
- 576 condos
- 28 townhouses
- 73 per cent lot coverage
Residents’ association proposal:
- 5 buildings
- 202 residential units
- 158 condos
- 44 townhouses
- 41 per cent lot coverage