Eglinton Avenue sweeps up from river parkland to the green factory campuses surrounding Don Mills Road, an unexpected oasis between the malls of Leaside and Scarborough. But condos are coming, along with the Eglinton Crosstown LRT.
Six major rezoning requests have been filed with the City by owners looking to rezone lots totalling 132.6 hectares near Don Mills Road. Re-zoning these lands to mixed use would allow new developments including condo towers, offices and retail spaces. All six requests were denied.
The LRT is spurring new development and making clear the effects a big transit project can have on an area with loads of untapped development potential. But the form of proposed development projects is at odds with the city's Official Plan, which protects office and industrial space and calls for mid-rise buildings, not towers.
Such questions might become widespread if Mayor John Tory's proposed transit plan, SmartTrack, is implemented. The plan calls for $8-billion in heavy rail, with much of the funding to come from increased taxes from proceeds of new development.
But if that development comes, what will it look like? On Eglinton, the city and developers generally have different ideas.
Celestica Inc. is one of the applicants in Don Mills. The company is seeking to convert its property, at 844 Don Mills Road, a former factory and office complex for IBM, to a mixed-use complex. The initial proposal detailed a plan to build eight new condo towers which would include 2,897 condo units. The city refused the application for an Official Plan Amendment; the company is appealing to the Ontario Municipal Board.
Terry West, President of the Don Mills Residents Association sees it as one of many potential developments that will change the area. "There have been a number of proposals for high density development. The discussion is still ongoing but we expect many more [developments] to come," Mr. West says.
The story is much the same all along the 19-kilometre LRT route. Landowners and developers see the potential for large-scale residential development. Planners see it differently: the city designates Eglinton as an "Avenue," which means the zoning specifies mid-rise buildings of generally six to eight storeys.
"An Avenue is one where land use and transit are married. So we're not trying to scramble to change the plan now that the province has funded the LRT. [We are] implementing part of the vision of the official plan," says Lorna Day, manager of the Eglinton Connects Planning Study.
Since construction of the Crosstown line was announced, more than 40 similar rezoning requests have been made to City Planning. Though these requests suffered the same fate as Celestica's, at least half are also being or have been appealed to the OMB. So far, two mid-sized projects have been approved and will be going up along Eglinton West.
Many redevelopment proposals apply to sites which are currently industrial, which the City Toronto has been battling for years to retain for workplaces. "Jobs make better use of transit than residences as a land use," Day says. "People who live along the corridor need a chance to work along the corridor as well, so it's important to maintain the employment uses."
Yet successful appeals to the OMB could result in thousands more condo units than currently expected being built along the Eglinton corridor.
"You can already see Yonge and Eglinton is a maze of condos," says Parul Bansal, a broker with Century 21 Real Estate. "Why wouldn't an avid developer, able to get a good chunk of land on the Eglinton line, want to build a condo? It's going to be an accessible and lucrative spot because right now the real estate there is not as expensive," she adds.
She points out that the value of residences on and near the Eglinton corridor has also started to skyrocket, especially in neighbourhoods where the LRT will be going underground.
"Though Toronto is experiencing an overall real estate boom, transit construction immediately causes property prices in neighbouring areas to increase," says Matti Siemiatycki, an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Program in Planning at the University of Toronto.
Day points out that commercial development in the form of office space and small to mid-sized businesses will undoubtedly follow residential development. "I expect to see more jobs and more people living along the corridor. We expect the whole corridor to intensify over the next ten years," she says.
Steven Farber, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Geography at the University of Toronto Scarborough, points out that the benefits of investing in quality transit are massive. "The bigger piece is not just in land value increase and development. It's in the billions of dollars saved due to reduction of congestion and increases in people's health. We will save priceless green space and rural land on the fringe that we will not need to develop," Farber says.
Mr. West, of the Don Mills Residents Association, says his group doesn't oppose dense new development on Eglinton. "We expect a fair amount of increased density along the LRT; it's only logical," he says. "It's a matter of time until the [Don Mills and Eglinton] intersection alone becomes high density; we have been pushing for and expect that a future downtown relief line will come there," he adds.
Prof. Farber argues that the potential increase in density along Eglinton may also end up causing problems. "The increased density may be higher than the LRT can accommodate," he says, "leading to overcrowding, potential congestion and a situation where building a subway would have been a better option."
Editor's Note: The original newspaper version of this article and an earlier online version incorrectly said Mayor John Tory's SmartTrack plan calls for $3-billion in light rail. In fact, the plan calls for $8-billion in heavy rail. This online version has been corrected.