For decades, Bayview Avenue between Lawrence Avenue and the Toronto city limits has been an arterial where both time and traffic seemed to stand still. Even though it is a very busy thoroughfare, there’s been scant redevelopment beyond some clumps of luxury townhouses and the ship-shaped condo that overlooks the Bayview Village mall – a legacy of anti-development councillors and anti-intensification zoning along what remains a largely residential street.
A somewhat unlikely partnership is aiming to alter that narrative with a newly green-lighted plan to significantly intensify 22 acres of the Tyndale University campus, which is situated off Bayview south of Steeles Avenue on a plot of land bounded by ravines that drift down one of the Don River tributaries.
One of the partners is Tyndale, which traces its roots back to the late 19th century and the Toronto Bible Training School. Over decades, it evolved into a degree-granting seminary with a focus on Christian theology, and has owned the former convent site on Bayview since 2015.
The other is Markee Developments, a firm established by former City of Toronto chief planner and mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat and real estate and finance veteran Jason Marks to build affordable housing. Tyndale Green will be their first major venture.
The plan envisions the development of more than 1,500 rental and condo units on land that mostly served as the university’s parking lots as well as a track. The dozen or so proposed buildings will range from six to 24 storeys, with most in the mid-rise range. The bulk of the rentals, including some family-sized units, are set to lease for 80 to 100 per cent of average market rates, which is the city’s definition of affordable.
The neighbourhood will also be fitted out with a new municipal street, with signalized intersections onto Bayview. Given the lack of nearby amenities, the developers had little choice but to acknowledge the car-oriented realities of the location, yet the entrances to the parking garages have been pushed to the edges of the site so as to discourage internal vehicular traffic.
In Toronto, there are only a few such places – the St. Lawrence neighbourhood and the Canary District – and certainly none in the tall-or-sprawl world of the inner suburbs.
Ms. Keesmaat says Markee’s design team – architects KPMB and landscape designer PFS Studio – is aiming to create a community with extensive pedestrian and open-space links between mid-rise buildings, a shared roadway, a new park and community amenities such a daycare and a café. While the project includes 1,100 below-grade parking spaces, it will also have 1,500 bike parking spaces – a nod to the relative isolation of the site, but also the urban aspirations of Ms. Keesmaat’s group.
“It’s more of a European model, but also the kind of model that you would find more in places like Montreal, where there’s a lot of missing middle housing,” she says. “That’s the model that we’re aspiring to inject into the landscape in the city of Toronto, in part because it’s what we’re missing.”
According to project architect Bruno Weber, a partner at KPMB, the buildings themselves will be assembled from modular units that are built in factories and transported to the site. The architecture includes low-carbon construction techniques, wood cladding and the colours and textures of Tyndale’s existing structures, he says.
But the buildings will be slightly closer together than the city’s existing setback policies prescribe. “It’s that public realm and kind of pushing the buildings closer in and creating a public realm that is pedestrian first where people can engage and come together,” says Mr. Weber. “For us, that’s the most important thing.”
Landscape architect Jennifer Nagai, a partner at PFS Studio, adds that the site also lends itself well to a more creative approach to public space, in large part because the property slopes towards the ravine and the creek, which allows for urban design that uses the site’s topography to its advantage.
“The boundaries of the designated park spaces and the existing landscape are blurred,” she says. “You end up having this very different type of landscape experience where one space leads into another space. Rather than having a compartmentalized approach, it feels more integrated.”
While Ms. Keesmaat’s team has clearly developed a progressive-minded project that ticks off a lot of boxes when it comes to carbon, affordability and new rental, it’s less clear how Tyndale will connect to its conventionally suburban surroundings, and whether this new mixed-use enclave will be regarded as part of the surrounding community or somehow separate.
“I think what we’re trying to do is support movement and connectivity as much as we can within the site. and that, hopefully, acts as a catalyst for other things to slowly change and evolve along Bayview,” says Ms. Nagai.
Ms. Keesmaat, who brings a city planner’s eye to this venture, acknowledges the challenge and points to a conundrum facing developers who want to push the envelope in low-density areas that are facing pressure to intensify.
“There’s a tension, I think, in many Canadian cities around, do you design for the existing condition, even though you know the existing condition is deeply problematic? Or do you start pushing forward towards a future condition? If we imagine in the future that Bayview Avenue has a cycle track and bus rapid transit, then you’re very close to the Steeles BRT to the north, and you’re close to the Sheppard subway.”
The City’s planning department earlier this month released some new rules that would allow for more as-of-right intensification along so-called “major streets” such as Bayview. Indeed, other similar suburban arterials, like Bathurst north of Lawrence, have long had more mid-rise buildings, while others, such as Dufferin south of Highway 401, are seeing intensive, high-density projects going up on more conventional sites, such as former car dealerships.
But along all these corridors, a future that includes fewer private vehicles, more bikes, more transit and enough density to support walkable local retail and frequent transit, remains elusive. In the interim, Ms. Keesmaat says, Markee and the university are contemplating a workaround: a private shuttle to the subway until Bayview’s proposed BRT is operational.
As for the overall idea behind Tyndale Green, Ms. Keesmaat argues that it represents an alternative way of adding density to suburban areas. “We kind of assume that the best approach to density is to plunk towers that are sometimes just buildings, right?” she says.
“They’re not communities, they’re just buildings.” With this project, Ms. Keesmaat continues, “We have calibrated very carefully the density, where the density can go, and really put as much density onto the site before we begin compromising [its] sense of place.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article included an incorrect estimate of the distance between Tyndale and the Sheppard subway station, in a quote from Jennifer Keesmaat. The incorrect estimate has been removed from her quote.