It's a development site that's four times the size of the Honest Ed's property, sits at the confluence of eight TTC and GO/Metrolinx commuter rail routes, and holds out the promise of improving the public realm at an intersection that has long held little truck for the needs of pedestrians.
For all those reasons, and many more, hundreds of west-end residents last week crowded into a former Zeller's store on Dundas West, just south of Bloor, to get a glimpse at the most preliminary ideas being floated by Choice Properties REIT, the land-development arm of Loblaw and owner of the four-hectare site.
But Choice and City of Toronto officials weren't (yet) offering up much in the way of specifics, such as the number of new units, building heights or massing. They did allow that the project will include various forms of residential housing (high-rise towers, mid-rise, affordable rental), retail/commercial/office space, new internal streets, public spaces and perhaps even a plan to relocate the bunker-like Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School, situated at the southeastern corner of Dundas West and Bloor, to a quieter location farther south on the trapezoid-shaped property. (If the school is included, the entire property is 5.7 hectares.)
"What we're building is an urban neighbourhoood," said Gord Perks, city councilor for Parkdale-High Park.
"These larger sites have an opportunity for city building that you may not get with a single-tower site," added planning consultant Benjamin Hoff, a partner with Urban Strategies Inc. (USI), which is advising Choice and also working on the Honest Ed's project as well as an ambitious intensification plan at Eglinton and Victoria Park.
The Dundas West Choice site is hardly the only hefty project going up in the vicinity of a mostly low-rise intersection that has nonetheless been dubbed a "mobility hub" by Metrolinx. The regional transit agency views the combination of anticipated increases in frequency to GO service down to Union Station and fare integration as a means of relieving pressure on the subway.
In fact, a new land-use study conducted for the Urban Land Institute by former Toronto chief planner Paul Bedford concluded that under proposed provincial intensification targets, the intersection could accommodate 50,000 people and jobs, which is about twice what's anticipated under current and approved development applications. These include a mid-rise redevelopment of a Dundas West shopping-mall parking lot just north of Bloor and adjacent to the GO/UP Express station, which was recently approved by the Ontario Municipal Board. East of the railway tracks, meanwhile, Castlepoint is working on a long-term plan to build a cluster of towers and open spaces on its brownfield Perth Avenue-Sterling Road tract, next to the Tower Automotive Building. That area in recent years became a hub for tech jobs.
And while council several years ago blocked plans for the 29-storey Giraffe tower on the northwestern corner of Dundas West and Bloor, rumblings about land assembly persist and will likely grow loud now that Choice has revealed its hand.
Last week's public meeting drew area residents, people who want to move into the Dundas West-Roncesvalles area, and many others, including affordable-housing advocates who want to make sure the project has a mix of price ranges, as well as nearby homeowners anxious about parking and traffic.
Several wanted to see the city and Metrolinx improve pedestrian connections between the subway and the Bloor GO station, as well as the Choice property and even the Sterling-Perth projects to the east.
"We do need better access to the subway," said Natalie Myhal, a retired public servant who lives in a condo nearby.
Both the city and GO have long sought to create a more direct pedestrian link, and those efforts have borne some fruit recently with the opening of the UP Express station, which is now accessible from a footpath situated across from the Dundas West subway station. But the owners of the fortress-like high-rise complex on the northeastern corner of Dundas West and Bloor have long opposed efforts to allow an indoor pedestrian connection that would allow the two stations to function as a bona fide transit hub, with commuters transferring easily from one service to another.
Mr. Bedford's study recommends weather-protected connections between the various transit modes and a "new consolidated" TTC, GO and UP Express station.
Mr. Perks said he doesn't feel the city should build additional pedestrian tunnel or bridge connections between this development and the transit lines. He argues that any Section 37 funding that flows from the project should instead support the social infrastructure required to accommodate an influx of new residents, including affordable housing or additional child care.
Yet, Mr. Hoff, Choice's planning consultant, said his client hopes to improve access to the stations and potentially even a bridge or some other link connecting this new neighbourhood to the Sterling-Perth project on the other side of the tracks. Mr. Hoff conceded that Metrolinx's mobility hub concept is "a tough nut to crack," but stressed that "maximum connectivity is a really high priority."
Editor's note: The original print and online versions of this story identified the sponsor of Mr. Bedford's study incorrectly. This online version has been corrected.