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New life for Eglinton Avenue East

Developers' expansion out to an industrialized Golden Mile strip in Toronto is set to spur mixed-use growth

Developers are betting on an industrialized strip of Eglinton Avenue East, which will be served by a new LRT line that’s expected to be in service by 2023.

By suburban standards, the 7.7-hectare No Frills property on the north side of Eglinton Avenue East, between Victoria Park and Pharmacy, may not seem like the sort of real estate destined for serious mixed-use intensification.

Situated at the western edge of Scarborough's Golden Mile, the decades-old shopping centre, anchored by a 55,000-square-foot No Frills, is part of a long stretch of big-box malls, low-slung industrial sites and a few squat office blocks.

But when Choice Properties REIT, Loblaw's development spinoff, acquired the property four years ago, it identified the shopping centre as a candidate for the sort of big-bang intensification exercise that has few precedents in Toronto's inner suburbs.

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"We looked at that site and said, 'It's significantly underutilized,'" Choice Properties chief executive and president John Morrison said. "We want to build a new community where people can live and shop and ideally work as well."

In what he predicted will be a multiphase project beginning with a redevelopment of the supermarket, Choice will add 2,500 residential units – stacked townhouses, mid-rise apartments and towers – as well as 260,000 square feet of additional retail, green space, private and public community amenities and links to the two LRT stations that will serve the 410-metre-long parcel when the Eglinton Crosstown goes into service, expected in 2023.

Choice Properties REIT’s Golden Mile redevelopment project will include private and public community amenities.

Mr. Morrison added that the company, which filed a zoning appeal for the site last month, hasn't built anything of this magnitude previously and, therefore, expects to involve residential developers as partners.

Choice isn't the only builder betting on the Golden Mile, an industrialized strip of Eglinton that exemplified postwar affluence and then fell into disuse with the decline in manufacturing in the 1980s. City of Toronto planning officials say three other developers, including RioCan, have filed zoning appeals that together could, over the next 20 years, add 10,000 to 15,000 new housing units along a five-stop stretch of the Crosstown that currently has no residential dwellings.

While planning officials said demand for new condos in central Scarborough is currently not very strong, they regard these applications and appeals as proof the combination of an ambitious corridor-planning exercise and the construction of the Crosstown, the first major east-west rapid transit to be built in Toronto since the Sheppard subway opened in 2002, is attracting investment and intensification. "It's only because of the LRT that we're looking at the potential along Eglinton," said Paul Zuliani, acting director of community planning for the east district. "Demand will move from west to east."

Such activity doesn't just represent a market response to infrastructure. Development along Sheppard was held up for years because the city didn't pro-actively plan for intensification, forcing developers to go to the Ontario Municipal Board to overturn long-standing zoning rules.

For the Crosstown, the city and Metrolinx conducted an extensive public consultation and preplanning exercise, dubbed Eglinton Connects, that produced in 2014 an urban vision for the corridor featuring walkable neighbourhoods, street-front retail, bike and transit priority for Eglinton and mid-rise development.

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Capital Development is building towers on Redpath Avenue.

Some builders that have been drawn in recent years to Eglinton, such as Todd Cowan, co-founder of Capital Development, said his projects – a pair of point towers on Redpath, a block west of Mount Pleasant – represent the eastern expansion of the Yonge-Eglinton node and have attracted both investors and buyers looking for larger units than what is typically available downtown. About 40 per cent of the units sold were two-bedroom condos, said Mr. Cowan, who noted that the projects, now under construction, are 99-per-cent sold.

Builders have also identified several large parcels along Eglinton, including Sunnybrook Plaza, Toronto's first strip mall, at Bayview Avenue and a Canadian Tire site at Laird Drive, where RioCan intends to develop four towers.

While Capital Developments' towers met little opposition, Councillor Jon Burnside (Don Valley West) said local homeowners in Leaside are concerned about the intensification that will occur at both Bayview and Laird. Citing traffic and already-crowded schools, Mr. Burnside said he has negotiated commitments from two developers for about $7.4-million that will be invested in a community centre. "The Crosstown is a wonderful thing for the city, but not so great for Leaside."

On the Golden Mile, the planning friction takes another form. While homeowner opposition isn't a factor, the city wants builders such as Choice to break up these very large, urbanizing blocks with new internal streets and public open spaces. Accommodating communities where none existed before, said Victor Gottwald, manager for central section, "will be a challenge."

While the OMB will spend the next year or so sorting out those questions, Mr. Morrison is confident the broad scope of the project, the convenience of the new transit lines and high housing costs will yield a form of development that is "transformational for this whole area of Scarborough. It will feel very urban."

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