Etobicoke Centre is the single most important development project in Ward 5, both today and for the next 20 years. It will be a densely packed community hub featuring residences (primarily mid and high-rise condos), offices and commercial facilities, as well as a new central transit hub. It will also include the schools, recreational facilities and other infrastructure needed to support the new community. There is no doubt the City is moving ahead with the Etobicoke Centre development, but there is still time to have our say on many of the basic design details.
Etobicoke Centre has been designated by the Province and the City of Toronto as an “Urban Growth Centre.” That means 1.69 square kilometres of land from Shorncliffe Road in the west to Montgomery Road in the east and running parallel roughly between Dundas Street and the CPR tracks will be intensified and redeveloped to the accommodate some 67,000 people and/or jobs. This will have an immense and permanent impact on most of the residents of Ward 5.
Most of us know very little about this planned redevelopment. We can see it happening before our eyes, yet few understand why. Our civic leaders have let us down by not communicating the rationale and scope of this huge redevelopment scheme. I am not suggesting that they are deliberately withholding information, but it is hard to avoid the feeling that they are trying to develop Etobicoke Center under the radar without us noticing and complaining.
Like the other four planned Urban Growth Centres in Toronto, Etobicoke Centre has its own Secondary Plan. To City Planning’s credit, I think it is a good plan that provides a framework for developing a mixed use community that has the potential to benefit not only those who live and work there but other residents of Ward 5 and surrounding communities. It provides for: mid-rise and high-rise residential units; commercial, office and retail space; civic, cultural and entertainment facilities; schools and community centres; and so on. The plan also provides for a mobility hub that will integrate Mississauga Transit, TTC buses and subway, GO Trains and, eventually, LRTs. However, as one might expect, it is also long on lofty ideals and objectives and short on details.
The redevelopment of Etobicoke Centre has already begun. The mid-rise and high-rise condominiums and apartments that are under construction or already built are proof of that. And make no mistake that developers did not just suddenly decide to build these units on a whim. Both the provincial and municipal governments have encouraged them to do so. The challenge for the residents of Ward 5 is to ensure that Etobicoke Centre is built for us, as well as the residents who will live there. The last thing we need is another cluster of cheap condos built primarily for the benefit of the developers or, worse still, a mobility hub built for commuters who are just passing through.
Unfortunately, many Ward Councillors and City Council as a whole have a history of straying from the Official Plan in favour of receiving Section 37 Benefits (also known as community benefits) from developers resulting in condo deserts rather than thriving communities. Section 37 benefits are essentially cash or in-kind contributions from the developer payable to the City for the benefit of the ward in which the project is built. In return, the developer is allowed to exceed the recommended height and density requirements of the Official Plan. In other words, if the money is right, the City will break its own zoning bylaws. We can see the result of this throughout the city.
If elected Councillor for Ward 5, I will make Etobicoke Centre my highest priority and will work towards the following:
- To have City Planning build a detailed scale model of its vision of Etobicoke Centre that can be displayed at various public locations in the ward. The objective will be to show residents how City Planning wants and expects development to proceed. Also, residents would have the opportunity to provide feedback on the plan.
- To stop all new development until the scale model can be built and displayed, and residents have opportunities to provide input.
- To revise the Secondary Plan as required to better meet the needs of the residents in and around Etobicoke Centre rather than meeting the needs of the developers.
- To ensure that a substantial portion of the residential units are built for seniors and families, including subsidized units for each group. Very few new single family detached and semi-detached homes will be built in Toronto going forward. Therefore, condo and apartment units appropriate for families will be required – not just more ‘shoe box’ sized apartments suitable for singles and couples.
- To ensure that development proposals conform with the Secondary Plan and to build alliances with other Ward Councillors (especially Etobicoke York Community Councillors) to ensure conformity.
- To lead ward residents against proposals that do not benefit the community. This may include attending community meetings, signing petitions, on-site rallies, letters to MPPs, and so on.
- To ensure that the lofty ideals and objectives of the Secondary Plan are met. This includes providing abundant and high quality retail space, civic, cultural and entertainment facilities, schools and community centres, public squares and walkways, and so on.
- To work with the TTC to mitigate the impact of all the additional users of the subway and buses by providing alternate means of public transportation sooner rather than later. Make no mistake that Etobicoke Centre will put additional strain on an already overcrowded subway.
Planned and built properly, Etobicoke Centre could be the one of the best developments Ward 5 and Etobicoke could ever want and have.
Imagine living in Ward 5, working in Etobicoke Centre, and no longer having to commute downtown. Or celebrating Canada Day or shopping at a farmers’ market in a civic square without leaving the ward? Or enjoying a night out without the expense and bother of actually going “downtown”? Or knowing there is a kid-friendly place nearby where our children and teenagers can meet and have fun? We can do this, but it will not be easy and we must work together starting now.
The province may have imposed this intense development on us, but we have influence and can turn it into an urban space we can all use and be proud of.