Imagine a prime piece of land near a GO station in the GTA. What should be built on it? It’s an important question, especially when you consider that this region is growing by about 100,000 people a year.
Intensive patterns of development near transit hubs is just smart planning and smart growth. Having people and businesses with easy access to transit means more people use it and we maximize our public investment. BILD has long advocated for higher densities in transit station areas and along transit corridors and has urged the Province to require municipalities to update their zoning by-laws accordingly.
Recently, young professionals from the building industry gathered to discuss ideas on what they would build on such a site. The group looked at a piece of land just under 6,000 square metres in size, located at Wellington Street West and Centre Street near the Aurora GO station. Because of its proximity to a major transit station, the area is required to meet minimum density targets outlined in the Province’s Growth Plan. Yet the maximum building height permitted on the site by the Town of Aurora’s Official Plan is six storeys—not very tall at all.
The two creative proposals for the site put forward by the young builders aimed to fill the void known as the missing middle, which is the lack of mid-rise, townhouse and stacked townhouse housing options in the GTA. They proposed townhouses, stacked townhouses and mid-rise buildings of eight and nine stories. Unfortunately, these proposals exceed the six storeys allowed in Aurora’s Official Plan.
One proposal, presented by Tyler Grinyer, a senior associate at Bousfields, featured a three-storey townhouse on Centre Street and a nine-storey mid-rise on Wellington Street with retail space and a daycare on the ground floor. The development’s outdoor amenities included a playground and a dog run and wash station. A converted heritage house on the site became a coffee shop with a patio.
Grinyer’s goal was to offer family housing at an affordable price, so he proposed eliminating resident parking spaces to allow for family-friendly three-bedroom units at a lower price point. Residents could take advantage of onsite car sharing if they needed to drive. Grinyer envisioned a community that would appeal to commuter families looking for an alternative to a car-oriented lifestyle. However, eliminating parking is also not permitted under Aurora’s Official Plan, which requires a minimum of one parking space for every unit.
The other proposal, presented by Barry Gula, VP of Development and Engineering at Freed Developments, stayed closer to Aurora’s zoning by-laws to minimize complications in the approvals process. The project featured four-storey stacked townhouses on Centre Street and three-storey townhouses on all sides of the base of an eight-storey mid-rise on Wellington Street. It would include a gym that would attract GO riders as well as residents. Due to a lack of foot traffic in the area, Gula chose not to include any retail spaces in his project.
Councillor Tom Mrakas of the Town of Aurora, who participated in the discussion, explained that Aurora tries to strike a balance between revitalization and retaining its unique small town flavour. In order to be comfortable with taller buildings, he said, local councillors and residents need to understand how greater density benefits the community.