Recently we had the opportunity to showcase a few of the innovative approaches BILD members are taking to re-develop and turn underutilized land into complete communities across the City of Toronto.
We participated in a housing tour led by Evergreen CityWorks’ Housing Action Lab, a collaborative working group that works to increase public support for intensification, create awareness of the benefits of complete communities and support a policy framework that encourages diversity in the housing sector.
To advance their work, the group of about 20 industry, government and planning professionals toured two mixed-use neighbourhoods that illustrate the opportunities and challenges in re-developing underutilized land in the city.
First the group went to the built out neighbourhood around Avondale Park just southeast of North York Centre and then they toured the soon-to-be-built Humbertown at Royal York and Bloor Street West in Etobicoke. Both have a mix of housing types, nearby retail, office and transit and greenspace and parks for residents to enjoy.
BILD President and CEO Bryan Tuckey (who was the Director of Planning in North York in the 1990s) and Concert Properties’ Vice President Andrew Gray (formerly of Whittington Properties, the company that owned and developed the land around Avondale Park) were the tour guides at the first stop.
They explained that the 23-acre site has 3-million square feet of development and homebuilders Shane Baghai, Tridel, UrbanCorp and Menkes designed and constructed the townhomes, mid-rise buildings and tall towers that surround a large playground. It took years to get the community and local councillor to agree to the plans because at the time – and even nowadays – it was a challenge for local residents to envision and understand the benefits of adding density and bringing more people to the neighbourhood.
Despite the challenges, the variety of homes sold out in 16 months and the neighbourhood was built in six years. As it stands today, it is enjoyed by all ages at all stages in life and even though there is no office or commercial development (due to a lack of direct subway access, according to Andrew), there are employment opportunities and transportation options within a few blocks.
At the second stop on the tour, Tridel Vice President and Immediate Past Chair of BILD Steve Upton walked the group around Humbertown, which Tridel is developing with First Capital. He told the group that in the 1950s, the one-storey plaza was a model of innovation – one-stop shopping for the local community. Now, 60 years later there is an opportunity to model innovation again with the creation of a mixed-use community, new streets, parking and improved amenities while adding open and green spaces.
In the last five years, Tridel and First Capital held extensive community engagement sessions. Through 10 public presentations involving more than 1,200 participants, they worked with the community to evolve the original plan.
Toronto City Council denied a third revised proposal for the site, even though it had community support. Ultimately, a settlement was reached at the Ontario Municipal Board. In the end, the approved plan, which was very close to the denied proposal, includes three residential buildings ranging from 9-12 storeys on commercial podiums, retirement suites, townhomes, underground vehicle and bike parking. There will also be diverse community services and amenities and 18 per cent of the site will be publicly-accessible open space. The team is hoping to launch the project for sale next year.
In both cases, the goal was to breathe new life into an area by bringing a mix of housing types, families, businesses and public space for all to enjoy. It took years to get both new neighbourhood proposals approved and if the 1990s-built Avondale is a glimpse of what Humbertown will be – it is sure to be a complete community for both new and existing residents to enjoy and call their own.
Check out more photos here.