Toronto concerned Metrolinx destroying housing and green space amid transit expansion

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Michael Lewis

Special to Ontario Construction Report

Toronto is calling on Metrolinx to respect the city’s priorities and goals as it says the transit agency is demolishing affordable housing and clearing green space to make way for an unprecedented volume of subway and light rail construction.

“We want transit, but everything can’t fall at the feet of the transit gods,” Toronto-Danforth Coun. Paula Fletcher said at an executive committee meeting in June.

“We also have other things that are important to this city,” she said, adding that construction of the Ontario Line subway route to run from Exhibition Place to the current location of the Ontario Science Centre has caused destruction of affordable rental housing without a replacement.

The meeting saw a three-part motion passed with amendments which would withhold city lands designated for transit projects until Metrolinx explains how it plans to mitigate construction impacts on residential tenants and businesses.

The motion, based on recommendations in a staff report and subject to approval by the full city council, stipulates that the province work with Toronto to make 20 per cent of all new housing units in transit hubs affordable.

It asks Metrolinx for better reporting on project performance and would create a city position dedicated to monitoring the provincial transit agency’s measures to ease the impact of transit construction on city neighbourhoods.

Adam Rodgers of the Build Ontario Line Differently coalition told the committee that the civic group supports expansion of public transit but only if its is done responsibly and transparently, suggesting that public reporting on Metrolinx projects has been inadequate.

A city report early this year, however, notes that Metrolinx is holding open houses and community meetings where it provides project details and shares updates on construction activities. Metrolinx also plans to provide $10,000 annually to each Business Improvement Area on the Ontario Line route to support marketing initiatives during construction.

And city staff point out that transit expansion can reduce congestion, promote public mobility and support environmental aims, but large-scale and long-term construction projects “must be carefully managed to mitigate negative impacts on residents and businesses.”

Another Metrolinx project, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, has produced a series of delays and cost overruns while construction has hurt independent businesses in northwest Toronto. The project has also carved into greenspace where the line is to run above ground such as at the Eglinton Flats recreational fields at the Jane Street and Eglinton Avenue intersection.

Coun. Fletcher said parklands and other amenities have been turned over to Metrolinx and the agency has received pre-zoning approval from the city for transit that has seen shelter housing demolished and vulnerable residents turned out onto the street in what she called a “modern day scandal.”

Eglinton-Lawrence coun. Mike Colle said there is a lack of affordable housing in the province’s transit-oriented community plans, with only one of the 14 stops along the Eglinton line including housing of any sort. “There is no housing at [LRT] stations from Mount Dennis to Laird, no housing whatsoever, never mind affordable.

“It’s about time we laid down some goals and guidelines to have some kind of affordability built into this transit infrastructure.”

Mayor Olivia Chow told the committee that the motion is intended to get the attention of Metrolinx, making it crystal clear that “these are the ways that we want to protect our lands and our residents.

“We do want dense, transit-oriented communities but we want to make sure there is affordable housing and we have complete neighbourhoods with parks and libraries,” she said, adding that the city is in talks with the province about its proposal to impose a cap on the amount of development budgets to be earmarked for community benefits.

Among other matters considered at the executive committee meeting was a motion to continue discussions with the province and developer Cadillac Fairview on a proposal to increase the amount of mixed use and residential construction at East Harbour, one of the last remaining undeveloped sites in central Toronto.

The initial plan for the site at a former soap factory championed by former Mayor John Tory as a potential business hub called for East Harbour to be retail and office lands with 4,300 residential units. But the provincial government through a Minister’s Zoning Order dictated that only 5 per cent of those units or 215 residences be affordable rental housing. The current plan calls for 926,000 sq. m. of employment development and 302,000 sq. m. of residential development as approved by the province in 2022.

A motion based on a staff report and approved at the executive committee meeting seeks city council authority to conclude agreements on matters including how Cadilac Fairview funds are to flow to the city and on details for the delivery of the Broadview Eastern Flood Protection project, the Broadview Avenue extension, a community centre and two childcare centres.

In another matter, the executive committee approved a motion calling on council to create a capital project called the Homelessness Services Capital Infrastructure Strategy for the acquisition of housing properties and for city council to ask Ottawa for $674.5 million over 10 years to support the project.

The motion also seeks funding to increase the total number of new long-term and permanent spaces in the base shelter system by 1,600 spaces between 2024 and 2033. Most of the new spaces will replace the temporary spaces secured during the COVID-19 pandemic, including hotel sites. The requested funding would help secure up to five new shelter sites in 2024 through acquisitions, and additional sites through development on city-owned land for the first phase of the HSCIS program.

A staff report supporting the motion provides an update on other shelter development projects and on the COVID-19 Shelter Transition and Relocation Plan, including de-commissioning plans for temporary shelter hotel locations.

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