By the prevailing standards of Toronto high-rise development along the subway corridor, The Times Group’s plan for a two-tower, 450-unit project at 1951 Yonge St. just north of Davisville Avenue, submitted in May, 2017, didn’t seem particularly unusual.
The mixed-use complex – with retail at grade and two- or three-bedroom condos accounting for more than half the proposed units – would wrap around a short strip of low retail buildings on the north-east corner, backing onto both Millwood Road and the yard of the Davisville Junior Public School.
Yet after almost a year of scrutiny, city planning staff in April recommended that council put the breaks on the application, saying the developer has gone way beyond the parameters of council’s long-term plans for development in midtown – a part of the city that’s seen enormous growth in the past two decades, plus no small amount of push back from North Toronto residents. (The Times Group didn’t respond to an interview request.)
In fact, council’s planning and growth management committee this week vetted “Midtown in Focus,” an amendment to the official plan that’s meant to guide high-density development along the Yonge corridor for the next quarter century.
The plan places lots of emphasis on the need for more public open space in an area that will see population and employment surge as apartment towers replace two-storey retail buildings along Yonge between Davisville and Eglinton. Among the long-range proposals: decking the Davisville subway yard to create a linear park.
But a shortage of park space isn’t the only catch-up issue, says chief planner Gregg Lintern, who notes that Yonge-Eglinton planning policies haven’t been updated since 2002.
One of the pivotal technical reasons cited by city staff for opposing the Times’ proposal echoes concerns that have began to bob to the surface in an increasing number of other applications in high-growth zones: over-taxed water and waste-water infrastructure.
The city has to ensure that its water system can handle all the intensification planned for such areas, says David Wilkes, president of the Building Industry and Land Development Association. “If there needs to be an upgrade to infrastructure, that’s what development charges are meant to address.”
It’s a detail not lost on city officials, despite complaints from individual developers. Mr. Lintern observes that in some areas, the city has reached an historic turning point. For several decades, new growth could be accommodated by surplus capacity in a water and sewer infrastructure system built to service a highly industrialized city. Over thirty years of deindustrialization, especially downtown, new projects could take advantage of what was an under-used water system.
But that period is coming to a close, which means the city needs to not only do routine maintenance of its water and sewer mains, but increasingly add new capacity in areas such as midtown, where some mains are now a century old.
An extensive recent review of the water/waste-water networks in the midtown area identified about $110-million in needed upgrades over the coming decade, according to Frank Quarisa, acting general manager of Toronto Water. While most of the work is routine, Mr. Lintern says the review identified some areas in midtown with low water pressure and as well as some storm water mains that were prone to overflowing due to both run-off and surges from some new condos.
“The work that’s been undertaken to date has not identified any show-stoppers,” Mr. Lintern says . Mr. Quarisa, however, points out that some large new projects do have a “localized” impact on the nearby water and sewer mains.
Because water and sewer infrastructure is such a critical element of the urban planning process, Mr. Lintern says the review has allowed city officials to obtain a more specific understanding of the incremental infrastructure needed to support large new development projects over the next two decades. In addition, he notes, builders are now expected to provide more detailed technical studies about the additional water/sewer capacity their projects will require.
Approvals, in turn, will be granted only if the developer agrees to do the work, or when Toronto Water gets around to constructing those upgrades as part of its routine works maintenance program. These requirements, Mr. Lintern says, “better equips us to do development reviews.”
Mr. Wilkes says he anticipates more delays such as the one that’s held up the Times project at Yonge and Davisville.
As for the always-sensitive question of whether there’s enough money to underwrite all the new water infrastructure required in areas such as midtown, Mr. Quarisa says his 10-year plan can be accommodated within the city’s capital budget.
Yet, Mr. Lintern points out that the city will be bringing a new development charges bylaw to council in the fall. In the past three years, development charges have generated an average of $225-million in annual revenue, with a fifth going to water and waste-water infrastructure. The proposed increases over current rate are steep, ranging from about $11,000 to $38,000 per unit for apartments of various sizes (the figures correspond to 45- to 114-per cent increases).
Mr. Wilkes, for his part, declines to say whether he thinks the city’s development charges are sufficient to keep up with the pace of growth. But, he adds, “I do think that there are funds available to support infrastructure.”