This week councillor Mike Layton will be proposing to city council that the Fort York Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge project should be taken over from the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee and allowed to proceed with the current plan. The bridge project has evolved into a political drama involving councillors, MPPs, and MPs along with developers, condo associations, and heritage sites. The primary concern is whether the city will allow the speculation on opportunity cost to become a driving force in future developments.
What makes the bridge project so interesting is that the division of support is not obvious. This is not a Right (let’s cut spending) versus Left (let’s invest in the community) argument. All parties agree that a bridge is necessary. The project caters to left leaning ideals of pedestrian and cycling infrastructure along with right leaning ideals of improving access to a military heritage site. Even Councilor David Shiner, who lead the vote to review the proposal on the Public Works and Infrastructure committee, admitted a bridge at that location makes sense. The argument is how will it be built.
The issues councilor David Shiner had with the current bridge plan is that the design is a bit extravagant and the 10 Ordnance Street parcel of land will become impractical for future development. The original engineering estimate by winning proponents AECOM and consulting designers Montgomery Sisam Architects was at $18 million. Unique and specific features of the project attributed to bids climbing above $22 million. The bids are comparable to other Canadian pedestrian/cycle bridges. In particular Calgary’s St. Patrick’s foot bridge is estimated to cost $25 million. DTAH architectural firm had submitted a similar design to that of Fort York bridge in Calgary. The firm lost out to Halsall Associates Limited and RFR “skipping stone” design. Calatrava’s Peace Bridge in Calgary is another pedestrian/cycle bridge estimated at around $25 million. The cost of the current Fort York bridge is reasonable. A cheaper design does not necessarily mean lower costs. Changing the timeline of the project affects future labour and material costs and adds potential costs for accessing the site outside of the Metrolinx Air Rail Link construction window. The inaccurate estimates gave the Public Works and Infrastructure committee the justification to stop the current plan, but it is not the primary issue why the bridge was halted.
Decisions made concerning the 10 Ordnance Street parcel will be indicative of the city’s development direction in the next few years. Will the city accede to community wishes to enhance value, or will it approach each project speculating on opportunity cost? On the maps, this parcel is the green island surrounded by tracks. Currently it is a gravel parking lot that fades into wilderness, zoned as an Employment Area along the rail corridor. The current plan calls for the bridge to span over the western edge of the parcel. The design does not allow room for development of condo high-rises, as is happening in the neighbouring lot of 30 Ordnance. Diamondcorp plans to build two towers of 30 and 35 storeys next to 10 Ordnance. Diamondcorp would prefer 10 Ordnance to be zoned parkland with access to the pedestrian bridge. The parkland and access would enhance the value of their units by preserving views and connecting residents to several green-space options. According to councilor Layton, Diamondcorp is one of several nearby developers that’s prepared to make a financial commitment to ensure the current bridge project proceeds. Councilor Shiner sees over $100 million opportunity lost to bad design. If the bridge was further east 10 Ordnance could be developed into property tax paying buildings.
The Public Works and Infrastructure Committee voted to see alternative designs. Their are 3 alternatives from the initial environmental assessment. Options 1 and 2 are simpler designs with the negative characteristics of steeper slopes, segmentation of the Garrison common, and still limiting development of 10 Ordnance. Option 3 is most similar to the current proposal, but with the vital difference of freeing a good portion of 10 Ordnance for development. If the options of the environmental assessment are considered then Option 3, would seem the most logical choice.
MPP Rosario Marchese has a pessimistic concern that the new regime at City Hall might not be planning for a bridge at all, that the bridge plan alternatives will never be considered and the real objective is to not allow the bridge to take the space of future condominiums. This concern is somewhat addressed by the support developers have given to Councilor Layton in figuring out how to get the current design built. Even developers know property values need more than just high-rises to increase. They need the parkland, transportation access, and commercial zones that create an attractive community. It’s not like 10 Ordnance is the last lot on the rail corridor available for intensification.
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