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Humber Bay Shores

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Full text for historical record:

Etobicoke politicians struggle with rampant growth in Humber Bay Shores
Transportation and community infrastructure barely keeps pace with condo growth


Local ratepayer leader Randy Barba is critical of the slowness with which the city has dealt with Humber Bay Shores' infrastructure problems. - Staff/Metroland

Looking out the window of the 66 Prince Edward bus as it turns onto Parklawn Drive in the morning, the view toward the lake seems daunting.

Past the split-back houses and low-rise retail that line the road, past the Gardiner Expressway, and the Mr. Christie's water tower that is all that's left of the former industrial property, there rises a jagged wall of condominium towers.

With names like Empire Eau du Soleil, Waterscapes, Ocean Club Waterfront Condominiums, they form a line at the shore of Lake Ontario. On one side, old, low-density Etobicoke; on the other, the lap of luxury that overlooks not only the lake but a beautiful stretch of waterfront parkland that includes wetlands, gardens and bike trails that stretch along the whole of the waterfront.

As Randy Barba, the outgoing chair of the Humber Bay Ratepayers and Residents Association, can attest, first impressions are not far off.

“I don't know anyone who leaves Humber Bay Shores because they're unhappy,” said Barba in an interview.

“There are people who are frustrated with certain things, but I don't sense unhappiness.”

In a few weeks, members of this happy but frustrated community will be going to the polls to pass judgment on its city representative, Etobicoke-Lakeshore councillor Mark Grimes.


Local councillor Mark Grimes is seeking re-election in the new Ward 3 (Etobicoke Lakeshore). David Nickle/Metroland

Grimes has since 2003 been faced with trying to deal with those frustrations — playing catch-up building public amenities to serve the rapid intensification of residential units in this area south of the Gardiner Expressway between Royal York Boulevard and the Humber River.

That intensification — some 3,000 residential units over the past 10 years, with another 9,000 on the way — has immediately led to heavy transit and road congestion particularly during the rush hours. And while the high-rises are surrounded by parkland, and many of those condominiums have recreation space located in their towers, community recreation and meeting space remains at a premium.

Grimes has spurred Toronto Council and the Toronto Transit Commission to take some steps to deal with those transportation problems — making a new GO Station at Park Lawn a priority, establishing a shuttle bus from Humber Bay Shores to the Mimico GO Station in the meantime, augmenting existing bus and streetcar service, and maintaining a double-fare downtown express bus.

But critics in the community say that Grimes and the city have been too slow in dealing with those problems whose roots have gone back many years.

“We're all in a sense suffering from past poor decisions, the cancellations of things that were planned and funded,” said Robert Routh, an administrator on the Humber Bay Shores Facebook group.

The redevelopment of Etobicoke's lakefront got its start in the 1990s, when the former City of Etobicoke expropriated lakefront land occupied in part by a rundown strip of motels, and developers built up on the rest.

Doug Holyday, who was mayor of Etobicoke pre-amalgamation in the late 1990s, said that he and his council had originally hoped for an orderly development of the lakefront, with tall well-spaced buildings.

"My plan was to have needles in the park so you could see the lake. Buildings weren't going to be side by side. As time went on that got out of hand."


Condominiums rise along the lakeshore. Staff/Metroland

Post-amalgamation, Toronto Council laid plans for more residential development along the lakefront stretching west, but planned to preserve employment lands to the north. An Ontario Municipal Board ruling 12 years ago, on the redevelopment of a strip of industrial land along Park Lawn, sided against the city and opened the door for far more residential development than the city had planned for.

The opening of that floodgate has meant thousands more units into the area, and also cleared the way for residential development at the former Mr. Christie factory property at Park Lawn and Lake Shore.

In 2010, former Mayor Rob Ford scuttled the Transit City light rail plan that would have built a waterfront light rail line that would have sent dedicated streetcars to Humber Bay Shores, to replace and augment the 501 streetcar that battles traffic gridlock to get commuters downtown and back.

Toronto Council has since gotten back on track with a light rail plan, in January voting to support the extension of a waterfront light rail line further into south Etobicoke. But the 10-year plan is not immediately funded.

“Now the Waterfront LRT is at the bottom of the priority list,” said Barba. “They'll be lucky to see anything waterfront LRT-wise until 2035.”

In an interview, Grimes noted that the original waterfront light rail line in Transit City was not a top priority either and would likely have taken some time to build out. He said that he is acutely aware that the community is facing pressures beyond its capacity. But he said that a surprisingly robust condominium real estate market combined with the 2006 OMB decision created a perfect storm for over-development.


Transportation is a challenge on the Lakeshore in Etobicoke. Staff/Metroland

“Those old motels had this great public access. We used to call it the million dollar view, now it's the billion dollar view ... Everybody's got a view here and it's selling like hotcakes. But the building at Park Lawn and Lake Shore — that was never in our plan. And then we had that boom — the United States had a real estate bubble that burst and here that never happened.”

Grimes said that the transit improvements in place and the prospect of a Park Lawn GO station — and an eventual dedicated LRT — should go a long way to alleviating the gridlock issues that are plaguing the area. The city is also engaged in larger planning exercises — the Waterfront Reset 2020, looking at transit and transportation across the entire waterfront, and the Park Lawn Lake Shore Transportation Master Plan — which could result in further improvements.

But Grimes said that for the area's transportation issues to be truly resolved, residents in the existing and new condominiums will have to break with their dependence on automobiles.

“People come into the community and they don't do their homework,” he said. “They buy a condominium, come in and say 'oh my God it's crazy'. Well it's crazy everywhere. Traffic is everywhere. Eventually I tell people, 'we can't widen the road — we've got to get you out of your car'. We have to do that. But that's in 20 or 30 years.”

In the shorter term, Grimes and others who spoke with Metroland Media Toronto were in agreement that what happens with the Christie's lands is crucial.

The 27-acre parcel of land at Lake Shore Boulevard and Park Lawn Road that until 2013 was owned by Kraft and operated as a cookie factory is one of the largest tracts of undeveloped land in the area, and Grimes and others interviewed for this article said that it has the potential to be a tipping point for Humber Bay Shores and the lakeshore.

“The Mr. Christie's plant owners said they want to be part of the solution,” said Grimes. “And they have to be part of the solution.”

Barba agreed that a Park Lawn GO station located on the Christie lands — with a $3 fare for commuters travelling to Union Station — would go a long way to alleviating the community's frustrations. But he said the contribution from First Capital, who is developing the 27-acre site, needs to go beyond that. Humber Bay Shores, he said, is in dire need of a large community centre similar to other centres in more developed communities.

“There are serious deficiencies here when it comes to that kind of thing,” he said. “You want to fight for complete communities. There's going to be 30,000 people here.”

Grimes said he'd like to see a larger community centre, but he believes the community is well-served at least for now, with both recreation facilities within condominiums and existing ones in the community at large.

"We don't have the big community centre, the big hub, but we have a lot," he said. "We are well-served. The big community centre that they're asking for, I'd love to deliver that. But it's a $20-25 million ticket."

Barba rejected that argument.

"I disagree with that," he said. "We are all paying taxes; we all have needs. We want our kids to meet other kids. It's the same reason I want to see a playground."

In the longer term, Routh said the very growth that's causing such problems may provide its own solutions.

"I think that with the growth of the community comes a lot of clout — a lot of sway on our local officials," he said.

"Ultimately, services have to keep pace with development."

Well these 2 lines alone tell you how out of touch Mark Grimes is, but yet these people will still vote to re-elect him:

"Eventually I tell people, 'we can't widen the road — we've got to get you out of your car'. We have to do that. But that's in 20 or 30 years.”
-Mark Grimes

"We don't have the big community centre, the big hub, but we have a lot," he said. "We are well-served"

-Mark Grimes

Ladies and gentlemen, that's your councillor for Etobicoke-Lakeshore. What an embarrassment.

This really shows the enormity of the density, and contrasts it with comparatively little park space.

Its true there other parks to the east and west, but these too are busy.

Not much to be done about this now; but with this density, the park space should have been 2x as wide.