In recent months, Toronto's High Park North community has been subject to a dramatic influx of tower-in-the-park infill proposals, with plans to introduce high-rise density across pockets of green space that separate the area's 20th century slab towers. Adding to GWL Realty's two-tower proposal at Grenadier Square—recently approved by the OMB—and the developer's more recent three-tower High Park Village project, new details of a similarly scaled project immediately to the east, at 111 Pacific Avenue, have now come to light.
Following a preliminary submission to the City of Toronto in January, a full rezoning application was tabled in late February, laying out the full scope of the Minto Group's Hariri Pontarini-designed development. The project takes on a site bounded on the west and east by Pacific Avenue and Oakmount Road respectively. Ranging in height from 12 to 23 storeys, three slab towers currently occupy the site, with surrounding space given over to greenscaped areas, residential amenities, and some surface parking.
The proposal calls for a total of four new buildings on the site, as well as a new east-west private road to break up a long, unbroken block that stretches from Bloor the Glenlake; a distance of over 400 metres. The project's tallest building would be located at the southwest corner of the site, with the point tower rising to a height of 33 storeys. The base of the this building would feature the project's only retail space, with a street-level storefront to face Pacific Avenue.
Fronting Oakmount Road to the northeast, meanwhile, a 29-storey tower atop an 8-storey podium building would take on a larger footprint. Finally, two blocks of three-storey townhouses are planned for the north end of the site, fronting Glenlake Road.
Taken together, the new buildings would contribute a total of 768 residential suites, effectively doubling the site's existing unit count (the three existing towers feature 750 apartments). The two high-rise towers would include a unit mix of 61 studio, 443 one-bedroom, 224 two-bedroom, and 20 three-bedroom homes, with an additional 20 larger three-bedroom units planned for the townhouse buildings to the north.
A modified and expanded parking garage would serve the site's new and old residents. As it stands, the three towers share a two-level 560-space underground garage, where—according to a planning rationale by WND Associates—over 300 spaces "are currently unusable due to the deterioration of the structure." The proposal calls for the parking garage to be rehabilitated and expanded with an additional two levels, bringing the total number of parking spaces to 1,022.
The development would replace a mix of surface parking, private roadways, and privately owned green spaces.
Adding to the already intense volume of redevelopment planned for the area, the projects set to transform High Park have drawn criticism from residents of the area, with an organization known as the High Park Community Alliance (HPCA) recently organized to oppose the rather dramatic increases in density planned.
The grass-roots organization is bringing community members together to give a unified voice to what seem to local concerns regarding the proposed redevelopment. Ranging from the removal of tree canopy and green space, to shadowing, and local infrastructure capacity—including area schools—the HPCA website identifies various points of contention regarding the three new developments, which intensify the community with a total of 7 additional towers.
UrbanToronto's own coverage of the High Park proposals has also come under criticism, particularly regarding my own contention that these tower-in-the-park infill projects take on "underused" green spaces. Following the publication of a story introducing the High Park Village development, an e-mail from a "long-time resident of High Park Village" issued a sharp rejoinder. "How dare you claim that our greenspaces are underused, without living here? I can tell you that the greenspaces between our towers are FILLED at all times with people in the community walking their dogs, socializing, parents playing catch and frisbee with their children, etc," the email reads.
"You have no right to make false claims like this implying that this development proposal has anything to offer current tenants. We are losing all of our very valuable greenspace to be walled in on all sides with towers and shadows," the email continues.
Admittedly, these issues were not widely addressed in my previous analysis of the High Park Village, Grenadier Square, and 111 Pacific proposals. Since UrbanToronto's coverage of new proposals tends to focus on planning documents and submissions, direct community engagement—which we unfortunately lack the resources for—is usually not part of the mandate. As such, our analysis is typically more heavily predicated on planning orthodoxy than local expertise.
The notions that the private green spaces surrounding mid-century apartment towers are generally underused, poorly programmed, and engage little with surrounding urban environments, are widely held among modern planners. More broadly, the notion that an established high-rise community directly served by two subway stations is an appropriate location for new residential density—particularly in a city facing an acute housing shortage and a lack of transit accessibility—similarly draws on contemporary planning principles.
None of this is to say that local concerns are unfounded, or that any new development proposed for the area would present an inherent improvement. Quite the opposite. It's valuable to hear local concerns, and having a community take on such an active role in the development process is at the heart of good city-building, and indeed, good planning. The fact that organizations such as the HPCA are able to organize so effectively is encouraging, and local commentary is sure to provide City Planning with the invaluable contextual input that can only come from residents.
On the other hand, it would also be remiss to suggest that the planning-oriented—and admittedly somewhat top-down—approach taken in UrbanToronto editorials is inherently blind to community concerns. What's planning about if not communities? Implicit in much of our editorial is the notion that new density is often a necessary good, and that urban intensification is a vastly preferable alternative to sprawl. In a city growing up rather than out, providing new housing is vital. For the larger community that is Toronto, accepting new density—and equally, the new and sometimes different neighbours that it brings us—is an essential element of a more inclusive future.
That doesn't mean that the projects discussed here necessarily represent the epitome of good planning, or that they should all be fully supported in their current iterations. But it does mean that the real—and sometimes perceived—sympathy for intensification expressed here is also rooted in the good of communities. Nonetheless, to the members of the High Park community, I'm sorry for not getting in touch. Maybe I'll see you around the neighbourhood, though. I live at Keele and Glenlake.
More information about the three projects discussed above—High Park Village, Grenadier Square, and 111 Pacific—can be found via our dataBase files, linked below. The High Park Community Alliance website is also linked here. Want to share your thoughts? Leave a comment in the space below, or join one of the ongoing conversations in our Forum.