Parkway Forest: The Final Phase – Ward 33 E-Blast October 12th

Next Tuesday morning, at North York Community Council (NYCC), North York Councillor’s will be considering an application for the final block of buildings to be developed in the Parkway Forest community by the developer Elad.

This final phase, known as ‘Block C’, will be the end of a long seven-phase process. Residents of Parkway Forest and neighbouring Henry Farm have been living with construction and adjusting to expanding populations for almost 10 years. If all goes as planned, the construction will have lasted 12 years as originally forecast. I think it is worth reviewing the whole process up to this point.

Back in 2005, after purchasing 8 apartment buildings and a townhouse complex in the neighbourhood, Elad made an application to aggressively intensify the Parkway Forest area. The application included almost 4000 new homes and several towers, 40 storeys in height. Both the Chief Planner and City Council unanimously refused it. City Planning staff confidently recommended refusal because the application was so over-sized. Even with an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board, the City’s case would be quite strong.

Next steps were figuring out what would be acceptable development in Parkway Forest. Councils can always say “no” but the developer who continues to own the asset will eventually come back with another plan. For Parkway Forest, Council had to acknowledge that considering the new subway station and all future transit plans, some intensification was possible. Elad was invited to reapply under the same application fee they had already paid if they were more inclined to collaborate with the City’s planners’ goals. That collaboration took 2 years.

By the time the process was over, we had undergone many community working group processes, countless staff/developer negotiations and arrived at what is called a ‘minutes of settlement’ report for Council to adopt and then present to the Ontario Municipal Board. The overall agreement was approved on the condition that at the end of each of seven phases there would be reviews appealable at the OMB.


One of many community working groups on the proposed development 

Initial gains for the city included:

 

1. Replacement of any demolished rental apartments and townhomes with new units, including relocation costs and 5 months free rent for the uprooted tenants.

2. 9000sq ft of below market rental space for local community not-for-profits, to be determined and leased through the City.

3. Replacement of demolished private outdoor pools with one larger outdoor swimming complex to include a toddler pool, an instructional size adult pool and separate changing room and staff room structure all to be owned by the City.

4. A City-owned Community Recreation Centre of 56,000 sq ft including a commercial grade kitchen and a fully equipped double gym.

5. $500 for every unit of housing built to be awarded to the Toronto District School Board to invest in Forest Manor PS.

6. A publicly owned children’s’ playground, splash pad and a basketball court, as well as several smaller playscapes to be privately owned on condo properties.

7. A landscaping and walkability design built into the development plans to encourage heavy transit usage by all new residents and to increase safety amongst all existing residents.

8. Retail opportunities at grade distributed intermittently throughout to enhance walkability.

9. Preservation of all parklands, intensification to occur only on currently built or paved areas and visitor parking for all newly built properties to be provided underground.

10. And most importantly, all infrastructure costs for upgrades to services such as hydro and water as well the new Helen Lu Road to be borne by the developer.


The grand opening of the Parkway Forest Community Centre


Making a splash in the new Parkway Forest Pool 

In subsequent years, the various phase reviews have included updating traffic studies and making further refinements to building appearances to reduce impacts. Initially, the developer could not be convinced to include a grocery store, but have since agreed to include one in the final block of buildings increasing overall retail significantly. The grocery store will be oriented towards Don Mills Road with an underground parking entrance on Helen Lu Road, minimizing any need to drive through the neighbourhood.

Buildings already built and occupied have demonstrated that the transit friendly design has done its job. Traffic counts demonstrate that a large majority of the new residents in Parkway Forest are daily transit riders. My biggest headaches include construction workers’ comings and goings and parking throughout the neighbourhood. We are working with Elad to require a better solution to construction parking and will be bringing some new ‘No Parking’ provisions to NYCC in the near future.

The developer, Elad, is asking for additional units of housing in ‘Block C’, their final phase. Initially they asked for 440 units and the planning report coming to NYCC recommends reducing this to 390 with 9 of those being affordable ownership units to be distributed through the Habitat for Humanity Organization.

I know that all surrounding residents would prefer to say no. However, there are difficult realities. This time our case for refusal would not be as strong at the OMB. Where possible, Elad has moved additional units into earlier buildings without exceeding any of our building height and massing agreements. They have also met all of our family-size unit requirements along the way. Now there are no approved units left to occupy the ‘Block C’ buildings even though these are already approved to be built as the mirror image of the built complex you see just about completed on the north side of Helen Lu Road.

The additional units staff are willing to recommend, make the grocery store that residents of both Henry Farm and Parkway Forest asked for viable to build. The number arrived at is also indicated by new traffic counts and the estimated amount of car ownership in the buildings completed so far.

The OMB will soon be a thing of the past. The Provincial Government is replacing it as a development appeal body but it is important to note, the new process will be very similar to what is happening in Parkway Forest today. The new ‘Local Development Appeals Bodies’ won’t reject City Planners’ and City Councils’ work in favour of whatever a developer puts In front of them, but they will require cities and developers to work together until a minutes of settlement can be reached that meets the official plans and growth plans of both city and province. Both Toronto and Ontario planned for more Sheppard Subway ridership, especially if we want to see it expanded. Parkway Forest is just about finished and is definitely putting bums in seats on the Sheppard Subway.