Planner Ben DiRaimo talks to Downsview residents & DLCVA: 28 March
1. How seriously should local residents take the Downsview Secondary Plan [which sets forth the 6 subdivisions to be carved out of the original federally-owned Downsview lands]?
Very! As a planner you have to love any comprehensive attempt to chart the future of a whole district. So much better than trying to set guidelines for a single building.
For all its faults, the 15-year-old Secondary Plan reflects consultation with at least a dozen public agencies and departments over a couple of years. As such it is full of compromises, not to any one person's satisfaction, but with an overall legitimacy. If future changes have to be made -- and they always do -- it gives an idea of the nature and scope of the trade-offs that have to be made.
2. What might be some of its deficiencies?
OK, it didn't know that a subway extension and GO station would be built. Or that Humber River Hospital would become a reality. Or that Bombardier might vacate its plant and related airstrip. Or that Toronto would still be in the midst of an endless building boom. These new factors complicate the situation. One could add that city planners today have a much clearer idea of what makes for a vibrant community, namely mixed uses, different kinds of accessibility to services and reduced reliance on the car
3. What are your thoughts on the recent cancellation of consultation on William Baker?
Not a fan. The Planning Dept supported Canada Lands in its attempt to initiate communications with all parties. Everybody knows William Baker will be developed sooner or later. What's wrong with doing it slowly and carefully with full community participation?
4. What is your impression of the Stanley Greene subdivision? It has been criticized for garage miscues and construction shortcomings.
Overall, it is not bad. Houses there today are now selling for over a million dollars. One good thing about it is that it is not a half-dozen or so mid-size buildings [12-14 floors] with lots of space between them, as this does not create community. Not so good however is the sole access road to Keele St and the perception it is a single-use bedroom community. The park-within-a-park is going to be a plus as will be the agreed-upon public art.
5. The last component of Stanley Greene are the 3 mid-rises to be built on or near Keele. What gives with the changes that Mattamy has just applied for? They want lower floor elevations, increased building height, fewer parking spaces and more [up to 1102] residential units]?
As with any application, the changes in question are site specific and supposedly "minor", which is to say, in accordance with what has already been approved. Currently along Keele, the approved building height is 11 storeys (36m), 8 storeys (27m) along Stanley Greene Blvd, and 4 storeys (12m) in the rear townhouses. Mattamy is applying for more flexibility and customization within this general framework. The April 18 public hearing will decide if the changes are "minor". The committee can say yes or no, or as often happens, approve conditionally in return for specific trade-offs and amenities.
6. Turning attention to 3100 Keele [the old Shriner's temple], how come they keep changing the basic configuration of the proposed U-shaped building?
OK, it has been through a couple of makeovers. With the land assembly and zoning already in place, it should have been an easy deal. However the first-time owner [Decade Homes] tried to put in place a concept that was not 100% against the best wishes of the Planning Dept. They subsequently took the project to the OMB and received a modified approval in the end. At this point they sold the property to the more experienced TAS which has been trying to work within the approved framework. A number of basic changes have been approved.
7. Such as?
It now has two extra floors, different elevator set up, different access points, amended duct work and upgraded mechanical spaces. From a planning angle most of these changes are positive, and the shell of the building has not been drastically altered. In return for the changes, the builder will be paying for additional landscaping, a connecting trail to Downsview Dells park and a traffic light for pedestrian traffice across Keele. As the required number of pre-sales have been made they are ready to start construction.
8. What don't you like about it?
Inevitably there will be increased traffic on the side streets [Maryport and Diana] as the City will not allow the building to have direct access onto Keele. Vehicular traffic on Keele will be slower. Drivers turning on to, or off of, Keele will not have an easy time. But city planning is no longer that car-friendly. In this case we would push for different behaviors. One thing I would like to see is Keele St residents banding together and demanding better public transit. Another thing I am not fussy about are the 6 storeys along Maryport, even if they are transitioned for reduced impact.
9. How long will construction take? Not looking forward to this.
Presumably 2 to 3 years. It will be messy and noisy. If you have any complaints one thing you can do is to be in close and frequent contact with Toronto service line 311. You cannot expect an inspector to come out on the basis of one call, but if they start piling up, you will get action. Even better is to text or email firstname.lastname@example.org with a copy to Councillor Pasternak. More info HERE
10. You seem to be saying that residents can trust planners but not developers. Not sure about that. Surely planners are out of it sometimes. Maybe it's necessary to scare residents to get both builders and planners to jump.
I'm not here to critize planners. I would say that 20 years ago, nobody had much of an idea about a what a Secondary Plan was or what Downsview Park could be. There was not a settled community here so much as people passing through. So back then there was a lot of fear and hostility. Today this is no longer the case, particularly with the cost of housing going through the roof. Planning may not be perfect but surely it is the way to go. With input from the entire community.
Maybe we can wrap this up. Thank you
NOTE: Mr. DiRaimo's comments have been edited. He can be reached at Ben.DiRaimo@toronto.ca