At Toronto’s High Park, there are more than just cherry blossoms in the air. A stand-off between a developer, a local neighbourhood association, and city staff is a-brewing, and at the root of the matter is a high-rise housing development that was proposed at the end of February.

The proposal comes from Clifton Blake (the developer) and WND Associates (the planners) and lays out plans to bring a 17-storey, mixed-use building to a site next door to the High Park subway station of the Bloor-Danforth line and directly across High Park, municipally known as 3, 5, and 21 Quebec Avenue, and 1930, 1932, 1934, 1936, and 1938 Bloor Street West. Prime location aside, the development would bring 132 new condo units and 12 replacement rental units to the site.

But some members of the community have qualms. An update that was posted to the High Park Tenants’ Association (HPTA) website on April 18, 2024, underlines that the proposed, as it currently stands, goes against guidelines of the Bloor West Village Avenue Study, which limits heights on Bloor to a maximum of eight storeys, from Clendenan Avenue to Keele Street.

Grievances Aired At Community Consultation

Members of the group and the community at large were present at a virtual community consultation held on April 30, 2024, where they voiced their concerns about the proposed to Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park Councillor Gord Perks — who is also the current chair of the Planning and Housing Committee — City Planner Kishmita Arora, and WND President Andrew Ferancik, amongst a handful of others. A recording of the consultation has since been obtained by STOREYS.

“We already do have… many high-rises, we do have very high population density, we do need to have some space. Having wall-to-wall towers does not make for a good quality of life. It has to be balanced, there has to be open space, there has to be sunlight, there needs to be views,” said Barbi Lazarus, who is Communications Assistant with the HPTA. “In my mind, the fact that there's already all these buildings here means that we should be spreading it out. You know, these kinds of buildings should be built at Dufferin, at Ossington, at Christie, and I'm not sure why we keep getting all these proposals here and not anywhere else.”

Another attendee, who was unnamed in the recording, argued that the proposed development, by going against Bloor West Village Study, “could drastically disrupt the traditional feel of the area.”

In response to these types of concerns, WND's Ferancik noted that Clifton Blake’s is “a site specific application.” More specifically, he pointed to the building heights that already characterize the area. “We're actually one of the lower new buildings within that apartment neighbourhood designation. The infill buildings to the north... are higher, but we felt that this was an appropriate sort of transition down towards Bloor Street,” Ferancik said.

“And the amount of housing that [the proposed] can deliver as well is more than a lower building. And I think that needs to be said, just given the focus that there is in the media these days, and the city wants to build 1.5 million new homes in seven years. If it can’t be right next to a subway station, to some degree, I think we have to reevaluate the policy.”

A “Great Site For A New Building” — With Adjustments

Councillor Perks did acknowledge in the April 30th meeting that the proposal, as it currently stands, does not “conform” with a few aspects of the urban design guidelines laid out in the Bloor West Avenue Study. In addition to the fact that it exceeds the maximum height from the study, Perks also pointed out that the building is only setback six or six-and-a-half metres, when the recommendation is nine metres to maintain the “generous” sidewalks along Bloor.

“And the other [guideline] is, and this is particular to the area near High Park, to maintain when buildings get taller to make them narrower, so we maintain views into the park,” Perk added.

In speaking to STOREYS on Thursday afternoon, Councillor Perks said that the proposal not only disagrees with guidelines contained in the avenue study for the area, but also broader city planning rules for mid- versus high-rise typology.

“They want mid-rise width, tall building height,” he said. “And the thing about planning, you know, the reason that we don't just let people build anything anywhere, is buildings have impacts on each other and on the larger community. And what we try to do is encourage growth in a way that those impacts are positive. The proposal would have negative impacts.”

With all of that said, it seems very likely that we’ll be seeing another rendition of Clifton Blake’s proposal at some point in the future. And that’s something that Councillor Perks said he and city staff would be on board with. “I think that there's a perfectly good case to be made for a new building going there,” he said.” I think it's a great site for a new building. It just requires that the developers... follow the rules of good planning.”

Future Avenue Studies Up For Debate

When we’re talking about avenue studies — and more than 30 studies across Toronto have been completed since the early 2000s to date, covering over 45% of the city’s avenues, according to a February 12, 2024, report from city staff — Perks said it’s “extremely common” for them to shape the way a prospective development changes from the time it’s proposed to the time it’s realized.

With the High Park scenario, Perks said it’s a bit of different beast because, as mentioned earlier, the proposal fails to comply with wider city planning rules.

But speaking to avenue studies more broadly: during a Planning and Housing Committee meeting held on February 28, 2024, city staff voted in favour of an ‘Avenues Policy Review,’ and one of the recommendations within that review was that the avenue study requirement be removed. However, Perks is careful to note that this move, if approved, would only affect future avenue studies, and that the existing ones would remain in place.

The city staff report proposes ‘deleting’ the requirement for avenue studies and replacing it with the option to undertake ‘local area reviews,’ which would be conducted only “when deemed necessary, such as along avenues that are experiencing significant growth pressures and where there is a risk that community services/facilities and hard infrastructure will not be able to support future growth.”

The rationale behind this move is that the City has already created “comprehensive” mid-rise design guidelines and has “considerable experience” guiding growth on the avenues.

“Taken together this means that the necessary knowledge and tools exist to inform development along Avenues without the need for comprehensive studies,” it said. “Minimizing the need to undertake avenue studies will enable divisional resources to focus on targeted planning studies and reviewing development applications, and will help to streamline policies by avoiding the creation of additional layers of policy.”

City staff is expected to circle back on the matter in the fourth quarter of 2024.

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