There aren’t many places in Ontario like the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville (or simply “Stouffville”). The clean and charming spot sits just 50 km from Toronto’s downtown core, but retains a distinct small-town vibe.
In a move that’s becoming the talk of the town, Stouffville recently approved official plan amendments to allow the construction of a mixed-use high-rise building that’s been proudly dubbed “The CN Tower of Stouffville” by its creators.
At 16-storeys, the Topfar Develoments project “5531 Main St.” will house 309 residential units as well as 8800-square-feet of commercial space. Until the amendment, the maximum height allowed for the shiny new condo building was a more modest 10-storeys. Once completed, it will become the tallest building in Stouffville (hence, the CN Tower reference).
Not surprisingly, this news doesn’t excite everyone. These things never do. This is especially the case for longtime residents who are not necessarily fond of parting with the aesthetics of the past.
In a small win for proponents, however, the tower was reduced to 16-storeys from a proposed 18 in the wake of a public meeting last year. The developers will also revert back to a four-storey and one-storey element on the property’s west side, and have reduced the number of parking spots.
Despite these reductions, there’s been no shortage of pushback from vocal residents who fear the building will contribute to the loss of a small-town vibe and set the stage for larger, taller, high-density developments in Stouffville. Since the onset of the pandemic, the town has already become a more attractive option to former Toronto residents who no longer have a downtown office as part of the daily equation.
“Future growth and density is coming to Stouffville,” says Stouffville’s Mayor Iain Lovatt, pointing to the town’s growth target of 100K people by 2041 (the population is currently closer to 45K). “How we plan for it is imperative.”
Lovatt thinks it’s time for the town to “grow up and not out.” For him, it’s time to do things differently, as opposed to accommodating future growth the traditional suburban route with a vast and growing landscape of cookie-cutter homes (admittedly, that’s not a great look either).
“In order to reduce further urban sprawl in Stouffville, we need to introduce a mix of built form, in an appropriately master-planned community like the Highway 48 Corridor and Western Approach (Main Street, west of Sandiford Drive), for example,” says Lovatt. “An area with height that is mixed use in design, that when built out creates the opportunity to develop what some have told me is missing in Stouffville; an exciting, diverse, innovation centre."
Though he acknowledges this opinion is somewhat controversial, he says it’s not without its rewards.
To drive home his point, the mayor points to the town’s “Pace on Main” condo development, the first condo of real scale and significance on Main Street.
“Its location in the heritage area created another layer of complexity that needed to be addressed,” says Lovatt. “There were several design revisions, a height reduction, and multiple rounds of input from the community that contributed to the beautiful mixed-use building we have today. This building has created a home for people; many more than the boarded up structures that existed previously, who now support the local economy,” he continues.
At its base, the Pace on Main building houses Starks Barbershop, a Canada Post, and the Pace Credit Union – all undoubtedly community-boosting businesses.
“The model, when applied at a larger scale at Highway 48 Corridor and Western Approach can and will help with creating local businesses, creating a sense of place that new residents and the town can be proud of, all while seeing a reduction in our dependency on vehicles," says Lovatt.
While the murmer of backlash continues, some area residents, like Paul Etherington, agree that thoughtfully designed high-rises may be a better alternative to rows of cookie-cutter homes.
“Our home is on the outskirts of Stouffville, so this build would not directly affect any sightlines for us nor would any additional traffic congestion from the additional residents affect us," acknowledges Etherington.
"That being said, a city and its residents do need to determine if they want to grow horizontally or vertically and personally I am tired of seeing rows upon rows of cookie-cutter suburban developments as they take away from overall and character of what is a great town - Stouffville!"
With much of Whitchurch-Stouffville protected green space, proponents say it makes sense to cluster developments in the town's urban area. This way of thinking takes a page from renown urbanist Jane Jacobs' belief that the way forward involves a community-based approach to city building. "One of Jacobs' notions is that clustering people is a driver for economic development and a way to foster innovation, creativity, and diversity " says Lovatt. "As she famously said, 'density should stimulate diversity, not repress it.'"
Alternatively, there's nothing particularly diverse (nor inspiring) about endless rows of identical mass-produced homes.