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The Future of Toronto’s Rail Deck Park Suddenly in Doubt

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It appears Toronto’s ambitious vision to build a 3-acre ‘Rail Deck Park’ might be coming to an end.

On Wednesday, it was revealed a Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) sided with Craft Development Corporation on its application to build a 16-acre multi-tower, mixed-use development over the rail corridor where the City of Toronto intended to build its Rail Deck Park.

Craft Development owns the air rights for the rail corridor, located south of Front Street between Bathurst and Blue Jays Way.

In the ruling, LPAT said that the City of Toronto was wrong to reject a proposal by Craft Acquisitions Corporation and PITS Developments Inc., to build a 6.5 hectare “mixed-use community” of towers dubbed ORCA above the open rail space.

The LPAT also said the City hasn’t taken any substantive steps over the last nearly five years to advance its park plan.

READ: City Looking to Secure Air Rights for 3 Acres of Rail Deck Park

In December 2017, Toronto City Council adopted OPA 395 that sets the policy framework for Rail Deck Park, to be constructed in the area from Bathurst Street in the west, to Blue Jays Way in the east, south of Front Street West and above the northern limit of Northern Linear Park to the south (in the CityPlace neighbourhood).

However, in 2019, LPAT dismissed an appeal of the approved Rail Deck Plan above the GO Transit and Via Rail tracks downtown.

The tribunal noted at the time that Rail Deck Park is a “bold proposal” that helps address the parkland deficiency in downtown Toronto and supports the development of complete communities.

Rail deck park
Rail Deck Park/ City of Toronto

Craft Development, which acquired the air rights for the site in 2013 from the Canadian National Railway, has since proposed to build the aforementioned mixed-use community consisting of high-rise residential, affordable housing, open green space, retail, and entertainment venues above 16-acres of rail corridor lands.

“The ORCA Project is focused on addressing ever-increasing housing demands in Toronto, providing new transit-oriented and family-friendly options in the heart of the city, and reclaiming a significant amount of urban space utilized by the rail corridor,” reads a previous press release about the project.

master-planned community
Rendering courtesy of ORCA Toronto

Following Wednesday’s announcement, Mayor John Tory said he was deeply disappointed with the LPAT’s decision.

“Although I respect the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal’s decision today, I am deeply disappointed by it and the possible impact on the future of Rail Deck Park,” said Tory,

“City staff are reviewing today’s decision and I don’t want to say anything that would jeopardize future actions the City could take on behalf of the people of Toronto.”

Tory added that the rail corridor is a “very difficult” site to build a park on, let alone several high-rise towers, making the timelines for the projects long.

“I remain absolutely determined to address the shortage of parkland in downtown Toronto and all parts of our city,” added Tory.

Spadina-Fort York City councillor Joe Cressy said while he, too, is disappointed with the tribunal’s decision, his “determination and resolve to build a more liveable city is undiminished.”

“In the days, weeks, and months ahead we must all work to create the new parks and public spaces Torontonians need and deserve,” said Cressy.

Given that LPAT decisions can be appealed to a divisional court if a city can argue procedural issues, City of Toronto officials are now reviewing the tribunal’s decision.

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