Province’s Ontario Line may cause years-long delay of major Toronto affordable housing project
Jan. 29, 2020
A major provincial transit project could delay the construction of hundreds of affordable housing units through Mayor John Tory’s signature program in a clash that threatens to put two of Toronto’s most pressing needs in conflict with one another.
At issue is 770 Don Mills Rd., a property that currently serves as a parking lot for the Ontario Science Centre. It’s one of 11 surplus city-owned sites slated for conversion to mixed-income development under the Housing Now initiative that Mayor John Tory has framed as a key element of council’s efforts to tackle Toronto’s housing affordability problem.
But the site is now also along the path of the Ontario Line, the new $11-billion, 16-kilometre transit project Premier Doug Ford’s government has pitched as critical to delivering badly needed transit to the city. The property sits close to where the Ontario Line would connect with the under-construction Eglinton Crosstown LRT.
According to a Jan. 21 report from city real estate agency CreateTO, the Don Mills housing project “has been delayed for several years due to the planning work for the proposed Ontario Line.”
Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency overseeing the Ontario Line, said that since learning of the housing project the organization is exploring options to avoid any delay.
A schedule CreateTO released last February showed construction for the housing development was supposed to start next year, with occupancy by 2023. The move-in date slipped to 2025 in a report released last April.
In the January report, CreateTO states the timeline for the project is “subject to Ontario Line requirements,” and estimates construction won’t start until 2023, with occupancy expected by 2026.
The agency submitted a development application for the site in 2018, but the report says it will have to be revised, which CreateTO anticipates could be done by mid-2021.
Once developed, 770 Don Mills is expected provide an estimated 1,389 new residential units, 931 of which would be rentals, and 465 would be affordable rental units. That represents almost 13 per cent of all the affordable units that would be built under the Housing Now plan, which council passed in December 2018.
Mark Richardson, technical lead for the housing advocacy group HousingNowTO, which tracks the Housing Now plan, described the delay as “disappointing but unsurprising.”
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He said the Don Mills development has been in progress for years, and housing advocates have been asking how the Ontario Line would affect it since the provincial government unveiled the transit project last April.
The province gave the city few details about the Ontario Line before the premier announced it would replace previous city-led plans for a relief line subway, which wouldn’t have extended as far north as the Don Mills site.
“The city’s been working towards this (housing development) for a number of years. Suddenly the Ontario Line gets dropped into the mix, without what would appear (to be) any advance consultation with the city, and it potentially delays or scuttles an in-flight project to create large amounts of affordable housing,” Richardson said.
He said he was concerned delays to the housing project will get worse if the Ontario Line falls behind schedule. The province has set a target date of 2027 for opening the line, but few experts believe that’s realistic.
Both CreateTO and the mayor’s spokesperson framed the delay as an eventual benefit because future residents will get improved transit.
“This will be a major transit-oriented development site,” Susan O’Neill of CreateTO wrote in an email. “The inclusion of a major transit hub at 770 Don Mills will not only add value to the site, it will also provide better connectivity to the downtown core for the residents living within the Housing Now development.”
Ontario Line planning hasn’t impacted any other affordable housing projects planned in the first phase of Housing Now, O’Neill added.
The Ontario government has the power to expropriate the city-owned property, O’Neill said. “However, we look forward to working with our provincial partners to advance this project to deliver a transit-oriented development on this site,” she added.
Don Peat, Tory’s executive director of communications, said integrating the city-owned site with the Ontario Line and Eglinton Crosstown LRT is the kind of transit-oriented affordable housing the mayor wants built. He expects CreateTO and city staff to get 770 Don Mills “planned, developed and built as quickly as possible and in the best way possible.”
Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said the organization will do what it can to ensure the housing project won’t be delayed.
“Upon learning more about the proposed housing development at 770 Don Mills Rd., we began working on alignment options that will allow for both projects to move forward concurrently,” she said.“While more work needs to be done before finalizing the exact alignment in the area, the guiding principle is to protect for CreateTO’s vision for the site, including the original proposed timelines.”