Downtown OPA: PICKERING COMES OF AGE
July 9, 2014
Eight years after being designated an urban growth centre in the provincial growth plan Pickering council is expected to adopt an official plan amendment to create a downtown next week.
Pickering mayor David Ryan told NRU that the city’s growth spurts in the late 1960s to the mid-1980s helped the city to evolve into a place people live, rather than a simply a place where people work. But the catalyst was the province identifying Pickering as one of two urban growth centres in Durham Region.
“We evolved as a bedroom community quite frankly. There’s always been discussion within Pickering that we need to somehow address this issue of not having a downtown.”
Working with Urban Strategies Inc., staff prepared an official plan amendment that will functionally create a downtown for the city. It was adopted unanimously this week by the joint planning and development and executive committees.
“Through that process, we came up with the intensification plan, which now provides us with an outline, a vision that will allow us to go forward and develop a downtown that will provide social amenities, a variety of residential opportunities, plus a strong commercial retail business base.”
Pickering policy and geomatics manager Jeff Brooks told NRU that these new policies seek to build on and reinforce existing and future conditions in the downtown, such as adding to the existing cultural facilities and creating a highly walkable area that includes a “diverse network of open spaces.”
“These elements were here before, but what we’re doing now is reinforcing them through policy—with
an expectation of significant growth, not just through population but also employment—and trying to create those strong live-work relationships throughout the downtown area, which will make the city centre not just a gateway for people to leave through the [Pickering] GO Station, but also an entry point into the city, reinforcing the city centre as a destination.”
The official plan amendment includes changes to about 20 sections, primarily land use and transportation. These include changing the population projections within the proposed city centre, excluding incompatible uses in the city centre such as low-density housing and automotive uses, and amending the required minimum and maximum densities to reflect a more compact, intensified city centre.
Currently most of the area is designated as downtown core in Pickering’s official plan: roughly bounded by Kingston Road to the north, Highway 401 to the south, Liverpool Road to the west and the hydro corridor to the east. The new proposed city centre designation includes those lands, plus lands south of the 401 to Bayly Street, which are currently designated prestige employment and mixed-corridors, and an area to the southwest, currently designated as natural areas.
“It’s a redesignation of the downtown core to a city centre, but it’s also a reconfiguration of the city centre to be consistent with the growth plan designation of an urban growth centre,” said Pickering principal policy planner Déan Jacobs.
Ryan said the biggest challenge was getting the public on board, and that transportation was the key concern for residents. He thinks the amendments help to address this concern, by creating a finer grain network of streets. He also notes that Durham Region Transit is planning a rapid bus system throughout the region that will service Pickering.
Another key factor, he adds, will be putting people closer to where they work.
“I think one of the biggest factors is that we’ve incorporated in the plan residential options that will allow people to move in closer to these businesses we’re attracting. So people won’t have transit issues, they’ll be in proximity to their workplace, and hopefully we’ll have more people walking and biking.”
Jacobs noted that residents were also concerned about the “quality of the built form” and suggested creating an identity for the area through elements such as landmark buildings. Also important to is adding new employment.
“[Residents] don’t want Pickering just to be a bedroom community, they want to work here.”
Ryan notes that the city has managed to attract 8,000 net new jobs to Pickering over the last decade, and that this official plan amendment will hopefully continue that success. But it is about more than just jobs.
“[The official plan amendment] provides for a more robust road system within the downtown, it provides for walkability and park space. There’s enough encompassed in the [amendment] that we can satisfy both the need to attract business and support the amenities that our residents are demanding.”
The recommendations from the joint planning and development and executive committees will be considered by council July 14. Ryan expects them to be unanimously approved.
Staff anticipates consulting the public about the draft city centre urban design guidelines this summer, with a final report coming to council in September. A zoning by-law amendment to implement the official plan policies is tentatively scheduled to be brought forward to council in early 2015.