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North York residents upset over losing parking lot to affordable housing
August 29, 2019
Aaron D’Andrea

If Klara Maidenberg gets to the commuter parking lot at 50 Wilson Heights Blvd. after 8:45 a.m., chances are she won’t find a spot.

The North York resident uses the subway daily to get to her job downtown and finds parking at Wilson station’s main lot can be a challenge given it’s the last major lot directly serving the station.

The 885-spot lot was once one of four lots; two others, a 541-spot lot and a 610-spot lot, were declared surplus by the city and sold off.

However, 50 Wilson Heights may soon follow suit given the land is slated for redevelopment into affordable housing as part of the city’s Housing Now project.

As a result, a 72-spot lot on Transit Rd. would be all that remains.

And that’s not sitting well with some residents including Maidenberg, who want the Wilson Heights parking lot preserved.

“I’m very much in favour of affordable housing close to transit, but not when the cost of that is putting 1,000 cars back on the road going downtown into an already very congested city,” she said. “There’s got to be a way to meet both of those objectives: keep commuters on the TTC and build affordable housing.”

Wilson Heights is one of 11 city-owned sites selected for Housing Now, a signature initiative of Mayor John Tory to build more affordable housing in Toronto.

The project’s first phase is expected to deliver roughly 10,000 new residential units, including up to 3,700 affordable rental homes. The Wilson Heights lot is among the first four sites to be made available for redevelopment.

The preliminary design concept for the eight-acre site would consist of buildings containing 1,150 residential units, including 385 affordable ones and underground parking.

Resident Miriam Stein echoes Maidenberg’s support of affordable housing but hopes the project can be built elsewhere in the neighbourhood.

“There’s huge plots of land just north of the Wilson lot that are not used for anything,” she said. “We feel those areas haven’t been properly canvased … that would be the most ideal solution.”

Councillor James Pasternak (Ward 6, York Centre) has struck a working group with the community and staff to discuss residents’ concerns.

While he supports Housing Now, Pasternak was “astounded” when the site was chosen.

“It’s a vital part of our transit strategy to make sure people park their car and take high-level transit downtown,” he said. “We’re trying to create a situation in which any development on that site includes commuter parking.”

Pasternak added he wants staff to split the density between 50 Wilson Heights and the lands north of it.

Susan O’Neill, a spokesperson for CreateTO, the city’s real estate agency, said in an email the northern lands are already being studied for mixed-use development with affordable housing and “plans to advance this site are ongoing.”

However, the Wilson Heights parking lot is ready to redevelop now, as it was declared surplus in 2009, and meets Housing Now’s mandate to develop surplus public properties close to transit, she said.

“The majority of these sites can be activated quickly,” O’Neill said. “They have limited operational and logistical barriers to development servicing capacity is available and planning policy is in place to support development.”

O’Neill added a May licence plate study showed more than 40 per cent of the parking lot’s users were from outside of Toronto.

Mark Richardson, technical lead with HousingNowTO, a citizen-led advocacy group which is monitoring and analyzing Housing Now, said the city doesn’t have a “commuter parking crisis.”

“We have a choice in the city between parking, or people,” he said. “This is a prime site for developing mixed-income housing and we can’t waste this opportunity to protect somebody’s parking lot when we’re only charging $5 a day for those parking lots.”

Richardson added he thinks drivers will park at other stations instead of driving downtown.

“If those people are choosing to drive downtown in single vehicle occupancy cars, we can’t build a city for them in 2020,” he said. “We have bigger problems, bigger challenges.”

Lawvin Hadisi, press secretary for the mayor, said in an email that building housing and addressing housing affordability is a top priority for Tory.

“The mayor is confident that city planning staff have, and will continue to evaluate the parking needs of the community and will ensure the development incorporates commuter parking, while also prioritizing the development of affordable housing in the area,” she said.

For Stein and Maidenberg, driving to the subway continues to be a reality for suburban residents.

“Clearly there’s a need for commuter parking and I don’t think people care at the end of the day if people from the 905 area are using the lot as well,” Stein said. “At the end of the day we’re all invested on making sure there’s not more cars on the road, whether they’re from the 416 area or the 905. Keep the parking.”