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Livability questioned as large-scale transit hub project green-lit in Markham, Richmond Hill

Ford government wants to build 40,000 new homes, supporting 19,000 new jobs
April 29, 2022
Yoyo Yan

Despite criticism and objections from residents and municipalities, the Doug Ford government officially announced its approval of special zoning orders to build two transit communities along the Yonge North Subway Extension in the Yonge Street and Highway 7 area.

The province's plan is to build more than 40,000 condo units for the new transit-oriented communities (TOCs) at the future Bridge station in Thornhill and High Tech station in Richmond Hill, Premier Doug Ford announced in Thornhill April 20.

Markham council voted April 26 to disagree with the Bridge TOC proposal and requested the province to revoke the related enhanced minister's zoning order (EMZO).

According to the province's plans, the Bridge TOC -- locally known as Langstaff Gateway -- will see 31 residential towers and three standalone office buildings 15 to 80 storeys tall.

By building these communities, the government expects to reduce gridlock, create economic opportunities and support 19,000 new jobs in the region.

But some residents find the proposed density for these transit hubs highly questionable. They believe the project would make the area the second densest place to live in the world.

"We need proper planning rather than just increasing the densities around TOCs and ignoring municipal planning," said Elisabeth Tan of the Milne Dam Conservation Ratepayers Association. "Please look globally how walkable and livable communities are created."

"These would not be livable, sustainable communities," said Alice Young of Keep the Subway on Yonge Committee in the Royal Orchard community.

Prohibited from attending the Ford news conference, some residents gathered and protested outside a construction yard on Langstaff Road East where Ford made the announcement.

"The announcement was carefully controlled and held in a restricted venue. In fact, the premier's security personnel deliberately misdirected residents to a different location," said Young. "Shameful, but not surprising for a government that issues the EMZOs by stealth the evening before Passover and Easter."

On the eve of Good Friday, the Ford government issued two special zoning orders that residents and city officials say will bypass the municipalities and fast-track the TOC developments.

Some residents dreaded that could happen since details of the TOC plans were previously kept secret. Senior staff with the two cities and York Region were asked to sign nondisclosure agreements with the province.

Local councillors have said they are concerned the planned infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, won't be able to support the ballooning population they would bring.

Markham council voted Jan. 25 to reject the project as proposed since it basically rips apart the city's plans for the area. Subsequently, the city wrote an official letter to the province opposing the Bridge TOC, raising concerns about inadequate non-residential uses and civic uses, and insufficient parkland.

In Thornhill, Ford also confirmed a new station at Royal Orchard Boulevard, the fifth station on the YNSE, funding its construction with proceeds from the development of the two new transit hubs.

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, who also attended the news conference in Thornhill, has pushed for the inclusion of a fifth station at Royal Orchard for years.

Scarpitti applauded Ford's commitment to the subway extension, but the mayor declined to comment on the province's decision on the TOC project.

The decision comes one year after the Ford government slashed two stations from the route and moved a portion of the line above ground after determining that its original plan would have increased the price tag from $5.6 billion to $9.3 billion.

Construction on the subway extension is expected to begin in late 2023. The government has said that the project could be completed in 2030.

While the Royal Orchard community welcomes the new station, some say it should not come at such a human cost.

"As resident Ana Periquet asked Mayor Scarpitti, why should her baby daughter have to bear the impact of the subway rumbling 11 metres under her home every 90 seconds?" stated Keep the Subway on Yonge Committee.

"This is a once in a generation opportunity that should not be squandered -- the YNSE must meet the needs of all communities. Staying on Yonge is still the better way."