The Toronto Blue Jays organization has thrown its support behind the city's Rail Deck Park vision, while councillors took the first step Tuesday to zoning the air above the downtown rail corridor as park land.
The Toronto-East York Community Council approved the recommended zoning changes, which would affect some 21 acres of space between Bathurst Street and Blue Jays Way. That decision will now to go the full city council.
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If approved, the zoning would also be an obstacle to the property developers that own the air rights and had hoped to put a mix of condos, offices and park space on the site.
Coun. Joe Cressy, who represents the area, says he still believes the condo proposal won't happen because the rail corridor represents the last available space to build a signature park downtown.
"Fifty years from now, when Rail Deck Park is built and we're out there watching the Blue Jays game on the Jumbotron from a giant, new central park, nobody's going to be sitting there on the grass saying, 'Gee, I wish we'd built nine towers here instead of this park,'" Cressy told CBC Toronto.
He also welcomed the Jays' support, which came in a letter to councillors. The club says the park would "significantly enhance" the experience of millions of fans who catch a game at Rogers Centre every summer.
In addition, the Jays organization suggested extending the park further east, to the John Street bridge.
"Any time the Blue Jays are on side, you know you're doing OK," Cressy said.
Mayor John Tory is also a major proponent of the plan.
Developers still want to see mix of condo towers and parkland
However, letters from the developers working on their own vision for the rail corridor suggest they aren't giving up.
In a letter to community council, Carmine Nigro, Principal at P.I.T.S. Developments Inc., wrote his company has spent "considerable time and effort" on its plans — dubbed the ORCA Project — and urged the city to consider it.
"The ORCA Project is a viable hybrid approach to the Mayor's vision," he said.
Ian Graham, a planning consultant working with P.I.T.S., called the ORCA idea a "superior opportunity."
"While we do no dispute that there is planning merit in some of the lands being used as a public park, the answer is not to designate the entire property as a public park," he wrote.
Graham also questioned how the city plans to pay for the park — which is expected to cost upward of $1 billion.
"If financial and engineering details of Rail Deck Park are known to City staff, then they have not been released to the public," he said.
The city is expected to release a report outlining how it will pay for Rail Deck Park later this month.
In a detailed report outlining the zoning change, city staff say while the zoning would put the right conditions in place to build the park, it would also allow better connections with future transit links, like the Spadina-Front GO regional express rail station.