Toronto

From parking lot to parkland? City identifies lot for green space at Richmond and Spadina

Last month, Coun. Joe Cressy announced a plan to develop green space in the heart of the downtown core in the King Street and Spadina Avenue area. At the time, it was hard to picture where, exactly, that space would be.

Coun. Joe Cressy spearheading project to add green space to high-density neighbourhood

A city report identifies the plot of land the city would like to acquire for green space in the Richmond and Spadina area. (Google maps)

Last month, Coun. Joe Cressy announced a plan to develop green space in the heart of the downtown core in the King Street West and Spadina Avenue area. At the time, it was hard to picture where, exactly, that space would be.

This week, a City of Toronto staff report identified that space: a commercial parking lot at 229 Richmond Street West, between Duncan and John Streets, next to The Fifth Gastropub. The land is 2,635 square metres.

In a report issued Tuesday, the deputy city manager and chief financial officer, as well as the city solicitor, recommended that council direct the chief corporate officer to appraise the land to determine its current market value.

A report on that appraisal will then be sent to the government management committee on Sept. 6.

The plot of land on Richmond is in the East Precinct of the King Spadina Secondary Plan area. The East Precinct is bordered by Richmond Street to the north, Front Street to the south, Spadina Avenue to the west and Simcoe Street to the east.

"Over the past ten years, the area has undergone massive change in the form of residential and employment growth," Tuesday's report said.

"At the same time, very little parkland has been acquired to keep pace with this growth."

According to the report, the King Spadina Secondary Plan area grew from 945 people living in the area in 1996 to about 19,000 in 2016. Due to planned or approved development projects the population is projected to grow to more than 50,000 people in the coming years.

The number of employees who are working in the area also grew from 24,000 in 2001 to 33,400 in 2015, the report said. That figure could also top 50,000 based on city projections.

The only new park to be developed in the area is a 130 square-metre parkette on the southeast corner of Widmer and Adelaide, according to the report.

Park 'becomes your backyard'

Last month, Cressy told CBC's Metro Morning that green space is needed in areas with high population density.

"You need it because if you're living in a condo tower, the park becomes your backyard," Cressy said. "If you want to build liveable neighbourhoods, then you need to have the social infrastructure that families need to live in."

The Richmond Street land meets the principles in the city's official plan that govern acquiring parkland, including that they are visible and accessible from nearby streets, are of a "useable shape," and have "appropriate topography," the report says.

According to the report, city staff approached the owners of the land about their willingness to sell.

"While they did not indicate that they were unwilling to do so, they advised that their valuation of the Lands vastly exceeded the valuation undertaken by City staff," the report said.

"This makes the acquisition of the Lands by way of negotiated settlement highly unlikely."

If a negotiated settlement isn't reached, the city can acquire the land via expropriation, Cressy said last month.

"Expropriation, it sounds like a four-letter word," Cressy said. "But the City of Toronto expropriates land every single month for infrastructure projects."

As for the cost of acquiring new park land, Cressy said there's already "tens of millions of dollars" set aside due to booming development in the area. Under the city's planning regulations, condo developers are required to provide some sort of green space. But because many of the lots are small, there's only room for a tower.

"So they provide cash in lieu of park space," Cressy said. "We have assembled tens of millions of dollars that can only be used for one thing: to buy park land."

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