Locals wonder what's taking the province so long to sign off on Yonge-Eglinton growth plan

An ambitious plan to reshape the face of Yonge and Eglinton - five years in the making - is in danger of being killed by the province, residents and the local councillor say.

'It can't be just a bunch of buildings,' Coun. Josh Matlow says

Yonge-Eglinton resident Miria Ioannou, a spokesperson for a local residents' association, says the group is not against development, but believes there should be limits on growth in the neighbourhood. (Grant Linton/CBC)

An ambitious plan to reshape the face of Yonge and Eglinton — five years in the making — is in jeopardy, residents and the local councillor say.

Josh Matlow, who represents Ward 12, Toronto-St. Paul's, says the plan dubbed Midtown in Focus, which is aimed at overhauling the city's master plan for the area, limits the height of buildings, and ensures parkland is established, along with skyscrapers.

But the province needs to sign off on the plan before it can become official city policy, according to provincial planning rules. And it has been on the desk of Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark since last summer, city councillors say.

At its May 14 meeting, council backed a motion by Coun. Jaye Robinson, one of the original architects of Midtown in Focus, to urge Clark to endorse the plan before the June deadline.

"I called the minister a few months ago … he heard me out," Robinson said in an email. "I know he's very aware of our neighbourhood's concerns."

If the minister does not give it his approval by June 6, Matlow fears the plan could be scrapped completely, and replaced with a more developer-friendly vision for the Yonge-Eglinton intersection.

"It can't be just a bunch of buildings to make developers money," he said.

"It's got to be about improving the the quality of life of residents. And I am very concerned, as is our community, that all this hard work is now collecting dust on the minister's desk and could end up finding itself dead."

But Clark dismissed those concerns in an interview with CBC Toronto. 

City Coun. Jaye Robison's motion urging the province to sign off on the Midtown in Focus plan as soon as possible was passed by council on May 14. (Mike Smee/CBC)

"I'm still reviewing it," he said.

"We decided that we need to take a more in-depth look ... I'm confident that we'll be in a situation then (June 6) that we can move forward."

For years, Yonge-Eglinton Centre — a neighbourhood bounded roughly by Mount Pleasant Road, Yonge Street, Soudan Avenue and Erskine Avenue — has been coveted by developers because of its proximity to transit, and popular retail and entertainment venues, city documents show.

It's also been earmarked by the province as a part of the city that could sustain more desperately-needed room for a growing population.

Coun. Josh Matlow, who represents the Yonge-Eglinton area, is worried the province could scrap the Midtown in Focus redevelopment plan, which has been five years in the making. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

And that's a concern for people like Miria Ioannou, who is a spokesperson for the Northwest Quadrant Alliance, a local residents' association that's been vocal in its demands that park space, sunlight and ample city services offset any new condos and office towers.

"We made numerous presentations to council, to the committees that were making the decisions, and we were part of the community consultations," she said.

"The plan allowed for thoughtful planning to happen; it controlled some of the density, allowed for some public green spaces, it took into account transit and schools.

Midtown in Focus will limit the height of buildings that can be erected near the busy intersection of Yonge and Eglinton to 35 storeys. Developers had wanted significantly more. (City of Toronto)

"Those are the things we want to make sure we don't lose after all these years."

Ioannou insists she and her neighbours are not against development.

"We understand more housing is needed," she said. "However you can't build all the housing that's needed in the city of Toronto within a two block radius of Yonge and Eglinton.

In 2013, city planning staff embarked on an ambitious plan to demarcate a large chunk of Yonge-Eglinton that was ripe for enhanced development, and write a blueprint that would steer — and, where necessary —  limit that growth.

Midtown in Focus was compiled with input from a half dozen city divisions and outside organizations, city reports show, including parks, forestry and recreation, real estate services, the TTC and the Toronto District School Board.

The new Midtown in Focus plan calls for more park space, along with new condos and office buildings in the busy neighbourhood. Locals worry the province could be getting set to scrap the plan, although the province denies it. (Grant Linton/CBC)

The plan took into account the need for growth, without destroying the existing residents' quality of life, city staff wrote in a 2015 report.  It would allow developers to erect buildings that ranged from 15 to 46 storeys, and add parks, bike lanes, community hubs and retail spaces.

But when the council's planning and growth management committee, and members of the public, scrutinized the plan last June, there were objections.

By the time it had been revised and finally approved by council last summer, those heights had been reduced to 15 to 35 storeys, without giving up any park space.

Midtown in Focus sets out a planning vision for an area known as the Yonge-Eglinton Secondary Plan. Within that area is a zone that's experiencing especially fast growth, known as Yonge-Eglinton Centre (in grey). It's bounded by Yonge, Mount Pleasant, Erskine and Soudan. (City of Toronto)

After being rubber stamped by council in late July, Midtown in Focus was shipped over to the Ministry of Housing in early August, city records show.

The minister had until early March to sign off on the plan. but late last year, Clark asked for an extension of the deadline, city staff say, of three months. That new deadline expires on June 6.

Without a signature, the province could kill the plan, accept it, or change some of its elements, according to provincial planning guidelines.

And that's what concerns Ioannou.

"It's disappointing to see the provincial government sitting on this plan that's ready to go."

Developers want more density, not less

But BILD GTA, the association that represents homebuilders and developers, isn't happy with the revised plan.

"Certainly, from a builder's perspective we supported the original plan that had higher densities," BILD GTA's president and CEO Dave Wilkes told CBC Toronto.

"We believe that because of the investment in transit that has been made in that area that those densities can be supported."

Wilkes believes developers are hoping for more leeway when it comes to the number of units they'll be allowed to build.

And if they don't get that extra density, he says consumers could pay a price.

"When any market, whether it's housing, autos, anything is out of balance, where there's more demand than there is supply, I think that's going to lead to affordability challenges."