Residents fear 'canyon of condos' on Kingston Road but planners say more density needed

As the pace of development along Kingston Road in the city's east end intensifies, people who live in communities along the old Highway 2 worry it will become a "canyon of condos" and spoil existing neighbourhoods.

City's official plan fueling condo boom along main routes, but not everyone is happy

Lenmore Court is made up of three low-rise apartment blocks on Kingston Road near Birchmount Road close to Lake Ontario. (Mark Boschler/CBC)

As the pace of development along Kingston Road in the city's east end intensifies, people who live in communities along the old Highway 2 worry it will become a "canyon of condos" and spoil existing neighbourhoods.

Already, Karen Azucar says development pressures have already cost her her home in an area of southwest Scarborough called Birch Cliff.

"I love where I live. I'm a big part of my community. I have a salon nearby," said Azucar, who moved into Lenmore Court, a complex with three low-rise apartment blocks close to the lake on Kingston Road just west of Birchmount Road, five years ago.

The owner of Salon O found out a few weeks ago that the buildings would be torn down and replaced by a nine-storey condominium tower. She's upset news of the"demoviction" came in the middle of a pandemic.

"I had just re-opened my salon and I was trying to get back into business after not working for three months and I just can't deal with this right now."

Karen Azucar moved to Lenmore Court because it's close to her business, Salon O, at Kingston Road and Warden Avenue. (Nolasco Image)

The developer and local councillor say the project is in its early stages and open to community input. A meeting is planned for next week.

It's just the latest example of redevelopment moving outward from the core as neighbourhoods along Kingston Road become desirable places to live. The city's official plan encourages intensification — building denser, more heavily populated neighbourhoods with more condo complexes and apartment buildings — along such major arterial roads.

The 265-unit condo building that's proposed for the site where Lenmore Court now stands. (City of Toronto filing)

As a result, there are dozens of projects along the road in various stages of planning, approval and construction as the city has designated "urban growth centres" along such intensification corridors.

John Hartley has lived in The Beach area for four decades, but five years ago, he bought a home on picturesque Lakeside Drive. which begins at Kingston Road and ends at Lake Ontario. He plans to fight the plan to build a nine-storey condo complex steps from his front door.

"It's an attack on my home, plain and simple," said Hartley, who believes the COVID-19 pandemic has put arguments for intensification to the test as people are moving out from the downtown core.

John Hartley lives steps from the site of a proposed nine-story condo development, which he says will tower over his home. (Mark Boschler/CBC)

"Putting in another 265 units on top of the 6,000 already proposed for Kingston Road, it's just a failure of planning."

Frank Clayton, a senior research fellow at Ryerson University's Centre for Urban Policy and Land Development, recently reviewed how pre-zoning areas for intensification can help speed up the supply of needed housing.

And he also used to have an office not far from Lenmore Court.

"Cities have to grow. And they have to grow up or out," said Clayton.

He said Kingston Road is ripe for redevelopment. It had been the major eastern route in and out of Toronto to Kingston and Montreal before Highway 401 was built in the 1960's It's still a way tens of thousands of commuters get to and from downtown.

Frank Clayton, a senior research fellow at Ryerson University's Centre for Urban Policy and Land Development, says approvals to build in areas pre-zoned for density still take too long. (Ryerson University)

"Even with a pandemic there's a huge demand for housing, but with development there's a huge lag," he said. "If supply doesn't respond to demand, prices go through the roof."

Urban planners like Clayton prefer what they call "densification" to sprawl. They say it encourages walking and cycling to work, public transit, safety, and energy efficiency, whereas building more suburban subdivisions leads to more car use, consumption of fossil fuels, pollution and the paving over of valuable farmland and green space.

The push for more density is the reason more condos are getting built outside the downtown core, and why the mid-rise boom in Leslieville and The Beach is rippling outward along Kingston Road and Queen Street East.

The City of Toronto designated certain arterial routes as priorities for densification. Kingston Road is included as one of the areas where condo towers could be taller. (City of Toronto)

Clayton says height and density are dictated by the costs of the project, not community demands. He says heights of eight and 10 storeys are not unreasonable along Kingston Road.

"It can't be just what the local community wants.It's got to be a combination of what works from a development perspective, the developer can make money on, because they always want to make money, and they provide housing."

But those in the community worry about what it will look like if developers have free rein.

Anna Dewar Gully of the Birch Cliff Village Community Association is concerned that Kingston Road could become a 'canyon of condos' if developers have free rein. She would like to see projects that are not as tall and more in keeping with the existing community. (LinkedIn)

"It's absolutely going to be a canyon of condos. They are too dense, too wide and too high," said Anna Dewar Gully of the Birch Cliff Village Community Association.

She points to the Kingston Road Revitalization Plan, unveiled in 2010 in which the city agreed to limit building heights for much of the area from Birchmount Road to Warden Avenue to between four and six storeys, 

"There just seems to be a foregone conclusion that if developers want more density then what's in the plan that was carefully consulted on in this community ...  we are going to defer to that need to make tons of money."


Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC National News

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with three decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for the National Network based in Toronto. His stories are on CBC Radio's World Report, World This Hour, World at Six and The World This Weekend as well as CBC TV's The National and CBC News Online. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.