Metro Morning

Rail Deck Park 'last chance' for major downtown parkland, mayor says

Mayor John Tory says the city will find a way to build a new downtown park and pay for major infrastructure repairs, because the proposed Rail Deck Park is “the last chance to do something really bold” regarding greenspace in Toronto.

Tory says debate over park or other priorities ‘a false choice’ if city figures out a way to pay for it all

Mayor John Tory says it's a 'false choice' between the proposed Rail Deck Park and other priorities. (Jennifer Keesmaat/Twitter)

Mayor John Tory says the city will find a way to build a new downtown park and pay for major infrastructure repairs, because the proposed Rail Deck Park is "the last chance to do something really bold" regarding greenspace in Toronto.

Yesterday, city council unanimously approved $2.4 million for design work on the proposed downtown park that will look at all the logistics, including who will help pay the estimated $1.05 billion cost.

The 21-acre park would be built on top of the rail corridor that runs between Bathurst Street and Blue Jays Way.

Tory said Thursday that over the years, council has "been very good" about approving new office and condominium developments for the downtown core. But that has created a greenspace deficit.

"Anytime you have a chance, and I would say in this case it's the last chance, to do something really bold in terms of a big new park in the centre of the city, you should seize that opportunity especially in light of the fact that you have a deficiency of parkland in that part of the city," Tory told CBC's Metro Morning.

Tory noted that other major priorities must be addressed, including hydro and transit infrastructure, as well as more community facilities, in addition to the proposed park.

But, he rejected the notion that paying a large sum for a new park would make it impossible for the city to address other pressing concerns, including a backlog of repairs at Toronto Community Housing.

Some councillors also argue that the Rail Deck Park plan favours downtown residents over those in the suburbs.

"People in these discussions always think they have to set it up as a choice. And I think a lot of the times these things are false choices, especially when it comes to the suburbs versus downtown," Tory said.

"I just don't understand why people say, 'If we do this park therefore we won't be able to afford to build more transit or have proper housing or fix the roads.'"

Who owns air rights?

He said "difficult discussions" are coming this fall on how the city will pay for all of its priorities, be it fixing current infrastructure or planning for new projects, such as the park.

"I'm actually very focused on fixing Toronto Community Housing now because it's not acceptable," Tory said.

"But that doesn't mean that we have to sit back and say, 'Therefore, we should abandon ideas of properly providing parkland for people who live in the downtown and creating a great new park.' The other alternative that people would have is that we would just leave this land on the course it was on, which was for a developer... to come along and build more condos and more offices there, or just leave that ugly scar on the downtown that separates one part of downtown from another."

In addition to the cost, a potential hurdle for the park could be the question of who owns the air rights to the space above the tracks.

Recently, documents emerged stating that a company named Craft Acquisitions Corporation purchased all of the air rights and space above the tracks in December 2013.

Tory acknowledged that some city money will have to be spent on "lawyers and title searchers" to look at the issue.

When asked whether the city would have to expropriate the land, Tory said that won't be necessary because it's city land and council can vote to change the official plan to designate it as parkland, which would make it off-limits to an office or condo.

Ultimately, Tory said, the park is about building a liveable city for residents 25 years from now.

"We can have something here that in a generation people will be saying, 'thank god they did that and didn't have a bunch more condo towers and office towers.'"

With files from Metro Morning


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