Toronto

They're called 'transit-oriented communities.' But to some GTA residents, they're a 'condo wasteland'

Some residents and municipal leaders are concerned two large-scale developments the Ontario government is planning along the Yonge North Subway Extension in Richmond Hill and Markham will bring too much density to the area.

Province spearheading new projects along York Region subway line to reduce sprawl

An artist's rendering of High Tech TOC, which will have towers as high as 80 storeys (Engagehightech.ca)

Some residents and municipal leaders are concerned two large-scale developments the Ontario government is planning along the Yonge North Subway Extension in Richmond Hill and Markham will bring too much density to the area.

"It's effectively going to be a condo wasteland," said Graham Churchill, a Richmond Hill resident since 2005.

The developments are part of the province's plan to increase the supply of homes as a solution to bring down the soaring price of housing, which likely will be an election issue. That includes fast-tracking transit projects in the Greater Toronto Area and creating mixed-use areas around the transit hubs called "transit-oriented communities (TOCs)" to reduce urban sprawl. The government is partnering with developers who will foot much of the cost of the infrastructure. 

The High Tech subway station TOC will bring 33 towers — some of them 80 storeys tall — to the Richmond Hill site north of Highway 407 and east of Yonge Street. The Bridge subway station TOC will bring 34 high-rises to the Markham site just south of Highway 407 and east of Yonge Street . 

The developments are expected to bring in about 80,000 new residents overall, according to York Region.

Plans for Bridge TOC in Markham, Ont. (Engagebridge.ca)

In September 2021, the province announced its own plans for the TOCs.

But some neighbours and officials are concerned the infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, won't be able to support the ballooning population. Municipal and regional leaders say there have been longstanding plans for intensification in the area, but some say they're worried the province's plan will bring in far too many people.

"We've been planning for well over a decade," said York region chief planner Paul Freeman. "The scale of development is about double what we've been planning for." 

Richmond Hill resident Graham Churchill is concerned about the density the developments will create. (Submitted by Graham Churchill)

Freeman said Bridge and High Tech are "fairly small areas" at roughly 40 hectares combined. According to a report from York region, the two communities will have almost four times the jobs and people per hectare than Toronto's Yonge and Eglinton area . 

"They're putting in buildings taller than anything in Toronto, and not just a couple of buildings," said Churchill, who points out First Canadian Place in downtown Toronto is 72 storeys. 

"We'd be jamming it into a small area that really can't take it." 

'No quality of life'

Several community groups share Churchill's concerns, including the Yonge-Bernard Residents Association. 

"It's ridiculous," said president John Li, who is also an engineer and project manager for dozens of industrial complexes.

."There will be no quality of life." 

Coun. Godwin Chan, who represents Richmond Hill's Ward 6 where High Tech TOC will be located, is hoping the province will listen to local concerns.

"I understand the province is paying," said Chan."All we're asking for is more engagement."

Chan and Freeman hope the province will take the wishes of the community into consideration. Freeman said the province is hoping to get zoning in place by March 2022 and suspects it will issue ministerial zoning orders (MZOs) to expedite the process. 

The Ford government has come under fire for issuing an unprecedented number of MZOs to fast-track development. The opposition NDP released research in 2020 that showed almost half of the ministerial zoning orders issued by the province between March 2019 and December 2020 have benefited developers with a record of donating to the Ontario PC party.

Premier Doug Ford has repeatedly blamed the slow pace of municipal construction approvals as a barrier to making housing more affordable, though it is unclear whether that is actually the case.

Coun. Godwin Chan, who represents Ward 6 in Richmond Hill, wants to work with the province on developing a plan for his neighbourhood. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

In a statement, Hayley Cooper, director of communications for Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma, told CBC News: "Public input is an important component of the proposed TOCs at Bridge and High Tech stations," pointing out the province held public engagement sessions in December 2021. 

"We are continuing to work with York Region and the communities to refine the proposals for these Transit-Oriented Communities," said Cooper.

According to project website Engagebridge.ca, the developments will "support the continued growth of these areas as complete communities containing the fundamental ingredients of city life. Importantly, investment in these developments will recognize distinct community needs."

Both project websites say the developments will include schools and parks.

Other councillors like Tom Muench, who represents Ward 2 in Richmond Hill, say they support the province taking the reins. 

"As long as we [have] parks, we have schools, we have hospitals, we have walkable livable areas, I'm all in favour of having growth."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lisa Xing is a journalist for CBC News in Toronto. Email her at Lisa.Xing@cbc.ca.

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