A Scarborough parking lot has become a community hub. Will a new project endanger that?
Proposed towers could lead to overcrowding, packed buses, Scarborough community group warns
The parking lot of a north Scarborough plaza is about to be transformed into a massive new neighbourhood, complete with parks, shops, homes and a childcare facility. But some neighbours are wondering whether the new development is going too far, too fast.
Once completed, the redevelopment of the Woodside Square mall parking lot, located at McCowan Avenue and Finch Avenue East, will bring about 4,000 new residents in the neighbourhood. That amounts to a four per cent increase in the Scarborough North ward's population.
"If we have 4,000 people, many of whom will be taking the bus, either because they're seniors or students or just getting to work, we'll have a real problem because we won't be able to get on these buses. They'll be packed," said Alura Moores, of the Rosewood Community Association
Aside from six 20- to 30-storey condo towers and a park concentrated along Finch Avenue East, the project envisions a collection of mid-rise buildings along the parking lot's McCowan side.
Right now, city planners admit the area has only buses to get people where they want to go. But that's going to change, according to Christian Ventresca, manager of community planning for the city's Scarborough district.
He says priority bus lanes are coming to Finch Avenue. And he says once the McCowan stop on the Scarborough subway extension opens, Woodside residents will be just a few blocks from a major transit hub. But he says he also hopes the project will offer so many amenities that residents won't need to travel very far anyway.
"We want to maintain and enhance, so that people don't need to use transit," he said. "The grocery store is right there, the library's right there.
"We want to work with the applicant to bring child care to the site so that the new residents coming to the area have a place for children to be minded during the day while they're going to work."
He also sees a community in which cars might not be necessary:
"We're making sure cycling lanes are implemented, the walking conditions are improved, and really, if you live in a unit on the mall site, everything you would need from a retail perspective is right there."
But Moores says the parking lot of the mall means more to the community than just a place to leave your car while you shop, and residents' concerns cover more than just transit access.
She says the mall, and the parking lot in particular, have evolved holistically into a sort of giant community centre.
"They had a massive festival on with all kinds of vendors and food that was very, very popular; fireworks were very prominent, performances happened here," she said.
"During COVID when we couldn't go to the movies, we did a little drive in movie theatre here. So they there's always something going on."
'Working in good faith'
Moores says she wonders whether the city appreciates the cultural value the mall - and especially the parking lot - has in the lives of local residents.
"I hope that everyone is working in good faith here and understands what's at stake," she said.
"A lot of people are making their way into Scarborough and we need to make sure that it is a livable place, not a bedroom community and not a a community of neglect.
"These are really, really beautiful places and we want them to stay that way."
That's a concern that Ventresca says he shares, and that the city will monitor as the plans for the project evolve.
"The mall is a very important part of the current fabric of the community," he said.
"It serves a a cultural purpose as well, with an independent cinema that shows a lot of international films and we want to make sure that the vibrancy of this inner suburban mall, which is unique to it, is not lost for the redevelopment of the site."
'How big? How wide? How tall?'
Ventresca says the city has already received feedback from the community - and will continue that consultation as the project - which is still in its infancy - moves forward. The first proposal just came to council from the mall's owners in 2019.
He says the next step will be a staff report to council early in the new year will propose zoning changes needed to accommodate the project - the first big step in the development of the site.
What will that report lay out?
"How big? How wide? How tall? ... as well as some of the implementation mechanisms around the park, childcare and other things that we would need to make sure that a complete community emerges on site," he said.
After all the planning approvals are in place, construction can begin in stages. Ventrescu says a priority will be given to construction of a new, rooftop parking facility. Once that's in place, construction on the permitter projects, like the park and the condo buildings that will ring the mall, can begin.
All in all, though, he says it could be 15 years before the new Woodside Square community is complete.