49-storey condo proposal in Toronto's Greektown highlights debate over neighbourhood density

Carly Bowman, the manager of community planning for the area, helped compile a study that advocates for increased densities along The Danforth. She says affordable housing is a major component of the new plan. (Sue Goodspeed/CBC - image credit)
Carly Bowman, the manager of community planning for the area, helped compile a study that advocates for increased densities along The Danforth. She says affordable housing is a major component of the new plan. (Sue Goodspeed/CBC - image credit)

A proposed high-rise condo development in Greektown is highlighting a debate about what kind of housing is appropriate to meet the need for more density in the neighbourhood while preserving its unique character.

For decades, the city has limited the height of buildings along the stretch of The Danforth from Broadview Avenue to east of Pape Avenue — a decision that has helped to maintain its intimate feel. But now, a developer is asking for permission to build a 49-storey tower on the northeast corner of Pape and Danforth where the Bloor-Danforth subway will intersect with the Ontario Line.

"They're asking for a heck of a lot of extra density, [but] where is the affordable housing?" said Coun. Paula Fletcher, who represents the area.

"Torontonians are fed up with developments that don't have any affordable housing. One hundred per cent for-sale condos is not where we need to go in this city."

City planners have not yet decided what level of density is appropriate for that intersection or for Broadview and Danforth farther west. But this past spring, they released a study at council's request that calls for the lifting of the height limit, allowing The Danforth to grow into a neighbourhood of mid-rise buildings up to eight storeys tall with a strong affordable housing component.

Mike Smee/CBC
Mike Smee/CBC

The idea behind the study was to help meet the city's growing need for housing, and especially affordable housing, while helping the Danforth to evolve into a more complete street — an avenue that's designed to move people of all ages and abilities around the neighbourhood, regardless of whether they're walking, cycling or driving.

"The study contemplates more of a mid-rise type of building ... something up to eight storeys that is careful to maintain good sun conditions," said Carly Bowman, the city's manager of community planning for the area.

Bowman says the city collaborated with local residents extensively before the study was completed.

"People strongly value The Danforth," she said.

"People also recognize that it was important to make space for more people to come and live here and more businesses to move in, including affordable spaces for both," she added.

Mike Smee/CBC
Mike Smee/CBC

"Our hope is that the feel of The Danforth and this historic main street will continue while additional opportunities for people —  jobs and the types of infrastructure to support them, both open spaces, community spaces, park spaces and also hard infrastructure — will be augmented."

Bowman says the studies on how much more density the Pape-Danforth and Broadview-Danforth intersections could take will be decided by a new study. She says work on that should begin early next  year.

Study could 'frustrate' intensification, developer's lawyer says

As for the proposed 49-storey tower by Pape Station, the lawyer for the developer, Del Boca Vista Properties, has already expressed frustration with the new study's apparent limits on densities.

"We understand that this will be one of only 10 interchange stations on the entire TTC
subway network once the [Eglinton Crosstown LRT] and the Ontario Line are complete," said Neil Smiley, of Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, in a letter to the city.

"As a result, the planning documents if approved unamended would have the potential to frustrate the residential and commercial intensification of the sites," Smiley wrote.

But both Bowman and Fletcher emphasize that the development at the two transit nodes on the western Danforth, Pape and Broadview stations, will be tackled in a separate study.

And Bowman says it's too soon to say how high is too high at those hubs.

"The application came in near the end of the summer and so it's still pretty early days," she said. "We have more work to do to assess what level of intensity might be appropriate."

Fletcher agrees that the developer may be jumping the gun with its complaints.

"Pape and Broadview subway stations were carved out to have a separate study, to see what should the density be there. We all know that at this subway station, Pape, and at Broadview, there will be greater density," she said.

"Is 49 [storeys] too high? Too short? That conversation hasn't been held yet."

Zoom
Zoom

But in the end, those who fear higher densities will dilute the neighbourhood's unique character may have to bite the bullet, according to Mark Richardson, technical lead for HousingNowTO.ca.'

"We either have a housing crisis or we don't have a housing crisis," he said. "If we have a housing crisis, our neighbourhoods along transit lines need to change."

He also says the Danforth planning study, in limiting new building heights to eight storeys, won't solve the housing crisis.

"Realistically, in order to create any affordable housing along the Danforth there are going to be places with 25, 30, 35 storey buildings."

He said that while 49 storeys is probably too high,"realistically, I think this is going to end up in the mid-30s, low 40s."