It’s called a Secondary Plan, but it’s of Primary interest!
In the coming months, you’ll be seeing and hearing more about what’s called a “secondary plan” that will guide development in our neighbourhood for the next 25 years. You have a right and we hope, a desire, to participate in advocating for the kind of community that you want to see.
What is a secondary plan?
It’s something ABCRA has long been requesting for our community. Some of you will have seen articles on the ABCRA website over the years that we have been advocation for better planning.
A secondary plan lays out the planning and development vision and direction for a particular area of the City. This includes building zoning, design guidelines, parks and other public space including pedestrian and transportation networks, as well as heritage considerations.
The City expects to have a Draft Secondary Plan available and ready for public consultation early in 2024. It’s also consulting with Indigenous stakeholders (including about Davenport Road which, you may know, was a significant Indigenous trail). Cultural Heritage assessment is being completed and you can read ABCRA’s comments.
This report below will give you some things to think about what you love the most about our community as it grows and evolves. That’s a good lens for considering and judge information and respond to the City’s draft plan when it’s published.
Table of Contents
- What is a secondary plan?
- Our shared public realm
- Streetscapes and intersections
- Densification with Care
What’s the status of the secondary plan?
The City’s Planning Department recently outlined some high-level information about directions for the plan and held a small round of consultations. We were disappointed with these efforts which fell far short of our expectations for engaging residents.
We had expected a more comprehensive set of proposals, including addressing the distinct considerations for our area that were outlined in the Planning Framework document provided to the City in 2015 by ABCRA and the Bloor-Yorkville BIA (Business Improvement Association).
In response, we and the BIA sent a joint letter to the City Planners expressing the need for a comprehensive approach to managing change in our community.
This includes articulating more specific height/density rules, policies for the larger developments on our major roads as well as for the different character of our low-rise residential streets, enhancing our parks, green space and streetscapes, and a framework for ensuring a fair share of development funds generated in our area are invested back here.
What happens next?
The City expects to have a Draft Secondary Plan available and ready for public consultation early in 2024.
ABCRA will review the proposals when they are released, share information with our residents and advise how to get involved. This continues the work ABCRA has been doing for the past 65 years to protect and enhance our community and our collective quality of life.
What do you love about our neighbourhood?
Take a moment to think about what you love the most about our community as it grows and evolves. That’s a good lens for considering information we’ll send you and how to judge and respond to the City’s draft plan when it’s published.
For more information:
- The City’s webpages on the Bloor-Yorkville Secondary Plan
- The 2015 Planning Framework developed by ABCRA and Bloor-Yorkville Business Improvement Area
- ABCRA and Bloor-Yorkville BIA letter to City Planners (July 27, 2022)
Our shared public realm
The shared public space in our neighbourhood — called the public realm — plays a large part in making our daily lives enjoyable and creating a sense of community. This includes parks, trees, plantings, seating, public art and other features that animate and enhance our streets and the public spots where we gather to socialize or play.
These kinds of public realm elements are a critical part of the policies we want to see outlined in the pending Bloor-Yorkville Secondary Plan.
The City’s initial materials on the Secondary Plan were limited in information about the public realm, and focused primarily on areas south of Davenport. We will be looking for more comprehensive details when it releases its full draft Plan (expected this Fall).
Our green jewel
We naturally feel strongly about our much used and loved Ramsden Park and how it will be addressed in the Secondary Plan. It’s already designated as one of Toronto’s seven ‘portal parks’ as it’s near the City’s downtown ravine system called the ‘Core Circle’. The City has identified the desire to create more visible and pleasant connections for pedestrians and cyclists between Ramsden and this green belt as alternatives to the busy street routes currently used.
The intended addition of a community centre in the south-east part of Ramsden gives even further impetus for better connections to the park. One possible opportunity is a new route behind the Canadian Tire property at Yonge/Church Streets as part of the potential redevelopment of that site, providing the right engineering can happen given the subway tracks and land grade changes. This would open a link to the Rosedale Valley and Don Valley ravines and the expansive network of routes and trails beyond.
In and around buildings
The space around our commercial and high-rise residential buildings can also add to our public realm through accessible passageways, greenery and possibly artwork, seating and other amenities. We want our Secondary Plan to have explicit policies that require future building developments provide or help fund enhancements to the public realm on their sites or elsewhere in our community. This would add coherence and consistency to the planning process and improve the current situation of negotiating building by building.
One particular type of space is called POPS — privately owned public space – which, as the name implies, is a part of a private development that the public can access. We have many examples of POPS in the Yorkville area already – such as the garden/shrub maze area to the east of the Four Seasons tower and the passageway beside the Church of the Redeemer through to Cumberland Street, among many others. As development continues in our community, Secondary Plan policies are needed to ensure that such spaces are added wherever possible, are fully open to the public and well maintained.
ABCRA has a long track record of working with developers and the City to add public space as developments are planned. Accomplishments that we’ve mentioned in recent communications include negotiating an expansion to the west side of Ramsden Park at Avenue Road funded by the 1140 Yonge/Staples site condo development (even though it’s blocks away), and dedicated space for community programming at the 33 Avenue/York Square site. While these are terrific, we would like to see requirements for such public realm contributions embedded as a Secondary Plan policy rather than depending on ABCRA efforts and the goodwill of some progressive developers.
Our streets are also part of our public space, and heritage and neighbourhood ‘character’ too are important aspects of public realm policies.
Streetscapes and intersections
Collectively, the streets in our area comprise the largest percentage of our neighbourhood public space. So naturally they are an important aspect of what we’d like to see addressed in the Bloor-Yorkville Secondary Plan.
The high-level Plan information shared by the City thus far however focused mostly on one aspect of public space — enhancing connections into and within the southern part of our area. We support that goal but are thinking more broadly about all parts of our community and the streets and routes that connect us.
Promenades and enhanced intersections
As residents we don’t go far before encountering a major street as we have five of them — Bloor, Yonge, Avenue, Bay and Davenport — all bustling arteries for those living in, visiting or traversing our area. As these streets also carry a lot of density, that’s a heavy lift for them, and for us.
The City already has Complete Streets Guidelines about how Toronto streets should be designed. They allow local context and character to be considered within overall goals of designing streets that are safe and accessible, have a choice of travel modes, contribute to economic vitality in commercial areas, and add to the vibrancy of the neighbourhood. We would like to see specific policies in the Bloor-Yorkville Secondary Plan addressing these aspects of our major streets as important factors affecting the success and livability of our community and in particular, policies that will create well-designed promenades and enhanced intersections.
We know there is already a lot of focus on our streets and the competing interests: ActiveTO, CafeTO, improving Avenue Road, impact of new buildings, parking rules, and how to create better safety and traffic flow at intersections, among others. ABCRA is actively involved in these ever-increasing efforts, endeavouring to take a balanced approach in representing residents and engaging with the City.
However, as these matters will only continue to grow as the density of our area increases, the Secondary Plan needs to do its part in establishing policies to guide design decisions and enhancements for our streets. For example, policies that promote:
- servicing and loading configurations that limit conflict with pedestrians
- enlightened parking capacities for new developments
- channeling through-traffic away from local streets
- building interfaces that animate the streetscape and create a safe and inviting environment
- well-designed intersections that enhance the pedestrian experience while improving safety.
As noted above, we like the idea of improving connections to bring people into and around our community. The best opportunity to do so is during the planning for new building developments, which would be subject to policies in the Secondary Plan. As described in the City’s material, this would include more mid-block connections, lanes and passageways that weave between buildings to avoid hectic streets and introduce greenery, as well as added underground connections where feasible around the Bloor Street area that are especially welcome when the weather is bad.
We would like the Secondary Plan to also extend the thinking about connections and streetscapes beyond just the south part of our area.
For instance, this is important for our Yonge ‘main street’ from Bloor to the CPR Tracks given the development and intensification projects underway or contemplated. Policies are needed to help ensure this contiguous stretch of Yonge remains a vibrant promenade and hospitable area for retail and dining.
A word about trees
A lush tree canopy is an appreciated characteristic of many parts of our community, although the canopy and the amount of permeable surface are declining in our residential neighbourhoods. As well, our major streets haven’t had much success in contributing to a healthy tree population and the pleasant environments, shade and cooling that trees provide.
While we know this is a challenge of space, conditions and infrastructure, we would like our Secondary Plan to include policies for adding and maintaining trees on our major streets, including when road reconstruction occurs and as part of new building developments. This would also help offset the tree decline on residential streets.
Densification with Care
We’ve seen the development signs go up proposing various new buildings, and we hear concerns from residents about how much added density is acceptable for our area.
We know Toronto needs to densify to accommodate a growing population and cultivate a healthy business environment. At ABCRA, our guiding approach is to advocate for ‘compatible development’ that integrates and coexists well with our current environment to contribute to a livable and complete community.
We are also extremely concerned with the lack of affordable housing and a widening gap this is creating between ‘have’ and ‘have not’ households. In this regard, we were actively supportive of the City’s purchase of 877 Yonge Street (formerly Fellowship Towers) for transitionary housing (although the windfall received by the developer was disheartening) and CreateTO’s coming redevelopment on the south-east corner of Yonge and Aylmer.
However, in our view, the single biggest factor driving sky-high property values in the last 20 years is the lack of coherent rules in the form of zoning. Ontario is almost unique in the world where an investor/developer can pay seemingly any price for a property and then demand that City planners make their investment good, and should the City refuse, said developer can then appeal to the OMB/LPAT/Land Tribunal where one individual can adjudicate an outcome with literally $100s of million at stake.
In the absence of clearly articulated planning rules, speculation ensues, and the result is evident. The idea that by building more $2,000 per sq. ft. condos we will solve our housing crisis is a conceit that must end. The problem starts with land valuations and that problem can only be fixed with rules that are adhered to.
We want the Bloor-Yorkville Secondary Plan to help fix this dysfunction. It is the place to specify policies about which areas in our neighbourhood are suitable for intensification and to articulate appropriate height and density rules for each.
Four types of areas
In its preliminary information, the City identified the following four kinds of areas to which separate policies would apply:
- Low-Rise neighbourhoods – like our residential streets north of Ramsden Park, the Belmont/Hillsboro/Pears strips, and around Hazelton Avenue
- Apartment neighbourhoods – much of McMurrich Street including Belmont House
- Mixed-Use Areas (MUAs) – commercial/retail, office and residential on and around our main streets. There would be several MUA segments (e.g. different for Yonge/Bloor than Yonge north of Ramsden)
- Parks and Ravines
The policies would apply to new developments or redevelopments, and beyond height rules would also include addressing how they integrate into their surroundings. “Built Form” is a planning term for this — referring to the function, shape and configuration of buildings as well as their relationships to streets and open spaces.
ABCRA and the Bloor-Yorkville BIA submitted to the City comprehensive recommendations about the Built Form of our Low-Rise neighbourhoods and Mixed-Use Areas in our 2015 Framework document.
Take a look at Section 6.3 that starts of page 38 to get a sense of the kinds of policies we feel are appropriate for our area.
Among our many recommendations are the following for how new buildings with their added density can better integrate into our streetscapes and neighbourhoods:
- include adequate set-backs around a building’s perimeter to allow for privacy and space for trees, landscaping, and other public realm features
- require step-backs of upper-level facades of taller buildings to create more human ‘main street’ scale and to preserve existing heritage and character structures at street level
- have step-downs/tapering of building design to provide transitions to lower-scale areas, including to residential streets
The City has announced its intention to increase the density of low-rise neighbourhoods across Toronto. This includes garden and laneway suites on eligible lots, and more recently has been studying also allowing multiplexes including small apartment buildings on all low-rise residential streets.
The ABC area already has multiplexes such as duplexes and triplexes as well as small apartment buildings, which fit nicely on our streets given their setbacks and landscaping. We want to avoid a City-wide one-size-fits-all approach for multiplexes, but rather have policies requiring that new multiplexes continue to integrate respectfully with the character of our streets and mitigate impacts to neighbours and green space.
We do keep mentioning the importance of green space. It is a defining attribute that makes our residential streets lovely. And notably neighbourhoods in Toronto have the highest percentage of carbon capture capability, although this is declining as trees and soft landscape are removed. So, it is vital to have policies requiring that trees and green space on individual lots be retained amidst any additional density being permitted on these properties.
We’ll be watching for the City to release its full draft Bloor-Yorkville Secondary Plan. It will also include the results of the Cultural Heritage Resource Assessment that has been underway for some time and related plans to preserve the cultural heritage so intrinsic to our area.
Get the latest info
Please add yourself to get direct updates from the City. It’s easy – just register your email address under the Stay Informed heading at the bottom of the webpage Bloor-Yorkville Secondary Plan.