Block 31 opponents score planning victory, G20 looms

By Dennis Hanagan –

Community planning volunteers have scored their first victory of the 2010 construction season as a controversial community housing project is sent back to the drawing board.
A letter to Ward 20 Coun. Adam Vaughan from an official with the Toronto Community Housing Corp.(TCHC) says the corporation has decided to take another look at its plans for the Block 31 housing complex on railway lands near Bathurst and Front streets.
Vaughan presented copies of the letter from TCHC housing development manager Peter Zimmerman to about 50 members of the public at a meeting on March 22 at Metro Hall.
“Based on a number of considerations brought forward by many stakeholders, we have decided to stand down the application as it was originally submitted to explore significant revisions to the development,” Zimmerman said in the letter dated the same day as the community meeting.
Vaughan credited the Block 31 working group for the corporation’s decision to revise its plans.
“They’ve heard the concerns of the working group. They’re literally recalibrating,” Vaughan told the meeting. “They’ll come back to the community before submitting the designs. We’ll workshop again…and break down into work groups to deal with specific details.”
At the March 22 meeting, residents expressed concerns about how parts of the development would block views and cast shadows on adjacent properties.
Vaughan said TCHC has been asked to revisit the height and location of the tower and its floor plate.
Issues about additional visitor parking, traffic movements, including school buses, and the social mix in Block 31 have also been raised. One thing about the plan cannot be changed:
“This project must accommodate affordable housing,” Vaughan said.
In his letter, Zimmerman said, “there will be no one solution to developing this site…The ultimate plan will involve some compromises all around.” He added that the revision process “will take several months to complete.”
Vaughan gave updates on other topics at the meeting, including a pedestrian bridge to cross the railway tracks, parkland, traffic and the G20 summit slated for June 26 and 27 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Front Street West.
The 110-metre bridge will span the tracks north to south with an access at Front St. near Portland St. It will have decorative lighting, video monitors for public safety, and measures to prevent suicides and “projectiles.” It will serve cyclists as well as pedestrians.
Construction is to start in June, and Vaughan pointed out one of its features is an abstract design of a horse’s head to represent the Iron Horse or, in other words, the railway.
“This ties in with the history of the area,” said Vaughan.
Vaughan also discussed parkland that remains fenced off at the CityPlace neighbourhood. Residents are eager to make use of it, and Vaughan expressed hope that it will open soon.
“We should have it open in time for spring. That park is coming, I promise you.”
One resident spoke about preventing U-turns northbound on Spadina at Bremner Boulevard. Another called for more crosswalks in the area because when it comes to pedestrians “traffic is not paying attention.”
One woman was annoyed about illegal parking on Fort York Boulevard west of Spadina, saying it makes a narrow street “even tinier.”
“What’s your solution?” asked Vaughan. “Maybe have more tow trucks,” the woman suggested.
Another resident wanted to know why pedestrians who cross east to west and vice versa at Front and Spadina can do so only on the north side of the intersection.
“All this area was planned for car traffic,” said Vaughan. “All pedestrian infrastructure has been subjected to pro car. The reality is people walk in this neighbourhood.”
The G20 summit proved to be another topic of interest to meeting attendees looking for confirmation of the actual areas to be affected.
Vaughan asserts that the secure zone is to be bounded by Queen, Yonge, Lakeshore and Spadina, even though a Toronto Police Services official working on the summit has been quoted as saying the area won’t be that large.
Vaughan said it appears the federal government will talk to the city about posting a bond to compensate businesses in the secure zone in case they lose revenue due to the tight security restrictions or have their properties damaged due to protests. A meeting is set for April 29 at Metro Hall to tell residents more about the security measures. Vaughan said 28,000 people will be affected and suggested residents contact the prime minister’s office to let him know how the zone will create problems.