Portlands project to remain 30-year plan

The one-year Accelerated Waterfront Initiative mandated by Mayor Rob Ford is winding up with a report to council that at least one participant at the fourth and final public consultation Aug. 8 referred to as “underwhelming.”
The report, which is to go to executive committee in September and full city council in October, makes a series of recommendations for a long-term, five-phased approach expected to unfold over 30 years. It reflects current concerns over public funding issues, and also differs significantly from the concept presented at the third meeting in May.
The difference seems to reflect a collision with and concession to reality, especially in the fact that the Port Lands are and will remain a functional commercial port and that private, long-term commercial landowners’ needs have to be respected.
Those interests are principally Redpath Sugar on the eastern waterfront and Lafarge Cement on Polson Quay.
The major issue seems to have been that in the process of accelerating the initiative, some fairly major issues (such as private commercial interests) weren’t taken into consideration early in the process. That can be viewed as the inevitable result of a complex process “accelerated” by political mandate from the mayor’s office, or, (as Waterfront Toronto officials pointed out several times during the Aug. 8 consultation) simply another stage in evolution of a very complex, long-term and multi-stakeholder plan.
In fact, phase one of the project—which only involves the area between the current Don mouth, the Keating ship channel, the harbour and the Don Roadway—isn’t proposed to commence until 2017.
The main adjustment that had to be made between the May and August consultations involved the sacrifice of the parkland “promontory” that had been proposed to project from Polson Quay into the harbour at the projected new mouth of the Don, totalling about three hectares of landfill.
The original architect from 2007, Michael Van Valkenburgh of New York, was brought in for the redesign and presented a variation that preserved the existing straight harbour walls and quaysides as a concession to the commercial firms using them and also for winter moorings for cargo vessels. The new architectural renderings show public green space coexisting with moored ships and the industrial establishments.
The renderings also feature streetcars, in response to feedback (from the May consultation) that public transit needs had not been given enough consideration.
To read the rest of Eric Morse’s report on this topic or to see renderings from the meeting, visit www.thebulletin.ca.
While August meeting participants acknowledged that transit now had more profile, they still expressed some unease that the plans for transit were not detailed enough.
Waterfront Toronto has made it clear that almost every aspect of infrastructure in the Port Lands—including transit—needs major upgrading before it can support urban redevelopment.
The report that will go to council in September and October will contain a recommendation to concentrate on the Polson/Cousins Quay and Film Studio “precincts” first, complete the business case analysis for that area, set up landowners’ consultation groups to consider revenue-generating and funding strategies for infrastructure, and “confirm and employ” additional financing sources “if required to supplement private sector investment.”
It also recommends preserving the lower Don corridor from encroachment by developers for development of a floodway to the Keating Channel.
Other concerns that came out in the August consultation were whether the strategy to maximize revenue and profit from the Port Lands might be detrimental to the development of social housing. The indeterminate nature of the current business and revenue-generation plan was referred to, and one table noted that Federal and Provincial inputs to the process seemed to be lacking. The final table to speak—who had also referred to the proposal set as “underwhelming”—asked: “What else are we going to do to attract people to the harbour besides build residential space?”
“Over all, I think the exercise engaged the entire community,” said St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association (SLNA) chair Suzanne Kavanagh, who has been a member of the community stakeholder group for the Port Lands Advisory Committee. “The knee-jerk reaction to the [acceleration] proposals allowed the community to step back and take another look at the plan. As a result we have a better plan than when we started, more responsive to cost-effectiveness and has stronger time lines for implementation. It really is hard to keep up energy on such a huge scale and a 30-year time line and I think this has helped.”
Julie Beddoes, representative of several stakeholders groups in the Lower Don area, was more reserved.
“The version of the plan for the Lower Don we have now is probably not far from where we would have been when that approved in the EA had gone through detailed planning,” Beddoes told The Bulletin. “My main concern is that short-term cost cutting will lead to loss of long-term value, in land values as well as in amenity. This is illustrated by the way the plan defers indefinitely naturalization of the river mouth and has no realistic plan for transit. These are the things that will make the port lands attractive to the sort of development desired and without them the long-term results will be less than optimal.”