In toronto real estate, a bold new legacy park pitched by public officials for the downtown core, being dubbed Toronto’s Central Park, would link long-separated neighbourhoods and provide much needed green space.
That’s the hope of Mayor John Tory, local politicians and senior planning officials in the newly announced attempt to secure the rights to the air space over the rail corridor between Bathurst St. and Blue Jays Way to build a 21-acre deck park now being called Rail Deck Park.
Although the city made its intentions clear Wednesday, there are still many unknowns. Most critical is how to pay for the construction and maintenance of such a significant space with looming budget pressures ahead. And a project of this size, according to those pitching it, is still many years in the making.
With an area just larger than 16 regulation football fields, the proposed park would dwarf all other green spaces in the core. It’s an open space that chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat said could be “our Central Park” — a “grand civic gesture” in a part of Toronto experiencing unprecedented residential growth and one that is also the most deficient in parkland.
With Tory’s backing of a concept long considered but never acted on, the city will now move to secure the area as open space.
“If we protect it now, we will create the opportunity to deck over these rail lands and create a bold new public park,” Tory said at a news conference Wednesday in CityPlace on the south side of the rail corridor. “People will be able to gaze at the skyline on the one hand, while enjoying the feeling of grass under their feet in one and the same place.”
The city must first secure the rail corridor’s air rights, currently owned by CN Rail and Toronto Terminals Railway (TTR), which is owned by both CN and Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). It’s unclear whether the rail companies have considered selling those rights and at what cost.
Tory said there have been “some very positive preliminary discussions.”
In a statement, a CN spokesman, Mark Hallman, said it is aware of the proposal but has “no further comment at this time.” TTR did not immediately respond to questions Wednesday.
The city may have the upper hand in negotiations if council moves to designate the area as open space, limiting any development over the corridor to public use. But that move would be subject to appeal at the provincially legislated Ontario Municipal Board, which deals with land disputes and has the power to overturn zoning amendments.
City officials must also deliberate with Via Rail and the province’s transit arm, Metrolinx, which is implementing electrified GO Rail service along that corridor. Electrification would mean overhead infrastructure would have to be taken into consideration.
Metrolinx said they plan to work with the city to make sure operations are not affected by the proposed deck park.
Judging by signature parks in other cities, Tory said, the cost to build the park is “tens of millions of dollars” per acre, what is expected to be roughly estimated in a forthcoming city staff report.
The city has the ability to collect cash from developers looking to build beyond height and density allowances, money that can be allocated to the creation of the park.
The King-Spadina area is one of the fastest growing in the city, with more than 40 applications for primarily condo towers submitted to the city.
Keesmaat said 30,000 units are in the pipeline, from which development-related funds could be put toward the park.
Both the chief planner and Tory also said they will also be looking at possible donations.
“This is precisely the type of project that ought to attract private donations because it is the kind of project that redefines a city,” Keesmaat said.
The city has $29 billion worth of approved but unfunded capital projects, including the first phase of a downtown relief subway line and rebuilding of the eastern Gardiner Expressway.
Liberal MP for Spadina-Fort York Adam Vaughan, a former city councillor for the area, called the proposal a “brilliant idea” on Wednesday. He said the federal government would consider the project if the city applied as part of the next phase of yet-to-be announced infrastructure funding.
In toronto neighbourhood, Rail Deck Park is the third (but largest) park proposed in Ward 20 (Trinity-Spadina) this term of council, following a $25-million private donation to develop 10 acres of land under a western portion of the Gardiner Expressway and a move by Councillor Joe Cressy to possibly expropriate a parking lot to build a nearly one-acre park on Richmond St.
“It’s something special, because this signature central park, it’s not just for downtown residents, it will be a central destination for all of Toronto,” said Cressy of Rail Deck Park. “There is not 21 acres available in downtown Toronto. We need to be bold and innovate and think about how you utilize underutilized spaces.”
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