Quarry plan overshadowed by ‘beast to the east’

Scarborough councillors have approved plans for 300 homes, a park and a big-box store on the west side of the Birch Cliff quarry lands.

But they had sharp words for what one councillor called the “beast to the east” – a 1968 plan, still in force, that permits Gerrard-Clonmore Developments to build a ring of four 23- to 27-storey apartments next door.

Build Toronto, a corporation tasked with selling the city’s surplus real estate, won praise when its mixed-use plan came to a vote at Scarborough Community Council on Sept. 8.

“I think we’ve got it right here, with a balanced approach,” said local councillor Gary Crawford.

“I really hope we can get it right on the second, more difficult portion that GCD owns.”

 In a plan recently approved by Scarborough Community Council, Build Toronto will begin developing the west side of the Birch Cliff quarry lands by building a single-storey big-box store at Victoria Park Avenue and Musgrave Street, across from a pair of supermarket plazas. Most recently the site of a driving range until 2012, the land has been otherwise vacant site since the early 1960s. PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

In a plan recently approved by Scarborough Community Council, Build Toronto will begin developing the west side of the Birch Cliff quarry lands by building a single-storey big-box store at Victoria Park Avenue and Musgrave Street, across from a pair of supermarket plazas. Most recently the site of a driving range until 2012, the land has been otherwise vacant site since the early 1960s.
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

Mostly vacant since 1963, the quarry lands include nearly 40 acres at Victoria Park Avenue and Gerrard Street East.

Once home to a gravel quarry, a brick works, and then a landfill, the property is now overgrown by thickets and meadows. A CN railway line borders the north and there is a gas station and auto garage at the south end, but otherwise the property is surrounded by shopping plazas and two-storey homes.

Bill Bryck, president of Build Toronto, told Scarborough council that its development will suit those surroundings.

Since 2013, Build has held a dozen public meetings on the project and Bryck said it has formed a good relationship with Concerned Citizens for Quarry Lands Development, a residents’ group that has opposed the east-side highrise plan since 1972.

“I believe that our development reflects the wishes of the neighbourhood,” said Bryck.

If it goes as planned, the first phase of Build’s development will see a single-storey big-box store built at Victoria Park and Musgrave Street with two levels of underground parking off Victoria Park and a smaller surface lot off Musgrave – a street that will be extended east to meet a new north-south street in the new residential neighbourhood.

Sales from that retail phase will fund the soil remediation and other work needed before Build constructs any homes.

So far, Bryck said soil tests show “significantly less” methane below Build’s portion of the quarry lands, which was only used to bury hard demolition waste, than the GCD property to the east, where one pit was briefly used for regular city garbage.

Of the 300 homes that Build proposes, 180 will be suites in an eight-storey apartment building, while another 120 will be in three- and four-storey townhouses.

Thirty of the homes will be sold as affordable housing, with six apartments going for $185,000 in 2015 dollars. Another 24 two- and three-bedroom townhouses are expected to be built by Habitat for Humanity for $218,000 or $260,000.

Between the homes, which have an irregular layout mainly because the site is criss-crossed by trunk sewers and water mains, Build plans a central 2.2-acre park. Another two acres are set aside for a linear park that would run along the railway berm.

That park layout drew opposition from two parties at Scarborough council: a resident with a 550-signature petition asking for a larger park that preserves more of the re-naturalized quarry lands, and a lawyer for GCD.

The resident, Bernadette Warren, asked Build to consider cancelling or moving its northernmost block of townhouses to expand the linear park by the rail line, adding that its central park borders a pair of auto centres.

“Everyone I spoke to wants viable green space large enough to accommodate a growing community — not a park sandwiched between a Shell station and a garage,” she said.

Isaiah Banach, a lawyer for GCD, listed Build’s park layout as one of three problems it sees with Build’s plan.

For decades, Banach said, Toronto’s official plan called for a 4.6-acre park right beside the site it zoned for one of GCD’s 24-storey apartment towers. The Build plan reconfigures that park, which has only existed on paper, and shifts it further west, beyond a block of townhouses.

“It’s a matter of good planning principles,” said Banach, noting that GCD was expecting the park to act as a buffer between its apartments and any buildings to the west.

Now, Banach said, the GCD apartments will likely cast summer shadows on the nearest townhouses.

“Our client thinks they are simply too close together.”

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, who led a failed bid to swap land with GCD so that Build Toronto could develop the entire quarry lands as one site, reacted with disbelief.

“Am I to take from this that the owner, your client, is concerned about the well-being of the people living in those new townhouses?” he asked.

“Is not one way of doing that lowering the height of his buildings?”

After hearing all the complexities involved in Build’s proposal, “a very complicated dance that’s gone on for decades,” De Baeremaeker said he decided to support the plan.

“I do think Build, the local councillor and the community have done an amazing job given the batch of scrambled eggs they were given,” he said.

As for the towers planned by GCD, which he admits the company has “old, old approvals” for, De Baeremaeker said he hopes GCD’s legal team will advise it to “make peace with the city, make peace with the neighbours, and come up with a better urban form.”


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