Yonge-Eglinton development meets with opposition

The Federation of North Toronto Residents Association (FoNTRA) is trying to keep the Yonge-Eglinton Centre from expanding onto its open space at the northwest corner of the intersection of Yonge and Eglinton.

FoNTRA was first made aware of the formal application when some of its members saw a posted Committee of Adjustment Notification posted on the doors of the Centre. The group is upset because the proposed two-storey building on the site would replace the existing open space, which they say is too important to give up.

George Milbrandt, co-chair of FoNTRA says the group has two major objections with the proposed plan. The fact that part of the deal when the Yonge-Eglinton Centre was built it was agreed that the space would be left there, and that the plan came about before a focus review of the area is complete.

Part of the reason for the addition is that the open space at the major intersection is not effective according to Greenwin, the company that owns the property and Eglinton-Lawrence Councillor Anne Johnston (Ward 16), who supports the plan.

"Is it usable open space? I don’t think so," says Johnston. "It’s windy, and it’s not a space that any of the people opposed to this would have used. In fact, it’s hardly being used at all."

Milbrandt disagrees, asking why the area just can’t be improved to be more conducive to becoming a leisure area.

"Our contention is, why not just improve it so people will use it?" he says. "That excuse should not be used to add further density to the development. They should come up with some ideas that would make it a leisure friendlier place."

He says that more successful open spaces usually have coffee shops or businesses that sell snacks and meals close by to keep people in the specified area. If it’s windy, he says, build a partition. For any problems with it, his group feels they should just improve it, rather than take away the open area.

St. Paul’s Councillor Michael Walker (Ward 22) opposes the proposal. Walker is part of the working group performing a study on the intersection and would like to see Greenwin hold off on their plans until some conclusions can be reached.

Walker says the corner was a site specific zoning approval several decades ago, and over the years a series of incremental committee of adjustment decisions centred around it. He says that a public street had to be closed off in those adjustments over the years to make room for an apartment building, a shopping centre and a theatre complex.

"It’s time to say that’s all this corner can take," he says. "One of the agreements was we’d always have open space, if you turn it into a commercial area with a glass roof it isn’t open anymore. It’s only open to anyone with a wallet that wants to pay for it.

Walker says he sees nothing altruistic about this exercise, and adds "if they can get it, they make more money."

Milbrandt admits more building would mean more revenue for the cash-strapped city, especially when all levels of government have cut funding to Toronto. This, he says is another reason for a focus review.

"When you increase densities and do a lot of site specific changes when do you reach the point where you need to add to your infrastructure, whether it’s water, sewer or roads, in order to accommodate this?" he asks. "At some point you’re going to need to add to the area’s infrastructure, so doing a series of site specifics without keeping in mind the overall plan for the area is to us just poor planning."

Johnston, however, doesn’t see a problem with the plan.

"As far as I can tell there will be more places to sit and for people to gather, it will increase pedestrian comfort and accessibility for the disabled, and a more user friendly subway entrance," she recalls.

Johnston says she is aware of the number of people that like to go to the Yonge-Eglinton Centre. The proposed plan, she says, will see a brighter area that will be a nice place to congregate because of the proposed glass walls.

"Toronto is not a summer city, we’re a winter city," she says. "A lot of things go on inside the Centre, like ParticipAction and seniors’ events. The new addition will make those events better."

Milbrandt says a "wait and see" attitude is what’s needed, especially with pressure to redevelop the TTC’s space at the southwest corner of the intersection.

"We know there is a lot of pressure to redevelop the TTC land and we want to see what comes up in that context," says Milbrandt. "We’d better be able to make a decision on whether adding a two-storey addition to the Yonge-Eglinton Centre makes sense, because for all we know maybe the development of the TTC land may add additional open space."

Milbrandt admits the plan calling for the glass walls could work, but says people need open space, especially in a very densely developed area like Yonge-Eglinton.

"You need places where people can just hang out and be outside. To me it adds to the vibrancy of an area. If you don’t have a place for people to be, you become all closed in, and you have a much different kind of city."

Officials from Greenwin, the owners of the Yonge-Eglinton Centre, were unavailable for comment.