Backgrounder #2: Rail Deck Park (September 15, 2016)
The staff report to the September 22 meeting of the City’s Executive Committee seeks Council direction to initiate planning for a significant new park over the rail corridor between Bathurst Street and Blue Jays Way called “Rail Deck Park.”
The report outlines a proposed work plan, to be completed by the end of 2017, for (i) Official Plan Amendments to establish a park above the rail corridor and (ii) an Implementation Strategy for Rail Deck Park.
The implementation strategy includes a review of real estate & property ownership matters, a preliminary structural design & engineering analysis, a partnership strategy, and a financial analysis.
The need for this park was identified as part of the City’s downtown planning study, TOcore. As part of TOcore, the City is developing a Parks and Public Realm Plan, which will create a blueprint for a connected, expanded and diverse parks and public realm system in the downtown that maintains liveability in the face of continued population and employment growth. The work completed under TOcore is pointing to the urgent need to address park provision in one of the most park-deficient areas of the city. As the city continues to grow, investments in vital physical and social infrastructure must keep pace. Without these investments the city risks its envied liveability and will be challenged to consider future growth.
Currently the rail corridor is a physical barrier between the King-Spadina neighbourhood, City Place and the Waterfront. Knitting these two communities together through the development of Rail Deck Park increases accessibility to the community assets each neighbourhood provides and offers a seamless transition from north to south. It is the “missing link” in the downtown urban fabric.
This new legacy park has the potential to be bold and innovative, drawing residents from around the city, and those visiting the city, providing them with an experience that is unique to Toronto. The park will be developed with substantial public involvement. A key focus will be bringing together a broad range of stakeholders – from potential corporate sponsors, foundations and other philanthropic organizations to design experts and community groups to advance Rail Deck Park as a partnership-based city building project.
The western portion of the rail corridor is the last opportunity to secure a large park downtown to serve the local community and the entire city. Rail Deck Park is a long-term, civic project that likely would be phased to align with population growth, creating a legacy for future generations.
To advance the Rail Deck Park project, the report recommends a work plan that:
- Initiates Official Plan Amendments for the Railway Lands Central and West Secondary Plans to create the planning framework to support a rail deck park
- Initiates Zoning Bylaw amendments necessary to support the Official Plan Amendments
- Develops an Implementation Strategy (including a real estate analysis, stakeholder engagement including property owners, detailed structural design and engineering analysis, costing and funding analysis, partnership framework to support community and corporate involvement in the development and funding of the park).
Initiating an Official Plan Amendment will lead to the establishment of principles of development and a clear prioritization of land uses. The priorities for any decking of the rail corridor must consider the pressures that have already resulted from the surrounding growth, with additional significant growth projected to 2041 in the neighbourhood, and will include parkland, connections between the adjacent neighbourhoods and the opportunity for an RER station at Spadina and Front.
Decking is feasible – the development application at 45 Bay Street includes decking the rail corridor for open space, while projects completed and under construction in New York (Hudson Yards) and Chicago (Millennium Park) demonstrate the feasibility of decking an active rail corridor. Preliminary analysis of the rail corridor indicates that the project is technically feasible, although a design and engineering analysis will be done to understand the exact requirements for a rail deck. Additional issues which will be addressed in developing the Implementation Strategy include permissions and/or agreements with the property owners and detailed project costs/funding options.
Size of rail corridor study area:
Total area Bathurst to Blue Jays Way – 21 acres (8.5 hectares)
- Millennium Park (Chicago) 24 acres – $33 million/acre (2016 $CDN)
- Hudson Yards (New York) 26 acres – $77 million/acre (2016 $CDN)
- Manhattan West (New York) 5 acres – $86 million/acre (2016 $CDN)
(Land in King-Spadina (to purchase for parkland) – $30-$60 million/acre)
Rail corridor ownership
- The ownership is complex, with multiple interests in the corridor.
- Metrolinx, CN and Toronto Terminal Railways, along with a number of parties have interests in the corridor.
- The City will work to determine ownership and initiate discussions with all interested parties to advance the Rail Deck Park.
- Downtown residential population is projected to double in the next 25 years to almost 475,000 people.
- In the last five years, downtown population has grown by 50,000 residents.
- In the neighbourhoods immediately adjacent to the rail corridor – King Spadina and CityPlace – combined population has gone from 1,000 in 1996 to just under 40,000 today with an additional 30,000 expected through future development (approvals and applications).
- Along with population growth, downtown employment growth is also significant – today approximately 500,000 jobs are located in the downtown with close to 76,000 new jobs added since 2010, a 17.5 per cent increase over 5 years.
- According to the 2011 Transportation Tomorrow Survey, approximately 830,000 people come into downtown every day. Today, this number is likely much higher.
- Through the advancement of the work plan described in the staff report, staff will report back on a financial strategy as part of the implementation strategy.
- The plan will identify options to enhance growth-oriented revenues so that local development activity can fund a significant portion of the Rail Deck Park project.
- These “growth-oriented” sources, such as Cash-in-lieu of Parkland Dedication (“Section 42”) funds, Section 37 benefits and Development Charges, leverage the value of development activity to fund necessary supporting infrastructure investments.
- There is also the opportunity to attract donations, sponsorship and grant funding from other orders of government for both capital and long-term operating and maintenance of the park.
How the funding tools work:
- Section 42 of the Planning Act allows municipalities to require that land be conveyed for parkland as a condition of development or redevelopment in their Official Plan policy.
- Section 126.96.36.199 of Toronto’s Official Plan states that: “all development will be subject to the dedication of 5 per cent of lands for parks purposes for residential development and 2 per cent for all other uses unless the alternative parkland dedication rate applies.”
- The Alternative Parkland Dedication Rate is applied in Parkland Acquisition Priority Areas including the Downtown.
- The rate is 0.4 hectares of parkland per 300 units, subject to caps depending on the size of the development site, which applies to all of the Downtown.
- Section 42 also allows municipalities to accept cash-in-lieu of parkland dedication if the acquisition of parkland on a development site is deemed unsuitable. Cash-in-lieu is collected and held in reserve accounts for the purposes of parkland acquisition or parkland development.
- Cash-in-lieu is allocated to City-wide and local parkland acquisition and park development as per the Council-approved Cash-in-lieu Allocation Policy. Monies collected under the alternate rate must be used for acquisition or park development in the area in which the development-generating the funds is located.
Section 37 Benefits
- Section 37 of the Planning Act provides for the voluntary provision of community benefits by a landowner in return for additional height and/or density. Official Plan policies define a range of capital facilities that are eligible for community benefits under Section 37 including parkland acquisition and park improvements.
- The potential to secure Section 37 benefits to support eligible costs for Rail Deck Park will be evaluated as a part of the financial analysis for the project.
- Development charges (DCs) are imposed on land development and redevelopment projects to help pay for capital costs or infrastructure that is needed to service new development.
- DC revenues may be used to partially fund the growth-related share of eligible project costs for Rail Deck Park. Park development and construction costs are eligible for DC funding. Costs associated with park acquisition are not eligible. Project costs that are eligible for DC funding will be determined as further details around the project become available.
- In addition, consideration will be given towards an area-specific DC for the Rail Deck Park development. Although Toronto has historically adopted a city-wide charge, it is appropriate to consider an area-specific DC in Downtown to support a park development of this scale. Consideration will be given to the advantages and disadvantages of the two approaches in the context of the Rail Deck Park project, and opportunities to maximize the ability for development to contribute funding to the park.
- The downtown area includes 121 parks covering 100 hectares (247 acres), approximately 6 per cent of the land area (excluding the Toronto Island Parks).
- Most of downtown falls within the City’s lowest parkland provision rates at less than .45 ha (approximately 1 acre) per 1,000 people.
- 75 per cent of these parks are less than 0.5 hectares which is considered a parkette and provides limited opportunity for range of recreation, sports and community programming.
- Over the past ten years, the City has secured 21 new or expanded parks in Downtown neighbourhoods or the equivalent of 19.6 hectares (48.4 acres) through parkland and cash-in-lieu dedications and master planning.
- Purchasing new parkland is difficult in a competitive downtown real estate market where land prices are high.
- With growth projected to increase to 475,000 residents in 2041, the City would need to secure an additional 256 hectares (633 Acres) of parkland to raise the Local Parkland Provision Level to the City’s median rate of 0.78 hectares (approximately 2 acres) per 1,000 people. This is equivalent to more than one and half times the size High Park.
Comparable park sizes
- Allan Gardens – 13.2 acres (5.4 hectares)
- Corktown Common – 17.7 acres (7.2 hectares)
- Trinity Bellwoods – 37 acres (14.6 hectares)
- Toronto Island Parks – 417 acres (169 hectares)
- Christie Pits – 21.8 acres (8.8 hectares)
- Eglinton Park – 22.5 acres (9.1 hectares)
- High Park – 400 acres (161 acres)
- Centennial Park – 529 acres (214.3 hectares)
- Sunnybrook Park – 380 acres (154 hectares)
- Newtonbrook Park – 49 acres (19.87 hectares)
- McCowan District Park – 50.53 acres (20.45 hectares)
- Humber Bay Park East – 51 acres (20.63 hectares)
Existing planning framework
- Railway Lands West (1991) and Central (1994) Secondary Plans provide policy guidance, but at this time both plans require a review
- Both Secondary Plans contemplate decking, but this is only permitted through Official Plan amendments that would establish appropriate land uses and decking considerations
- Existing zoning – “T” Transportation, height limit of 15 metres
- Metrolinx owns a mixed-use parcel at the southwest corner of Front and Spadina which permits a non-residential building up to 76 metres in height. This is where the RER station could be located
- Planning work on the Official Plan Amendment will draw on the City’s Official Plan policy framework as well as the most recent work being done as part of the TOcore planning study
Downtown family demographics
In a recent survey as part of the City’s GrowingUp study, families noted that the three most important qualities they are looking for in a neighbourhood when raising children in high rise communities are:
1) Schools and child care (62.5 per cent)
2) Easy access to green spaces and playgrounds (51 per cent)
3) Availability of recreation activities (47 per cent)
- 18,020 households with children live in the downtown
- 66 per cent of households live in mid-rise or tall buildings
- 56 per cent of households with children live in two-bedroom homes
Downtown residents’ mode of travel to get to work
Connecting and improving accessibility in the downtown is critical to supporting the travel patterns of downtown residents and workers:
- 75 per cent walk, cycle or take transit