This report to Toronto & East York Community Council introduces the draft Official Plan Amendment (OPA) and proposed Rail Deck Park Secondary Plan.

The report recommends amendments to the Railway Lands West, Central and East Secondary Plans as well as adoption of the proposed Rail Deck Park Secondary Plan. A further report on Rail Deck Park will be considered by Executive Committee at its meeting of November 29, 2017.

 

The proposed Secondary Plan designates the site as Park and Open Space Areas, which is consistent with the direction of the proposed Downtown Plan, the City’s Official Plan and provincial policies. Designating this site as Parks and Open space preserves the opportunity now for a public park on this site at some point in the future.

 

It is expected that by 2041, the residential population of the Downtown Study Area will grow by 82 per cent to exceed 500,000 residents, far outpacing growth in the rest of the city. Over the same period, employment is projected to reach 758,000, adding 234,000 jobs to Canada’s largest employment cluster.

 

This growth places a great strain on existing parks in the downtown and exacerbates the already low level of parkland provisions for those living downtown. The rail corridor represents one of the only remaining opportunities to secure a large open space for parkland in the downtown.

 

The site

The draft OPA and Rail Deck Park Secondary Plan applies to the area that includes the rail corridor from Bathurst Street to Blue Jays Way, Northern Linear Park, the planned Mouth of the Creek Park and a 4-metre (14-foot) strip directly north of the rail corridor that abuts Front Street West. The Metrolinx-owned property at the corner of Spadina Avenue and Front Street t is not included. In total, the site is approximately 8.8 ha (21.7 acres).

 

Public engagement

To ensure a broad range of voices are heard, a variety of consultation activities have been undertaken, including two public meetings, an online survey, two project websites, a dedicated project email, guided park tours, interactive workshops and roundtables. Approximately 500 people participated in the two public meetings and over 300 responses were received from the online survey.

 

The next stages of the project will continue to offer opportunities to engage communities on detailed matters related to the park including park design, programming and stewardship. In early 2018, a community and stakeholder advisory committee will be established to provide targeted feedback throughout the planning and implementation process.

 

Official Plan Amendment and Rail Deck Park Secondary Plan

 

Draft Official Plan Amendment (OPA)

The draft OPA establishes an updated planning framework for the area in and around the rail corridor between Bathurst Street and Blue Jays Way for Rail Deck Park. It is achieved in part through the proposed Rail Deck Park Secondary Plan. The amendments respond to Council’s direction through a previous staff report to provide an updated planning framework for a park use over the rail corridor. This direction is supported by the work being undertaken for TOcore, the proposed Downtown Plan.

 

The proposed Secondary Plan contains policies that provide a basis for comprehensive development of a decking structure and a new large public park over the rail corridor.

 

Vision and objectives

In consultation with the public and other key stakeholders, a vision was developed for the park. The vision is for a bold transformation of the space above the active rail corridor into a signature public park for the local community as well as acting as a major destination for all Toronto to enjoy. Objectives of this public space include making connections across the rail corridor between neighbourhoods, between cultural and entertainment facilities, and to connect investments made in other areas such as the Bentway and the proposed Spadina-Front GO RER station.

 

This will be one of the most significant public projects in Toronto’s history. The proposed Secondary Plan provides the building blocks, objectives and desired outcomes for Rail Deck Park. There are six objectives outlined in the report:

  1. Provide a park for all of Toronto
  2. Enhance connectivity and accessibility
  3. Create a place to gather and celebrate
  4. Invest in resiliency and green infrastructure
  5. Support and integrate rail
  6. Acknowledge and conserve the history of the railway lands.

 

Study findings

The findings of the planning study have provided direction for the development of the draft OPA and proposed Rail Deck Park Secondary Plan. These key findings present a recommended land use for the site and outline the rationale that supports this use.

 

A: The recommended land use designation is Parks and Open Space

Factors that contributed to this recommended land use include:

  • The unprecedented population and employment growth seen in the downtown
  • Parkland provision has not kept pace with rapid growth seen in the downtown
  • The downtown presents significant challenges for acquiring parkland
  • There is an unmet need for a centrally-located, large park in the downtown
  • The site is the last and best opportunity to provide a large park in the downtown
  • Other land uses: the downtown will meet growth targets without development on this site

 

B: Achieving Complete Communities

The proposed Secondary Plan supports the development of a large public park over the rail corridor and is consistent with provincial and municipal policy objectives to achieve complete communities and support liveability. Providing public service facilities, a supply of safe and publicly accessible open spaces, parks, trails and other recreational facilities is key to achieving complete communities.

 

C: Economic Development, Tourism and Global Competitiveness

Large-scale parks within urban centres have significant economic development spin-off effects, advance tourism, and contribute to global competitiveness. Rail Deck Park will make Toronto a better place to visit, work and do business. This has been seen in many other cities around the world, where large urban parks have been constructed near important cultural and entertainment facilities. These facilities draw more visitors and encourage people to stay longer.

 

D: Transportation and Connectivity

Rail Deck Park will be one of Toronto’s most connected and accessible parks given the park’s location, scale and access to various modes of transit. The proposed park provides an opportunity to strengthen connections between the Rogers Centre, Ripley’s Aquarium, CN Tower, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Air Canada Centre, Fort York, the future Bentway and Exhibition Place further west.

 

Rail Deck Park also creates visible and green connections between these institutions, between neighbourhoods, and connects the city north of Front Street to the lake. These connections will be made in part by enhancing the trail and cycling network through the site.

 

In the TOcore Parks and Public Realm Plan, Front Street is identified as a “Great Street.” The plan requires Great Streets to be designed to reinforce the identity of the street and its context. Front Street provides an opportunity to support enhanced connectivity with high quality streetscape design.

 

The Rail Deck Park site (currently a barrier between neighbourhoods) presents an opportunity to improve upon and expand existing active transportation routes within the downtown.

 

Planning and design for the proposed Rail Deck Park will be coordinated and integrated with the Spadina-Front GO RER Station which is expected to be a busy local and regional destination station.

 

E: Heritage

The proposed Secondary Plan provides policy direction to ensure that the development of a park over the rail corridor that supports and conserves heritage resources within and around the Railway Lands.

 

F: Environment

Greening the rail corridor would improve safety, sustainability and residency for the City of Toronto. The proposed Secondary Plan contains policy direction to ensure appropriate environmental conditions, and to pursue the significant opportunities that the park presents for enhancing sustainability and resiliency.

 

G: Rail Coordination

Rail Deck Park is compatible with current and future rail operations.

 

Implementation

The proposed Secondary Plan is intended to guide the development of Rail Deck Park. The OPA includes necessary changes to the City of Toronto Official Plan and the Railway Lands West, Central and East Secondary Plans.

 

The Rail Deck Park Secondary Plan will be supported by a future Park Master Plan, which will consist of a set of detailed designs, plans, and diagrams, as well as park programming and other matters. The park Master Plan will be used as a tool to ensure appropriate development consistent with the Rail Deck Park Secondary Plan.

 

This report recommends adoption of the proposed Rail Deck Park Secondary Plan and associated Official Plan Amendments.

 

Additional material

 

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Media contact: Bruce Hawkins, Strategic Communications, 416-392-3496, bhawkin@toronto.ca