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Hemmed in by houses, residents pine for 'an oasis of parkland'

Streetcar barn area has Toronto’s fewest green spaces

By Kerry Gillespie
Toronto Star Staff Reporter

When people in this neighbourhood look at a collection of abandoned streetcar barns, they don’t see a desolate parcel of land, crisscrossed with railway tracks.

They see a park.

Residents around the Wychwood Streetcar Barns, just south of St. Clair Ave. and Christie St., are calling the 1.8 hectare property the chance of a lifetime to give their community a much needed green-space boost.

The average Toronto ward has 2.82 hectares of parkland for each 1,000 people. The community surrounding the site, which is bordered by three wards, averages only .078 hectares.

“We’re sitting at one of the most densely populated sectors of the city,” Councillor Rob Davis (York Eglinton) said. “And we have to contemplate a bad situation getting worse.”

Developers have received the go-ahead to build six new highrises within a couple blocks of the Wychwood site, he said.

The York Eglinton ward already ranks last among the city’s 28 wards for park space per resident, Davenport ranks second, while Midtown ranks seventh.

But getting a park isn’t always easy with the competing city hall policies of housing first and a zero tax hike, Davis said.

“It’ll be a challenge to balance all these admirable initiatives and win the day for a park,” Davis said, adding that he is in support of a park.

But among the planning department’s four proposals, based on direction from city hall, are three that would add considerably more housing to the area.

One proposal is almost entirely parkland and retains the 1913 street car barn - listed with heritage Toronto and believed to be the oldest structure of its kind in the city - while tearing down the other four structures built between 1916 and 1921.

The other three proposals vary the amount of parkland from 75 to 25 per cent of the site and incorporate a variety of housing from single family townhomes to five- to seven-storey highrises.

The two most housing-dense options do not retain the 1913 barn.

Many area residents are opposed to more housing.

“There has to be a balance,” Peter MacKendrick said. “We need an oasis of parkland to make the urban existence palatable.”

MacKendrick, a resident and restoration contractor, said the site will be a test for city hall.

“Life is not just about dollars and cents.

“It’s about quality as well,” he said adding that parks and community centres are vital to an area.

And besides, turning the 1913 barn into a community centre could make money - by renting out the space - for park maintenance, he said.

Other ideas for the building - complete with a 6.1-metre-high ceiling and skylights - are artist workshops, a theatre or greenhouse.

To keep the barn - “it’s a jewel, but it’s in rough shape” - will require finding a use for it, MacKendrick said.

There will be a community meeting in April where members of the city’s planning department will attempt to get a broad consensus from residents on which of the four plans they prefer, before making a presentation to councillors, who will have the final say.

The city owns the property but still has to pay the Toronto Transit Commission for it when a proper price is determined, Davis said.