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Future passengers need to be found for Sheppard line

City to unveil plans for dense developments along subway route to make it worth running

Globe and Mail
Monday, April 3, 2000

Russ Carrington doesn’t want the hole at the end of his block to swallow his community.

The trench is for a $1-billion subway line on Sheppard Avenue East that many believe was ill-conceived.

To justify the capacity of thousands of riders an hour, Toronto is now trying to create some of the densest developments ever built in the city along the line.

That puts the squeeze on people like Mr. Carrington and his neighbours in the Bayview Manor subdivision.

Tomorrow evening, plans will be unveiled for high-rises to house as many as 12,000 people to the east of the present 120 homes.

To the west, near Bayview Avenue, single-family homes are already being bulldozed for condominium buildings as tall as 28 storeys.

“There should never have been a subway in such a low-density area,” said architect Michael Kirkland, who is designing the new community on land now occupied by a Canadian Tire warehouse.

Mr. Kirkland, who is also one of the architects of the proposed waterfront redevelopment, said the new subway should have been built on Eglinton Avenue, where many more people already live and where more sites are suited for intense development.

Sheppard was chosen because Mayor Mel Lastman wanted to see the subway in North York, where he was mayor when the line was approved eight years ago.

The result is a stub of a subway that will open in 2002 and run only from Yonge Street to Don Mills Road, most of it through areas of single-family housing.

Mr. Kirkland said there will be continual pressure to build more along the line. To make the subway worth running, it should ideally have apartments for three blocks in either direction from the line, he said.

But municipal governments didn’t have the nerve to rezone the street, so the result will be some of the densest developments ever built in the city in the midst of private homes on large lots.

Mr. Kirkland said designers have been anxious to avoid the 1970s style of apartment development described as “towers in the park,” but which typically became “towers in the parking lot.”

The plan for the Canadian Tire site includes condominiums, stores, an entertainment complex and commuter parking. The buildings alongside Bayview Manor will be the least tall, to help “finesse the transition to the single-family homes,” Mr. Kirkland said.

The plans will be shown at the North York Civic Centre starting at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow.

“My concern is we are going to be building a community larger than many towns in Ontario on a very small area,” said Councillor Joan King, who represents the large Bayview Village subdivision on the north side of Sheppard, which will remain single-family housing.

“We’ve got to think. We’ve got to make sure we put in enough amenities,” she said. Parks, school lands and a firehall are being written into the plans for the high-density developments.

Ms. King believes the existing population density on Sheppard justifies a subway. The area from Highway 401 to Finch Avenue along Don Mills Road is already one of the highest-density areas of Toronto, with many large apartment buildings, she said. The Leslie Street station is destined to be a major transfer point because the GO train line to northern suburbs stops there as well, she said.

Councillor David Shiner said determined neighbourhoods reduced the original plans for denser development along Sheppard. The original plan five years ago envisioned a population of 60,000 along the subway corridor to the east of Bayview. That was reduced to about 34,000, in part because residents in neighbourhoods west of Bayview fought plans for a Willowdale station.

Neighbourhoods to the west of Yonge continue to oppose extension of the Sheppard subway west of Yonge, which would connect with more destinations that would draw riders.

Mr. Kirkland predicts the subway will be underutilized. Studies show that if people have to transfer more than once on their way to work, they will use a car if they have the option. That will create pressure to replace the subdivisions with more intense development to get a bigger population of potential subway users along Sheppard.

Meanwhile, many residents of Bayview Manor are determined to hang on. Mr. Carrington distributed a survey to each home, and all but three of the replies supported keeping the area the way it is.

While Mr. Carrington said he has heard some people say they think in the long term the property values will go up and they could sell out to developers at a profit, he believes there will always be a place for single-family homes along Sheppard.

“We have a good community and it seems to work. I think that’s worth a lot,” he said.