An ambitious development could introduce major change to this tiny west-end neighborhood.
While the brownfield on Sterling Road just east of the West Toronto Railpath is known to most as a first-class eyesore, a proposed development might not only revitalize the property, but possibly also the chronically underdeveloped Junction Triangle neighbourhood that surrounds it. That is, if the City of Toronto and corporate interests can agree it should be built.
The Junction Triangle is enclosed by three sets of railway tracks, a tall, skinny area that roughly runs south and west of Lansdowne and Dupont, narrowing to a point at Dundas West. It’s a bit south and a bit east of the Junction—the two are distinct neighbourhoods—and hasn’t yet seen the same revitalization the Junction has. The brownfield in the Junction Triangle was formerly Tower Automotive, a sheet-casing facility built in the early 20th century that closed in 2006. Its machining buildings have since been razed, though a 10-storey tower, designated a heritage property and popular with urban explorers, still stands. Castlepoint Realty Partners purchased the property in 2008. Their hope is to turn the area into a mixed-use neighborhood, in the vein of Liberty Village or the Distillery District.
The existing community itself–staunchly divided between residents who prefer the character of the mixed-income neighborhood that’s already there and those longing to live in the next Junction–appears to be of two minds regarding the development. Castlepoint has hosted a number of town halls to solicit input and support, and local residents have come out in droves: one meeting held during a massive snowstorm still attracted 75 people.
As it stands, the Junction Triangle is host to a motley crew of businesses and services, including a circus school, an axe throwing league, a tea shop with errant opening hours, the Academy of the Impossible, and bizarre concert spaces. It has a unique liminal character amidst the usual well-traversed neighborhoods; whether the development augments or destroys this character is the question at stake.
Some residents, such as South Perth and Sterling Road Residents Association co-chair Philip Share, look forward to the redevelopment of this grimly industrial and formerly crime-ridden corner of Toronto. Others, such as Kevin Putnam, co-founder of the Fuzzy Boundaries project that gave the Junction Triangle its name, who enjoy the unpretentious nature of their ‘hood, are less optimistic.
“Gentrification will only ever be very limited here. We’re not Roncesvalles, or the Junction,” said Putnam. “We’re a neighbourhood surrounded by train tracks, we have three public housing projects and a housing co-op. This neighborhood will always be a mixed income neighborhood, it’s never going to get gentrified.”
The proposal is nothing if not ambitious: modern townhouses would co-exist with multi-story residential buildings, housing 1,500 people in total. Castlepoint has also promised, in partnership with Artscape, to include approximately seventy affordable live-work spaces.
The development’s commercial space would house high-tech businesses dedicated to cloud computing and solar technology, and there would also be boutique-style retail, facing on a central square with a fountain that converts to a skating rink in winter. At any rate, that’s what Castlepoint Managing Partner John O’Keefe hopes will happen. He estimates the project, when complete, would add 3,000 jobs to the area.
As the Junction Triangle is notoriously cut off from the city by its multiple train tracks, the development would link to the Railpath, and would include a pedestrian bridge over the east set of tracks.
Castlepoint’s plan is robust, but its execution hasn’t been easy, nor is it assured. Contamination of the land was extensive–Castlepoint partnered with Rio Tinto Alcan Inc. to remove existing hydrocarbons and VOCs. A ground water filter was installed, and 50,000 tons of soil were removed and replaced. Well testing and monitoring will be ongoing.
Zoning and environmental approvals are still pending. Though Castlepoint plans to begin construction this fall, with completion scheduled for the next two to three years (according to O’Keefe), the area is still largely zoned for business activity. While the developer has filed for a zoning amendment, a preliminary report issued in January by the City put off a definitive decision until after June 18.
That is the date when the results of a city-wide review will be released that will look at all land intended for business. It may be that the Sterling Road property’s fate will hinge on a broader City mandate.
Objections raised by Nestlé, the owner of a chocolate manufacturing facility directly south of the Castlepoint property, will also come into play. A letter dated August 19, 2011 from Nestlé’s legal representation objected to their facility co-existing with a significant new residential neighbourhood.
“[T]he inappropriate or thoughtless juxtaposition of industrial and residential uses inevitably leads to complaints by the residential occupants,” the letter states. “[A] handful of sensitive persons can set in motion a process that could ultimately hamper the normal industrial operation of Nestlé and other industrial users on Sterling Road.”
Nestlé’s lawyers said further, in a February 7 email to Torontoist, that “All of the [sic] Nestlé’s concerns remain intact and continue to be advanced.”
The City appears to be listening. Lynda Macdonald of the City Planning department acknowledged that her office would be looking closely at how the Nestlé facility would be affected by a new mixed-use development.
“[Nestlé’s] not the deciding factor, but they are important,” said Macdonald. “So the process we need to go through is: what’s the effect of this project on Nestlé staying there and what can we do to make sure they’re protected, long-term, and that they don’t make a decision to move outside of the city, because that’s clearly not in Toronto’s interests.”
With a number of government, corporate, and community interests at stake, whether the Junction Triangle will become the next Liberty Village or not remains to be seen.
Junction Triangle map by SimonP, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.