A proposed bylaw could transform unused spaces into markets, doctors' offices, and community centres.
The City of Toronto is exploring the possibility of using more commercial and community spaces in highrise apartment properties. Proposed new zoning rules would allow property owners and residents to turn unused spaces into markets, doctors’ offices, banks, health centres, and community centres.
The City is revisiting the current rules—which prohibit such uses—to address highrise dwellers’ need for amenities within walking distance. Many neighbourhoods lack local services, because they were developed with the assumption that residents would own cars and be able to drive to their shopping and service destinations. Highrise neighbourhood tenants, though, are increasingly low-income, and are actually more likely than other Torontonians to walk or use transit.
The City hosted the last of six public meetings on “Residential Apartment Commercial” zoning last week in the Pape Avenue and Cosburn Avenue area, near a dense block of large apartment buildings along Cosburn. According to Graeme Stewart, an architect who worked with the City to develop the proposed zoning rules, tenants could benefit from expanded use of apartment parking lots and ground floor spaces.
“The big idea is to get more life and energy into these places where thousands of people are living,” Stewart told the gathering of about 40 people at Bethany Baptist Church. “It gets pretty rough when you don’t have a car and you have to walk for kilometres to get to the grocery store.”
Local residents Deric Varcoe and Michelle Hayes told us that they support the proposal, and that they currently live in a condo building that includes a local community organization. “If it’s bringing in more local business, it’s definitely a good thing,” Hayes said. Varcoe added, “In our case, we don’t mind living above a community centre. We know they’re going to be somewhere in the neighbourhood anyway, so why not in our building?”
Jennifer Kim of East York Community Kitchen told us in an interview that groups like hers need community spaces to provide their programming. “We are really trying to meet the needs of community. These new rules would give us better access to the people we’re already working with.” Kim cited a 2012 neighbourhood study, which found that residents in the Pape Village area have access to few community and social services within walking distance.
Local resident Kathy Chung was curious about how business development along Cosburn might affect Pape Avenue. “The revitalization of Pape Avenue is more important to me as a resident than the development of Cosburn Avenue.” Chung said. Others wondered whether new businesses might create noise and garbage issues. City staff say that commercial operators would be responsible for garbage issues, and that noisier businesses—for example, ones with outdoor patios—would not be allowed at the base of buildings.
Councillor Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29, Toronto-Danforth) said new immigrants and seniors in her ward have been asking for better access to services. “Our library, for example, is one room in the East York Community Centre,” Fragedakis said. “There is a real demand for community space in this area, and that’s why I think this idea excites people.”
A draft bylaw on the new zoning rules will go to the Planning and Growth Management Committee meeting on May 29. In the meantime, residents can submit their feedback through an online survey.