Rail deck park moves ahead but questions remain
Funding park and rights to build above corridor still up in the air after Thursday meeting.
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Toronto is a small step closer to getting a 21-acre downtown park over the rail corridor but huge questions remain about paying for it and securing rights to build there at all.
Mayor John Tory’s executive committee voted unanimously Thursday to direct staff to spend $2.4 million to hire seven staff plus outside consultants to start preliminary work on the concept of replacing air with a park.
“I believe rail deck park will be the Central Park of Toronto. . . ,” said Councillor Joe Cressy, whose ward would be home to the park that would cover the rail tracks from Bathurst St. to Blue Jays Way.
“Toronto does well — all of Toronto — when downtown does well.”
But the city has, at the moment, no funding source for much of the project that staff estimate would cost just over $1 billion not including the cost of buying “air rights” above the tracks owned by CN Rail and Toronto Terminals Railway (TTR).
Cressy and Mayor John Tory had earlier said that negotiations with the rail companies were going well.
But TTR wrote to Tory and council on Wednesday unhappy with city officials’ talk of rezoning the space above the tracks for park use, which would thwart developers looking to buy the rights to build condo or office towers.
“As owners of the majority of the property that would be affected by the proposed rail deck park, it is our view that initiating a process to adopt planning instruments advancing a framework for a public park use of privately owned lands is premature and inappropriate,” wrote George Huggins, TTR’s director of operations.
He added in a later email: “To clarify a letter sent to the City of Toronto Executive Committee, TTR has a history of collaborating with the City of Toronto in moving important public infrastructure projects forward, and we will continue to cooperate on any and all projects. We regret any misunderstanding.”
Tory told reporters the value of the air rights is “determined by the city because we are the ones that either give or do not give a particular designation to a piece of land on which something can be built or not built.
It is my strong desire that we take the steps now to preserve the air rights, the potential piece of land over those rail corridors, for a park.”
Still, he acknowledged that legal claims on the space could consume time and money.
The city’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat said Toronto is at a “tipping point” — it either needs to start investing in parks and other amenities for the booming downtown population or stop approving giant condo towers.
City staff say the core is the most park-deficient area in the city, with a population expected to double from 200,000 in 2011 to 475,000 in 2041. Another 633 acres of green space would be needed downtown to bring it up to the median level for the rest of the city.
Deputy city manager John Livey said the city could “choke on our own growth” if it doesn’t invest in the core and emphasized the park could be built in stages, including a 1.4-acre section that would cost an estimated $16.4 million.
Some of Tory’s allies on executive seemed leery of the huge cost. Councillor Frank Di Giorgio said the “luxury super project” has merit but council is facing a long list of major unfunded projects.
Councillor Ana Bailao said Torontonians are “skeptical” of the rail deck plan, and it needs to be part of a citywide parks strategy.
Humans of Toronto
Humans of Toronto