New Thornhill Community Coalition Unites York Residents in Addressing Development Challenges
SFRA has joined a newly-formed coalition of ratepayers’ and residents' associations in Markham and Vaughan to work together with our neighbouring communities and local representatives in addressing the many development challenges and opportunities we currently face.
In light of the continued development of Metrolinx's Yonge North Subway Extension review of neighbourhood subway stations, the Coalition is calling on Vaughan, Markham, and York Region Councils to pass a resolution to work together, and in concert with local residents, to achieve a coherent, consistent and rational plan for new development along Yonge Street from north of Steeles to the Langstaff GO station in Richmond Hill, that does not overwhelm existing residential neighbourhoods.
The new Thornhill Community Coalition will speak with one voice to ensure that residents’ concerns and opinions are taken into account as important decisions regarding developments on both sides of Yonge Street are made by local and provincial officials.
The text of the TCC letter follows, with the full text (including appendix) attached.
Joint Letter to the Councils of Markham, Vaughan, and York Region
May 4, 2021
The Thornhill Community Coalition, comprising the SpringFarm Ratepayers Association, Flamingo Ratepayers Association (in Vaughan), Grandview Area Residents Association, Ward One (South) Thornhill Residents Inc, Aileen-Willowbrook Residents Association, and Royal Orchard Ratepayers’ Association (in Markham), are united in our concern about the numerous proposals for massive developments on both the east and west sides of Yonge Street along the proposed subway extension, from Steeles Avenue north to the Langstaff Gateway lands, and their collective impact on the quality of life for citizens.
As a collective, we request that Vaughan, Markham, and York Region Councils direct their respective planning departments to work together, in concert with local residents. This is imperative to achieve a coherent plan for new development along Yonge Street from north of Steeles to the Langstaff GO station in Richmond Hill (see Appendix A for the Draft Resolution).
ISSUES OF CONCERN
The Yonge Street north corridor (from Steeles Avenue north to Langstaff) is the focus of intense interest from development companies. A total of 28 condo towers [as of April 30, 2021] averaging 34 storeys each, and an additional 30+ condo towers at Langstaff Gateway will add approx. 27,000 new units and 40,000+ new residents to the area. We believe that urban intensification should consider not only residential housing stock but also office, retail, and green community space as well as environmental impacts.
Below we note the key issues and concerns which have prompted our six associations to unify as a Community Coalition. We request a coordinated development plan vis-à-vis these high-density condo proposals to achieve a vibrant and successful community.
Excessive condo construction needs to be managed Developers have proposed 28 towers (approx. 12,000 new units) and Langstaff Gateway may also add 30+ condo towers (15,000 units). The population of the area would thereby increase by over 40,000 people.
Subway Extension uncertainty The timing of the Yonge North subway extension is unclear. Funding for the Subway extension is uncertain. It is premature to allow developments predicated on future subway stations and their supporting structures to proceed at present.
Consideration of community impacts We encourage discussion amongst municipal stakeholders re: how our respective communities can successfully welcome tens of thousands of new residents without overwhelming community services, facilities and the limited public green space.
Negative environmental impact Healthy ecosystems contribute to healthy, economically sound communities. Development plans must consider environmental impacts. Yonge Street is built over the East Don River watershed and its tributaries; other local water courses include Pomona Creek and German Mills Creek. If damaged or disturbed, regeneration may be impossible.
Open and Green Space Having reviewed the proposals submitted to date, we note that green space is wholly deficient. Connections for wildlife and green corridors are lacking.
Best Practices Case Study We suggest the North York Civic Centre (NYCC) development as a successful comparative case study. NYCC embodied an integrated approach to work and healthy living, and a successful process of cohesive intensification planning.
Below please find more detail on each of the above listed areas of concern as well as Appendix A - Proposed Resolution for Vaughan, Markham and York Region Councils and Appendix B - Current Yonge Street filed applications between Steeles Avenue and Highway 407. The Community Coalition supports a concerted planning effort that facilitates an integrated approach with the goal of achieving a healthy and vibrant community.
The announced plans for the Yonge North Subway Extension have led to considerable redevelopment activity in an area that is already developed. The subway extension provides an opportunity for well-planned redevelopment over a five kilometre stretch of Yonge Street—or alternatively, given the current situation, a hodgepodge, uncoordinated disaster. A total of 28 towers are proposed to the Vaughan and Markham Councils (see Appendix B), averaging 34 storeys each, totaling almost 12,000 new units. On top of this, the Langstaff Gateway may add 30+ towers, totaling 15,000 new units. Together, these projects will add at least 40,000 new residents to this area across 60 towers. Of course, these proposed developments and new density refer only to Yonge Street or Yonge-adjacent applications. It is also reasonable to assume that these are only the first of many such applications, and they will create a precedent for developments along Steeles Avenue, Yonge Street, and further to the east and west of Yonge Street.
Subway Extension timing
The proposed scale of development is predicated on the subway extension, yet the timing of the subway extension is unclear (the Province has announced 2030 as the completion date, but this will likely be delayed due to the Province’s current financial crisis, and recent federal government funding promises for urban transit will not materialize for at least five years from now ). It would be disastrous for many of these proposed developments to be approved and constructed prior to the subway extension’s completion, as they would add thousands of people and cars to Yonge Street without the promised public transit relief.
Furthermore, Metrolinx’s recent (March 22, 2021) update of its Initial Business Case, calls into question the number of “neighbourhood” stations (Cummer, Clark, and Royal Orchard) to be constructed, the Langstaff Gateway station, and in particular, Option 3, the routing of the northern end of the extension underneath existing homes. Funding from all three levels of government is still undetermined. As Metrolinx has committed to public consultations on these issues, it is therefore premature to even consider any developments predicated on future subway stations and their supporting structures until station locations are finalized following those public consultations and securing funding from all three government levels.
Yet, there currently appears to be no discussion directed at solving how our respective communities can successfully welcome tens of thousands of new neighbours without overwhelming community services, facilities and the limited public green space. Nor can we assume that all of these new residents will only take public transit in their daily lives; a massive increase in automobile traffic up and down Yonge Street will occur, contributing to traffic congestion at all major intersections. Local residential streets will also be inundated by drivers attempting to bypass this congestion, severely impacting the quality of life and safety of the residents living there.
Open and Green Space
In the past year, governments and citizens alike have realized the imperative of working from home within their communities, and the necessary value of recreational green spaces for healthy living, exercise, and recreation, whether as pedestrians or cyclists. Having reviewed the proposals submitted to date, we have seen that green space is wholly deficient. The City of Vaughan’s Active Together Master Plan (May 2018, p. 67) standard for new parkland development is 2.0 hectares per 1,000 new residents in future growth areas, within 500 metres of each development site. Markham’s Official Plan requires 1.2 hectares for every 1,000 new residents in high-rise/mixed use developments. At present, Thornhill does not have a sufficient number of parks and green spaces. It has been proven in the last year that Grandview Park and Pomona Mills Park were overcrowded. Connections for wildlife, and green corridors also need to be considered. While some of the proposed projects offer the minimal amount of green space required by legislation, there are no new substantial, large community parks included to meet the Vaughan and Markham standards. Cash-in-lieu of parkland requirements are not a valid substitute and does nothing to help local residents impacted by all of these new developments. There is a huge difference between public parks and private-owned public-accessible space (POPs).
While we recognize that the situation of overlapping jurisdictions is a complex one, compounded by the new subway development planning, the reality is that Yonge Street, the political boundary between Markham and Vaughan cities, does not prevent the free flow of pedestrians, cyclists, automobile traffic, sun, shadow, wind, or water. This reality must be incorporated into planning so that Yonge Street is a “seamless” boundary.
Of major concern is the loss of natural heritage, the destruction of fragile ecosystems and declining biodiversity in Vaughan, Markham and in fact, much of York Region. Healthy ecosystems contribute to healthy, economically sound communities. Nature provides essential assets such as clean air, stormwater management, carbon sequestration and helps combat the climate crisis. These benefits are being disregarded. Yonge Street is built over the East Don River watershed and its tributaries. Other local water courses include Pomona Creek and German Mills Creek. The excessive use of Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs), the province's lack of public consultation on development proposals, proposed development in the Oak Ridges Moraine (contrary to O.Reg. 140/02), Bill 197 and the reintroduction of Highway 413 (supported by York Region) are all clear indicators of the provincial government's lack of concern for the protection and preservation of the environment in our area. Once these areas are paved and disturbed, it will be next to impossible to regenerate them. Local governments must consult with the public and community groups on the environmental impacts of the proposed developments. This is in the best interest of our local communities today and in the future.
Lack of overall co-ordination
We are concerned that there does not appear to be a sustained, coherent system or process to co-ordinate and rationalize development planning or construction timing. Our fear is that each municipality will decide on each proposal on its own, without regard to neighbouring developments, and the cumulative impacts on the area. This is a recipe for decentralized disaster.
A best practice comparative case study to this process of intensification would seem to be the development of the North York Civic Centre. Here there was evidence of an enlightened, cohesive process. Plans included:
Protecting local residential streets from incursion by use of ring roads
Creating enriching community amenities including a theatre, art gallery, pool and fitness facility, community meeting rooms, a spacious library, outdoor skating rink, welcoming outdoor public spaces for community festivals, farmers’ markets etc.
Green space was set aside
Local schools were enlarged and renovated
Employment opportunities were also built; this is not just a “bedroom community”
Need for Collaborative Action
Unlike the North York experience, the current plans for the intensification of our area offer only massive residential condominium towers, with no office space and only minimum commercial (retail) space and green space. While Markham and Vaughan Councils and their staff are working diligently within the Planning Act to assess each project as it is presented to them, we have no indication of consistent efforts within each city, much less between them, to ensure that the new community can be vibrant and successful. It is imperative that city planners and elected officials from each of the adjoining cities work collaboratively with each other and with local residents’ associations, to create a solution that would facilitate a well-orchestrated plan, embodying an integrated approach to work and healthy living.
On behalf of the undersigned associations, we are prepared to work alongside such a group for the betterment and long-term successes of our communities.
Board of Aileen-Willowbrook Residents Association (Markham)
Board of Flamingo Ratepayers Association (Vaughan)
Executive of Grandview Area Residents Association (Markham)
Executive of Royal Orchard Ratepayers’ Association (Markham)
Board of SpringFarm Ratepayers Association (Vaughan)
Executive of Ward One (South) Thornhill Residents Inc (Markham)
Keith Irish, City of Markham Ward 1 Councillor
Frank Scarpitti, Mayor, City of Markham
City of Markham Clerk’s Office
City of Vaughan Clerk’s Office
Don Hamilton, Markham Deputy Mayor and Regional Councillor
Jack Heath, Markham Regional Councillor
Joe Li, Markham Regional Councillor
Jim Jones, Markham Regional Councillor
Alan Shefman, City of Vaughan Ward 5 Councillor
Maurizio Bevilacqua, Mayor, City of Vaughan
Mario Ferri, Vaughan Deputy Mayor and Local and Regional Councillor
Linda D. Jackson, Vaughan Local and Regional Councillor
Gino Rosati, Vaughan Local and Regional Councillor
A PDF copy of the letter (which includes the Appendices A, B, and C is attached.