Toronto’s surge in condo development is bringing exponential growth to many long-established residential neighbourhoods. In this series, we look at three emerging transit routes, and what’s developing along them. This week: Vaughan is about to undergo a sea change.
The senior vice-president of Liberty Development uses a sports analogy to explain why a condominium developer would be interested in building a 33-storey highrise residential and retail project on a flat, typically suburban, car-dominated expanse at Weston Road and Highway 7.
The puck is expected to stop in Woodbridge in the coming years, as a new Vaughan Metropolitan Centre rises up from the ground in the vicinity of Highway 7 and Jane. By 2031, the 1.8-square-kilometre site will be the central business area of the city above Toronto. It is expected to attract 25,000 residents and 11,000 jobs to Vaughan, to populate numerous high-rises and set attractive promenades bustling. The local stretch of Highway 7 will even be renamed Avenue 7 to reflect the new vibe.
None of it would have happened if not for the Spadina subway extension, currently under construction and expected to open in 2016. Boring machines are hard at work burrowing new tunnels northwest from Downsview, adding six more stations to the TTC subway system that conclude with a terminus smack in the middle of Vaughan’s new downtown.
The mayor of Vaughan sees the crucial role the private sector will play. “Condominium development is an important component of the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre. We are building a high-density downtown with distinct, transit-oriented neighbourhoods where condo developments play an integral and vital role,” Maurizio Bevilacqua wrote in an email to the Post.
Developers, for their part, see the value of putting themselves where the action will be. Peter Cortellucci, vice-president at the Cortel Group, says its Expo City project (expocity.ca) owes its existence to the public infrastructure investment. “Really the catalyst for the site was the subway extension,” says the second-generation member of the family-run firm.
Expo City is a five-tower project that will include an outdoor square and a retail concourse; the 37-storey second phase is currently in pre-construction sales, with prices starting in the mid-$ 200,000s. The first tower is expected to be completed in 2014, with Phase 2 joining it the next year. At age 25, Mr. Cortellucci will be around to see Expo through to completion, not to mention the Vaughan downtown of which it will be a key part. “When the subway opens in 2016, I’m really excited to see how that changes the area,” he says.
But will the plan work as expected? First, 905ers have to be coaxed out of their cars and on to the sidewalk. The way things are going, as Mr. Filice sees it, at least some the residents of Vaughan’s future will be willing to trade in their private vehicles thanks to the transit options coming to the area. In addition to the subway, Vaughan residents can look forward to Viva’s new “rapidways,” a system of bus lines that will speed along in their own separate express lanes. Portions of the rapidway along Highway 7 will be complete in 2014.
“I do think what’s happening demographically is the younger generation is interested in convenience. Time is something they recognize as being valuable to them, and being stuck in traffic — even though there are six-lane roads on certain streets — is not something they desire or enjoy to do,” Mr. Filice says.
Then there’s an atmosphere to conjure. The Cortel Group promises its would-be buyers that they will have access to luxury spas and gourmet restaurants, but it’s difficult to foretell precisely what sort of feeling downtown Vaughan will create as it evolves.
“I think that’s a question that a lot of planners over the years have tried to figure out,” Mr. Cortellucci says. “You look at a neighbourhood like York-ville in downtown Toronto, which kind of just happened on [its] own, a very organic type of development. It’s hard to know what an area is going to feel like. I know with the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, they’re putting in all the right ingredients.”
Mr. Cortellucci has faith that Vaughan’s new downtown will turn out as anticipated because the planning has been careful and focused on the long term. “It doesn’t happen overnight. These are areas that develop over 10, 20 even 50 years. That’s how communities should be planned — 50 to 100 years out. The problem with a lot of the developments that happened in the past is they were planned for the shorter term,” he says.
In order to further shore up the prospects of success for the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre and any other urban clusters that may coalesce in the 905, regional politicians could add more rapid transit options on the table, Mr. Filice says. The Spadina subway and separated bus lanes for York Region Viva buses will be a boon for the area, but the city needs more subways, he argues.
“High-order transit, especially subways, has been neglected. For the amount of population and geography we have, our subway system should be a lot more developed,” Mr. Filice says. “If we had this type of infrastructure in place, automobile dependence would be a lot less. We wouldn’t have six-lane roads that we do now in the 905.”
Mr. Filice also wishes the subway would be extended up Yonge Street. Mr. Bevilacqua agrees. “Extending the Yonge Subway north is important for the entire GTA, as it is a critical link in the regional transportation network,” he writes. The idea has been tossed around plenty in the past but appears to be stalled as Toronto worries about the overcrowding the increased ridership could cause on subway trains and platforms.
Meanwhile developers, accustomed to finding solutions to problems as they come up, are becoming impatient for more investment in infrastructure, notably new rapid transit routes for Toronto’s fast-growing northern suburbs.
“Remove the debates, just get to the work,” Mr. Filice says. “Drill the holes, and 30 years from now our kids will say, ‘Thank God they did.’ ”