February 25, 2010
DAVID COOPER/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO
The troubled Lawrence Heights public housing project is about to get a makeover bigger in scope than the massive Regent Park redevelopment underway downtown.
A “preferred option” for redeveloping Lawrence Heights – sometimes dubbed The Jungle – calls for creating a pedestrian-friendly community with nearly 10,000 units of mixed-income housing, new parks, retail and schools.
To be unveiled Thursday, the plan is part of a larger project to remake the neighbourhood around Lawrence Ave. W. and Allen Rd. – including revamping two subway stations, tearing down and rebuilding the Lawrence Square shopping plaza to make way for an extended road and new housing, and possibly covering a section of the expressway.
In total, the swath targeted for the Lawrence-Allen Revitalization covers 138 hectares, stretching from Bathurst to Dufferin Sts. and Lawrence Ave. W. to Highway 401.
The housing part of the plan mirrors the Regent Park revitalization, but fewer tenants would be affected. About 7,500 tenants lived in Regent Park before that revamp began, compared with 3,500 now at Lawrence Heights.
At 26 hectares, Lawrence Heights itself is similar to the 28 hectares of Toronto Community Housing property at Regent Park. Add to that the four hectares occupied by the plaza.
The plan comes after 18 months of consultation with the community, which has seen its share of gun crimes and drug problems. Rather than continued concentration of social housing, and the social ills that accompany it, the city hopes to go to a mixed-housing model in the revitalization.
No dollar figures for the proposal were available Wednesday, but given the scope of the project it will be in the range of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars.
“It is massive,” Howard Moscoe, the local city councillor, said in an interview Wednesday, calling the proposal a “unique opportunity to rebuild a section of the city that’s in bad need of rebuilding.”
Three city planners are working full-time on the proposal, and the city has also hired a consulting firm.
The first shovels could be in the ground by late 2011, but completing the project could take up to 25 years.
Newly appointed Toronto Community Housing CEO Keiko Nakamura will join Mayor David Miller, Moscoe, and other officials to make the announcement Thursday at Lawrence Heights.
Among the specifics to be unveiled:
Extending Marlee Ave., which runs parallel to Allen, north beyond Lawrence Ave., where it currently ends at Lawrence Square. This would be made possible by tearing down and redoing the plaza.
Possibly “capping” or covering part of the Allen at Lawrence. This idea is being explored to increase pedestrian accessibility and “tie both sides of the Lawrence Heights community back together,” according to Moscoe. Results of preliminary studies will be revealed.
A redesign of the Yorkdale and Lawrence West subway stations is also getting serious thought.
“We want the new development to be subway-oriented,” Moscoe said.
Rebuilding old public schools, in addition to creating new Catholic schools, of which there are currently none in Lawrence Heights. A large percentage of students at Our Lady of the Assumption school near Bathurst and Lawrence come from Lawrence Heights and must be bused in.
Moscoe said the plan is to get input on the proposal from residents and others in workshops slated over the next week or so.
The proposals will be further refined, culminating in a secondary plan that would go to North York community council sometime in June.
A developer would be chosen at some point.
Like the Regent Park makeover, buildings will be torn down and residents will have to be relocated until the new subsidized units are rebuilt on site.
Currently, there are 1,200 such units in Lawrence Heights, and all must be replaced.
Also like Regent Park, money from sales of condominium units and other forms of market housing will be used to finance the huge redevelopment.
Originally, Toronto Community Housing wanted 9,500 units of mixed housing on the Lawrence Heights “footprint,” but the city shaved that to 7,500, saying the larger number would make it too dense.
Toronto Community Housing has also redeveloped its Don Mount Court housing project in the city’s east end into mixed housing.
“With the Lawrence Heights revitalization, Toronto Community Housing is doing more than simply replacing housing,” the housing agency said in an email Wednesday.
“Our vision is to reshape the Lawrence Heights community to improve the lives and living conditions of all residents.”