City staff and neighbourhood groups are encouraged by the strong community turnout at a recent meeting focused on the future of the Danforth neighbourhood.
Nearly 160 people turned out to Hope United Church June 27 for the first official Danforth Avenue planning study public meeting, the latest step in a years-long process that will establish guidelines for development along the Danforth.
“The community is very engaged,” said city planner Daniel Woolfson, in charge of leading the study.
Phase one of the study focuses on the area from Coxwell to Victoria Park, with phase two looking at Don River to Coxwell. Councillors Mary-Margaret McMahon and Janet Davis were in attendance, as was councillor Mary Fragedakis whose neighbourhood will be studied in phase two. Facilitating the study is independent contractor LURA Consulting – that’s the same group that facilitated the Broadview Avenue planning study, among other city studies.
“Hopefully having a neutral party makes people feel more comfortable to discuss and stay engaged, rather than maybe working directly with planning staff,” said Woolfson, noting that this is typical for projects of this scope.
“Danforth is … designated an Avenue in our official plan, so it’s an area that is already identified for growth,” said Woolfson. “It’s important for us to get ahead of that and conduct a larger planning exercise prior to too much development.”
To that end, city staff produced draft terms of reference for the study earlier this year and planned the June 27 meeting to receive community feedback on those terms. Participants at the meeting worked in groups of 10, marking areas of interest on maps and working through a questionnaire – a format designed in order to allow feedback from as many parties as possible, said Woolfson.
“The main purpose (of the meeting) was to consult on the terms of reference, but also to introduce the study and get people to start thinking about their area and establish a future vision for Danforth Avenue,” said Woolfson. “To ensure we set our priorities for how we want the Danforth Avenue to grow in the future and to hopefully grow at the appropriate scale, and also provide additional community benefits – better streetscaping, better public realm, potential new park space and open space and enhancements to the existing park space in the study area.”
The Danforth East Community Association (DECA) studied the draft terms of reference and submitted a 10-point document noting ways the study’s scope could be expanded and improved, particularly by considering how the Danforth fits into the East End as a whole, focusing on primary mixed uses for the neighbourhood, and drawing on prior research and consultation.
“This isn’t just the Danforth, it is how it connects with the entire east end,” said Stephen Wickens, DECA’s visioning committee chair.
DECA has been preparing for this study through its visioning committee for several years, calling it a once-in-50-years opportunity. Wickens said the meeting was encouraging, particularly the community’s engagement.
“When there is that much input, it’s quite a good sign,” said Wickens. “Nearly more than half the tables identified a point that kind of surprised me… as a group we are pretty optimistic.”
While the city has development review tools – zoning bylaws, the official plan, mid-rise avenue guidelines – this study aims to supplement the blueprint city-wide documents with local context and colour.
“Development on the Danforth is not going to be the same as development in the downtown core, obviously, and development in specific neighbourhoods around the city. But that doesn’t mean that the Danforth has to remain as an area with low-rise, mixed-use buildings on the corridor, due to it being identified for growth and taking advantage of the existing subway systems,” said Woolfson.
“It’s important to move beyond the blueprint, one-size fits all policies that we have city-wide and I think going through this exercise will help the city and help the community crystallize the vision of what we want the Danforth area to look like in the future, and relay that information very clearly to potential developers who are trying to bring forward applications so they get a clear sense ahead of time of what type of things we’re expecting,” he said.
Next, the city and facilitator – with input from local councillors – are going to establish a stakeholder advisory committee made up of interested parties from the neighbourhood.
Deciding on the stakeholder advisory committee is a joint effort, with the input of the city councillors sought because “they’re aware of who are the important voices in their community, and also ensuring that we reach out to a broad base and not just the usual suspects that show up to these meetings,” said Woolfson. No one party has more influence than others. “It’s more conversational and getting together as a group to figure out what the best makeup will be.”
The aim is to have the next public meeting early next year. For more on the study and to provide feedback see toronto.ca/danforthstudy.