Residents, developer clash over new vision for Humbertown Shopping Centre

CYNTHIA REASON  May 10, 2012 – 12:20 PM “The Etobicoke Guardian”

“It’s too big. It’s too dense. It’s too tall.”                                                           Click image to go to Original Story

That sentiment, opined by Gloria Lindsay Luby on the proposed redevelopment of Humbertown Shopping Centre, garnered the Etobicoke Centre councillor heady applause from a crowd of nearly 250, mostly like-minded residents at a community meeting Monday night at Etobicoke Collegiate Institute.”When the project was first shown to me and members of the planning staff, we all said ‘Oh my God! Go away! That’s too big, it doesn’t fit with the community.’ We were shocked,” Lindsay Luby said. “So (the developers) came back with only a few tweaks, and again we said ‘No, go away. It’s still not anywhere in the ballpark.'”

As for this latest incarnation of the redevelopment application for the Humbertown site at 259 and 270 The Kingsway, and 1155 Royal York Rd. – which was first put forth by First Capital Realty back in January – Lindsay Luby said still not enough changes have been made to satisfy her or her constituents.

In a nutshell, the current Humbertown application proposes a mixed-use development by way of a two-storey commercial base covering the majority of the site – including the retention of existing tenants Loblaws, the LCBO and Shoppers Drug Mart in “bigger and more contemporary spaces” – as well as five 11- to 21-storey residential towers containing 654 residential units, and 28 four-storey townhouse units.

The City of Toronto’s Official Plan designation of the site as a ‘mixed use area’ – defined as one that “achieves a multitude of planning objectives by combining a broad array of residential uses, offices, retail and services, institutions, entertainment, recreation and cultural activities” – allows for such a redevelopment, but the application will require both a zoning amendment and approval of a site plan in order to proceed.

The application goes back before Etobicoke York Community Council (EYCC) next Tuesday, May 15, when west-end councillors will decide whether or not a broader secondary plan review for the area, as requested by Lindsay Luby, is required before any decisions are made on the site’s future.

Cyndi Rottenberg-Walker of Urban Strategies Inc., the urban planning design firm hired by First Capital, said despite the opposition to it among local residents, the proposed redevelopment promotes the concept of “complete communities.”

“It’s the idea that we’re trying to build places where people can live, work, recreate and shop, all in close proximity, with the ultimate goal of decreasing the dependence that we have become so heavily reliant on – on the automobile,” she said, noting that the community will benefit from the increased mix of uses on the site, which will also include pedestrian walkways, a day-care centre, a fitness facility, four banks, underground parking, and new streets so that the plaza can “better knit into the fabric” of the existing community.

But that reasoning isn’t flying with local residents, who, like Lindsay Luby, have called out the project’s scale as too large to be congruent with its surrounding community.

“As it is now, Humbertown is a neighbourhood shopping centre that fits well in the environment of the Humber Valley Village community,” said Richard Morency of the Humber Valley Village Residents Association (HVVRA), one of six such community organizations represented on a working group tasked by the city with exploring the issues surrounding the Humbertown application.

“Most (of us) would welcome the reasonable expansion of the existing shopping centre, but based on our extensive consultation with the residents, there is a strong and widespread opposition to its profound transformation.”

According to the residents’ association, if approved the Humbertown proposal will bring a 40 per cent increase in retail space (from 111,000 to 160,000 square feet), a 250 per cent increase in office space (from 25,000 to 80,0000 square feet), a 180 per cent increase in parking (from 500 current above-ground spaces to 1,400 mostly underground spaces), and a 660 per cent increase in total floor space (from 129,000 to 877,200 square feet).

The association’s concerns stemming from those plans are many. They include: the proposal’s excessive physical intensity; the height and massing of its buildings; its impact on local traffic, infrastructure and community space; its elimination of front setbacks; its elimination of mature trees along Royal York and Ashley roads; the precedence it will set for future intensification; the threat it poses to the long-term stability of the neighbourhood; its lack of community open space; and its lack of preservation of the unique character of the neighbourhood.

Given that Humbertown’s success, “in large measure, depends on the community,” and given the presumption that “alienating a majority of the community around Humbertown is not in the developer’s best interests,” HVVRA vice-president Jim Greenshields questioned the wisdom of First Capital proceeding with an application so many in the surrounding community are opposed to.

It was a question to which Jodi Shpigel, director of Urban Development at First Capital Realty, replied by stating her hope that the two sides could come together to reach a compromise through the working group process.

“We very much want to work with this community. We view this shopping centre as a jewel amongst all of our assets and the main reason is because of the community in which it resides,” she said. “So it is in our best interests to try and work with as many people as possible, but I will say that we all have to be reasonable with the things that we request and understand that we have mutual needs.”

Next up, the application will go back before EYCC next Tuesday, followed by a public community meeting sometime at the end of June.