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Planning work for $1.7B Rail Deck Park gets green light from council

Councillors approve pushing ahead with planning work

CBC News  Dec 05, 2017

You’re one step closer to kicking back in Rail Deck Park, the city’s ambitious plan to build a green space across the rail corridor cutting through the downtown core.

Toronto city council voted 36-4 in favour of pushing ahead with planning work for the park, which is now estimated to cost some $1.665 billion although only five per cent of the design is complete.

If built, the park would span the rail corridor from Blue Jays Way to Bathurst Street, creating more than eight hectares (21 acres) of green space in the middle of the city. Coun. Joe Cressy says it would be a “citywide destination” that will benefit all of Toronto.

Cressy says the question he gets asked most is how will the city pay for the park.

The answer lies in Section 42, part of the Ontario Planning Act that the city can use to collect cash from property developers in exchange for higher density. City officials are working on a strategy to increase the amount of money the city brings in.

“It’s time we step up,” Cressy said.

Downtown tracks for rail deck park

Proponents of the plan say it would create a citywide destination. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

But some are still critical of the plan.

Several councillors questioned how much the city will be able to make from future developments, considering the limited space left to develop in the core, but city staff say they’re confident the money can be raised.

Mammoliti blasts ‘poodle park’

Coun. John Campbell asked if there were other chances to snap up land anywhere else for a lower price. But Acting Chief Planner Gregg Lintern says this is the last chance to acquire a large site.

Coun. Stephen Holyday questioned whether Toronto has ever done anything like it’s proposing before. “We’re creating a park from nothing,” he said.

Deputy City Manager John Livey noted there’s a smaller version of this type of park in Ward 11.

Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti moved a motion calling for the city to stop any funding until the staff reviews the needs of other parks, but it failed 5-33. He also warned the park’s costs would skyrocket, vowing to resign if the final price tag is less than $3 billion for what he calls, a “poodle park.”

Other councillors fired back, noting when Mammoliti ran for mayor he proposed a similar park on the Gardiner Expressway, dubbed the “Skyway.”

Not all suburban councillors against downtown green space

Coun. Jim Karygiannis said he would rather spend the money on something like the Sheppard subway to provide better transit service to the suburbs.

“All the parts of the city of Toronto should be treated equally,” he said.

Coun. Jim Hart, who represents Ward 44, Scarborough-East, says his ward is perhaps the greenest in the city, but completely supports the Rail Deck Park idea. Hart said his son recently moved downtown but reports missing “all things green.”

Hart, a longtime general manager in the parks department before his appointment to council, said Rail Deck Park would help with that.