The Toronto and East York Community Council adopted a motion to begin public consultation on the University of Toronto’s proposed amendments to the City of Toronto’s Official Plan to establish a new Secondary Plan for UTSG.
The Secondary Plan provides a municipal planning framework to manage developments on campus; it outlines policies on how land in the area can be used and provides municipal expectations regarding where and how future projects are carried out. These policies include height allowances, zoning, parking requirements, and other urban land use restrictions.
The new Secondary Plan aims to provide flexibility to how the university develops the planning area in response to the increasing academic and ancillary demands of students, staff, and faculty, while at the same time conserving the distinct heritage of multiple blocks around the campus.
This stands in contrast to the current Secondary Plan, which identifies 29 specific individual sites for further development.
“The current Secondary Plan, adopted in 1997, requires updating to ensure it appropriately addresses the current planning policy framework and the existing and future City context,” said Christine Burke, Director of Campus & Facilities Planning at U of T. “The proposed Secondary Plan was developed with a focus on the public realm and the pedestrian experience.”
Burke believes that the updating the Secondary Plan with additional flexibility and the move away from site-specific planning “allows both the University (and other area institutions) and the City to think both creatively and long-term.”
Scott Mabury, Vice-President University Operations, says that since the current Secondary Plan was adopted, all projects have needed to go to the City for rezoning. “The strategy was crafted… out of our experience,” he said of the failure of site-specific planning in mitigating the need to rezone.
The new Secondary Plan proposes to divide the campus into five distinct ‘Character Areas’, namely Historic Campus, Huron-Sussex, North Campus, South Campus, and West Campus.
“Each character area has been evaluated separately and as part of the greater whole, creating a comprehensive planning framework for the St. George campus,” Burke explained.
According to the Secondary Plan, “By looking at the Campus as a collection of areas of distinct character… [the university] can direct future growth and change in ways that both make efficient use of Campus lands and are considerate of these Character Areas.”
The new plan also proposes the designation of ‘Significant Open Spaces’ to protect historically significant open connections between buildings such as Front Campus, Philosopher’s Walk and Taddle Creek, Hart House Circle, and the Victoria University Quad.
Any new development within or adjacent to these open spaces must take into account the relationship between the project and the surrounding open space.
Views of specific landmarks and features will also be protected under the new plan. This includes the view of Victoria College from Queen’s Park Crescent East and Wellesley Street West, the view of the Soldiers’ Tower from the north side of Hoskin Avenue in front of the Trinity College entrance, and the view of the dome of Convocation Hall from Russell Street at Huron Street.
These views “have been deliberately designed to be viewed from specific axial or oblique viewpoints” and new developments have to be designed to maintain these protected views.
The proposal also identifies a public realm network made up of the Significant Open Spaces, major streets and various branch streets and lanes that connect buildings and spaces. This network is to be maintained and enhanced with a focus on pedestrian use.
The Historic Campus Character Area covers the area east of and including Queen’s Park; Front Campus and the surrounding buildings; Hart House Circle; and Trinity College. This area is not intended to see significant growth but the new plan allows for new underground parking, limited vehicular presence, and improved pedestrian amenities. These policies would enable the Landscape of Landmark Quality project, which would pedestrianize King’s College Circle and relocate surface parking to underground parking below Front Campus.
The Huron-Sussex Character Area covers the section of low-rise residential buildings and parkettes that form the Huron-Sussex neighbourhood. The area is expected to be stable, with policies included for laneway housing and small-scale commercial uses in the area. These provisions were recommended by the Huron-Sussex Neighbourhood Planning Study that was conducted and released in 2014.
“We developed the Huron-Sussex plan in cooperation with the university. So we’ve signed off on it,” said Julie Mathien, President of the Huron-Sussex Residents Organization. “We’ve known all along that it would be folded into the Secondary Plan.”
The North Campus Character Area is the portion of campus that faces Bloor Street and contains institutional buildings such as the Royal Conservatory of Music, the Royal Ontario Museum, and Varsity Stadium. It also includes newer academic buildings such as the Jackman Law Building and Woodsworth College.
The South Campus Character Area includes buildings on the south side of King’s College Circle and extends down to College Street.
The West Campus Character Area covers the area west of St. George Street up to Robarts Library. Whereas the Historic Campus Character Area has an open and connected public realm, the West Campus Character Area is identified as requiring a “more strategic approach” in terms of creating better open spaces.
It is expected to experience the most growth out of all the Character Areas according to the strategy of balanced intensification outlined in the new plan.
The Secondary Plan proposes the development of Huron Street into “a densely built-up but pedestrian focused street,” as well as a student hub at Sidney Smith that ties into the Willcocks Common and St. George Street.
This planned expansion in the West Campus Character Area has drawn some criticism from Sue Dexter, U of T Liaison of the Harbord Village Residents’ Association. “The solution [the university has] come up with to date is that they put in heights… for buildings in the area and then they put a kind of dotted line and say, ‘We could go up to here, but we promise we won’t go up to that height.’” Dexter told the Toronto and East York Community Council. “So it’s vague, it’s really vague.”
Given the size of the envisioned development in the West Campus Character Area, Dexter believes that the portion from Harbord Street to Russell Street should have its own Secondary Plan.
In an interview with The Varsity, Dexter cited the Huron-Sussex Neighbourhood Planning Study as an example of how this fine-grained area plan could be drawn up. “It’s a huge development and it’s going to affect both St. George and Huron Street, and Huron all the way down. So what you need is… to plan it properly so it will fit and integrate into the green space in the heart of the campus,” she said.
Max Allen, Vice-President of Planning and Development for the Grange Community Association, does not believe another Secondary Plan is necessary. According to him, one of the problems has to do with technical issues.
The association is “in agreement with the university with respect to dividing it up into Character Areas,” Allen said.
As to what the Grange Community Association would like to see from the proposed Secondary Plan, he brought up the area on 256 McCaul Street, including the parking lot. While the university has no plans for the area, Allen would still want to see “all of the properties the university owns on the perimeter” covered under the new plan.