Many a resident of Bayview Avenue breathed a sigh of relief on Nov. 10 as North York Community Council approved the Bayview Design Guidelines, a document nearly two years in the making that provides developers with a list of 15 principles to follow when designing the townhouses that have sprouted along Bayview Avenue between Hwy. 401 and Lawrence Avenue East over the past decade.
While the guidelines aren’t binding, residents and city staff who contributed to them hope developers will feel the benefits of following them outweigh the hassle of submitting an application to the Ontario Municipal Board.
“If they follow these guidelines, which cover different kinds of developments for different shapes of properties, they will probably get approval from the city quite easily,” York Mills Garden Association president John Nichols. “And if the developers go and appeal their application anyway, we’re hoping the guidelines will carry a bit more weight with the Ontario Municipal Board.”
City council initiated the study that led to the guidelines in 2013, after being approached by several ratepayers’ associations, including the York Mills group, Ward 25 Councillor Jaye Robinson said.
“They actually initiated all of this and have been involved every step of the way,” she said. “The intensification pressure that Bayview Avenue is under is unprecedented, and these neighbourhood associations and members of the community have really come together in an incredible way.”
The guidelines were inspired in part by a pair of development proposals that were filed in 2005 and 2009, respectively, for 2425 and 2500 Bayview Ave.
The first, known as “Hush,” was for a three-storey, 20-unit townhouse development that was rejected by city planning staff, who cited concerns with the project’s height, density and privacy. It was approved by the OMB in 2007. (The developer later went bankrupt, though developer Urbancorp is now constructing a three-storey, 40-unit version.)
At 2500 Bayview Ave., developer Wycliffe proposed a three-storey, eight-unit townhouse development that was also rejected by city staff and approved by the OMB in 2010. (Known as “8 on Bayview,” it was completed in 2014.)
For Nichols, the eye-opening moment came in 2013, when city planning staff approved a proposal for a five-unit, three-storey townhouse complex — which residents felt was too high and too dense —– citing Hush and 8 on Bayview as precedents.
“They said it’s clear the Ontario Municipal Board wants them approved, and that the provincial government wants to intensify development, etc. etc., so therefore we the city are approving this,” Nichols said.
That’s when Bayview residents approached the city, and by the end of the year, a review of the street’s development guidelines was underway.
York Mills Ratepayers’ Association member Margaret Nightingale, who was also part of the working group, said that unlike neighbours who constantly say “no” to everything, she appreciated the chance to approach city planners and developers as a voice from her neighbourhood.
“Everybody wants to live here — I don’t blame them,” she said. “And let’s face it, you’re not going to be able to sell your house to a single family on Bayview. The traffic is just life-threatening.”
The developers quickly learned that Nightingale had a lot to contribute, articulating multiple concerns they hadn’t considered.
“They didn’t think about a little thing like the asphalt runoff drowning our backyards, and were suddenly, ‘Oh, that can be fixed with extra drainage,’” Nightingale said. “Or when the church didn’t realize their security lighting made your bedroom become daylight every time they went on because they’re industrial-strength.”
(The lights were replaced “very nicely and quickly,” she said, )
Emergency services were also a concern, as was garbage delivery.
“The townhouse development that went up across Sunnybrook Hospital was so dense, with so many cars, that at least three times a day you can’t move in that neighbourhood,” Nightingale says. “Of course, Sunnybrook really needs to keep that centre lane open, but once you get to that neighbourhood there’s no centre lane.”
In their current, community council-approved form, the Guidelines’ 15 principles divide the lots along Bayview Avenue into three types: shallow, medium, and deep, with adjusted guidelines for each.
However, the principles suggest that townhouses only be developed on lots along Bayview Avenue, that they be organized in a standard layout, and that they include “appropriately scaled” backyard setbacks separating each development from the existing neighbourhood.
The guidelines also include parking regulations, advising that spaces be placed underground or in the rear, with additional visitor parking provided. They also suggest height limits, and that new houses incorporate appropriate façade treatments and high quality materials.
Nightingale hopes the end result is that developers will begin a proposal with dialogue, rather than by threatening to approach the OMB.
“They may want to add or subtract — I know they want to put more units in than we’ve suggested, because that’s more money — but we think you can still make a profit and make everyone happy,” she said.