Yesterday the Province of Ontario announced their plans to privately develop on the nationally significant First Parliament historic site that is majority-owned by the City of Toronto.
Located at the intersection of Front Street East and Parliament Street, this heritage site spans a full city block. Canada’s First Parliament site holds the foundational elements of democracy and nation-building. The lands were central to the formation and early governance of Upper Canada, the beginnings of a united Canada and Toronto’s evolution into a diverse industrial, commercial and residential region of importance on both a provincial and national scale. The national and civic importance of the First Parliament site cannot be overstated as it represents the most historic building blocks of Canada’s democratic institutions.
Residents, community leaders, City staff and City Council have been engaged in the difficult assembly of land and the design of the First Parliament for a number of years. Since 2018, the City of Toronto has undertaken a Master Planning process for the First Parliament site, consulting with local communities on their priorities which include significant affordable housing, a library, expanded parkland and more. Building complete communities is largely a local effort, working with impacted stakeholders, business owners and residents to create a strong and vibrant neighbourhood.
The preliminary information currently shown by the Province falls short of these long-term planning goals expressed by the community and the City. Although there are many shared priorities between the City and the Province, it is critical that we work together to determine the exact details around the onsite critical heritage conservation and how the longstanding community and City master plan process will be honoured.
Surprisingly, the revealed plans shared by Infrastructure Ontario include full development on the privately-owned block immediately to the north of the First Parliament site. Combined together, the Provincial plans show the addition of five new towers, with two 46-storey towers on the north site and three towers of 46, 25 and 24-storeys on the First Parliament site. These buildings would become the tallest within the area, effectively setting a new height peak for the neighbourhood. The proposed plan for the amalgamated site would add 1,580 new residential units and 75,823 sq metres of non-residential space to the area.
There are many questions still to be answered, including who is the secret developer that the Province is quietly working with to charge ahead with the massive redevelopment of the First Parliament site and the privately-owned lands.
Another outstanding question is why the Province proposes to designate only 5-10% of the residential space as “affordable housing” when the City of Toronto is building 50% affordable housing on other City-owned lands, such at 405 Sherbourne Street. Furthermore, the City’s proposed inclusionary zoning policy, yet to be approved by the Province, aims to provide a minimum of 30% affordable housing in transit priority areas. The Provincial projections on this large site will only yield 79-158 units of affordable housing which falls woefully short of current government standards for publicly owned land.
The future of the First Parliament site should be of great interest to many and as governments in trust of the land, the City and Province need to ensure the planning process is inclusive of broad community consultation and respectful of the significant heritage, cultural and historical value of the space.
It remains unclear as to why the Province is determined to obtain full ownership of this site, when the City of Toronto is the majority landowner and currently has a First Parliament master plan underway. Further to this, the City has not expressed any interest to sell the lands, as we have our own ambitions to build out the site. If the Province is interested in collaborating with the City on the First Parliament site, we welcome the opportunity with broad community input. However, the City and community must not be pressured into any forced sale nor should we be directed to forfeit the City’s long-term ownership of the lands.
Transit expansion is critical, but it should not come at the expense of preserving and celebrating the national cultural heritage of the First Parliament site, nor overriding the long-term local planning priorities of the community and City.
On April 15, 2021, I will be hosting a public town hall bringing together local representatives, the City of Toronto, CreateTO, Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario to present their work and plans for the future of Canada’s First Parliament site, an urban space that holds a historical place in our nation’s birth. The evening will be organized around presentations and a robust and constructive community Q & A for the community. Visit FirstParliament.TO to learn more and to register to attend the town hall.
Date & time: Thursday, April 15, 2021 at 6:00 p.m.
- Kristyn Wong-Tam, City Councillor Ward 13
- Joe Cressy, City Councillor Ward 10
- Suze Morrison, MPP Toronto Centre
- Marci Ien, MP Toronto Centre
- Peter Smith, Senior Landscape Architect, DTAH
- Shalin Yeboah, Director Transit Expansion Program Planning, Transit Expansion Office
- Anthony Irving, Manager, Stakeholder & Community Relations, Transit Expansion Office
- Jason Ryan, Vice President of Pre-Construction Services, Metrolinx
- Frank Dieterman, Manager, Heritage Projects, Infrastructure Ontario
- Michael Fedchyshyn, Senior Vice President, Transit-Oriented Development Program, Infrastructure Ontario.