Transit-focused housing necessary to maximize investments in infrastructure

Imagine a prime piece of land near a GO station in the GTA. What should be built on it? It’s an important question, especially when you consider that our region is growing by about 100,000 people a year.

An intensive pattern of development near transit hubs is just smart planning for smart growth. Giving people and businesses easy access to transit means more people use it and we maximize our public investment. BILD has long advocated for higher densities in transit station areas and along transit corridors, and has urged the province to require municipalities to update their zoning bylaws accordingly.

Recently, young professionals from the building industry gathered to discuss ideas about what they would build on such a site. The group looked at a piece of land just under 6,000 square metres in size, located at Wellington St. W. and Centre St., near the Aurora GO station. Because of its proximity to a major transit station, the area is required to meet minimum density targets outlined in the Ontario Growth Plan. Yet the maximum building height permitted on the site by the Town of Aurora’s Official Plan is only six storeys.

The builders’ two creative proposals for the site aimed to fill the void known as the “missing middle,” which is the lack of midrise, townhouse and stacked townhouse housing options in the GTA. They proposed townhouses, stacked townhouses and midrise buildings of eight and nine storeys. Unfortunately, these proposals exceed the six storeys allowed in Aurora’s Official Plan.

One proposal, presented by Tyler Grinyer, a senior associate at land-use planning firm Bousfields, included a three-storey townhouse on Centre St., and a nine-storey midrise on Wellington St. W., with retail and a daycare on the ground floor. Grinyer’s proposed outdoor amenities included a playground and a dog run and wash station. A coffee shop with patio was suggested for a converted heritage house on the site.

Read more:

Growth plan will fill in ‘missing middle’ of housing choices: report

Grinyer proposed eliminating resident parking spaces — while offering on-site ride-sharing — to allow for family-friendly, three-bedroom units at lower price points. However, eliminating parking is also not permitted under Aurora’s Official Plan, which requires a minimum of one parking space for every unit.

Another proposal, presented by Barry Gula, vice-president of development and engineering at Freed Developments, stayed closer to Aurora’s zoning bylaws to minimize complications in the approvals process. Gula’s project featured four-storey stacked townhouses on Centre St. and three-storey townhouses on all sides of the base of an eight-storey midrise on Wellington St. W. It included a gym to attract GO riders as well as residents. Due to a lack of foot traffic in the area, Gula chose not to include any retail spaces.

Aurora Councillor Tom Mrakas, who participated in the discussion, explained that Aurora tries to strike a balance between revitalization and retaining its unique small town flavour. In order to be comfortable with taller buildings, he said, local councillors and residents need to understand how greater density benefits the community.

In the GTA, we need more transit-focused density to maximize the investments we are making in the infrastructure. That means working together to educate residents and local decision-makers about the importance of having more people live near transit.

Bryan Tuckey is president and CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) and is a land-use planner who has worked for municipal, regional and provincial governments. Find him at twitter.com/bildgta, facebook.com/bildgta and bildblogs.ca.

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