Toronto considers building homes and retail on top of a busy highway
Toronto needs housing, and fast, but programs to bring affordable homes to underutilized city properties have only gone so far in addressing a crisis-level shortage of low-rent and subsidized units, while inclusionary zoning policy is still far too fresh of a move to assess.
Highways are among the last places one would think to place affordable housing, but the Allen Road/Expressway is a rare case of publicly-owned land with frequent transit service, the highway's sunken corridor also home to a branch of the TTC's Line 1 subway.
So, why the heck not?
With a substantial development boom occurring in the area of Marlee Avenue, Councillor Mike Colle penned a letter to members of the Planning and Housing Committee, stating "an urgent need to provide affordable housing and social infrastructure for the thousands of new residents that will be moving into the area."
Colle's letter goes on to call for the City to "explore all possible housing opportunities, especially on publicly owned lands located within a ten-minute walk to three subway stations in the area."
The request stems from Colle's December 2021 council motion requesting staff to study the feasibility of a new bridge over the Allen, a missing link that would connect the York Beltline Trail and Kay Gardner Beltline Trail.
With the study in motion, Colle is asking for a report on the option of incorporating affordable housing and retail on future bridging over the highway.
Colle recommends that the Chief Planning and Executive Director of City Planning report back in the first quarter of 2023 on the feasibility of building housing and retail on highway bridges, including the "possibility of building housing above the Allen Road from Lawrence Avenue West to Eglinton Avenue West as a future possible affordable housing site and retail site in any future bridging opportunities."
He cites The Cap at Union Station as an example of using bridge infrastructure to provide space in unconventional places, a 25,500-square-foot retail development constructed above I-670, an Inner Belt Highway in downtown Columbus, Ohio.
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