What’s with “Intensification”?

What’s with “Intensification”?

“Intensification” is one of those concepts that many, many  people approve of until they are told that it is going to happen beside them, or behind them.

To be honest:  I have a lot of sympathy for this reaction.

Intensification, building at greater densities than normal or traditionally done, is the ONLY way we are going to preserve farmland and greenspace; it is the only way we are going to preserve the Oak Ridges Moraine.  But, if I were living in a well established community with one or two storey homes, the prospect of a high rise beside me would make me ill.  Or, if I were living in an well established community with estate lots of  .8 hectaires (2 acres), the idea that the new development in the field behind me is to be one of townhouses, would be very concerning.

The scenarios I painted above are worst case scenarios; when I calm down, I know full well that there are intensification scenarios which do make a lot of sense and are ones I could live with next door.

Two recent examples:

Demolishing an abandoned factory and building a condominium in its place makes sense.

(In a sense this is what is being done in Schomberg:  where the alfalfa plant was, a 6 storey condo is being built.   I say “in a sense” as the plant has been gone for years and the site has been abandoned);

The addition of 40 units to York Region Housing on Dew Street.

Intensification is the only way we can absorb the number of people coming into York Region (YR).  YR is forecasted to grow 367 thousand, 39%, from  2006 to 2026.  (For perspective Ontario is forecast to grow 5 million, 36% from 2009 to 2036.) To house this population, without eliminating agricultural lands and green space it is imperative that we start living more densely.

If there is intensification where there is public transit, there will be the advantage of reducing cars and the need for more roads & highways.

Seeing this opportunity, the Province has identified population centres and has plans for there to be rapid transit to serve these population centres or nodes.  e.g  VIVA on Yonge Street, GO train both ways throughout the day between Toronto Union Station and Barrie.

Unfortunately, the tendency to do the intensification prior to the transportation infrastructure being installed happens too often.   In fact, some argue that the population needs to be in place to justify the large expenditure for the infrastructure.  To my mind, the latter thinking is not only backward, it is dangerous.

York Region has assigned to King Township a goal of 920 intensification units.  This is not in addition to previously identified growth plans.

2006 2016 2026
York Region 929,900 1,107,000 1504,300
King Township 20,350 29,000 35,000
King City (data is for year in (  ) 5,000                (2008) 10000 12000         (2021)

These 920 units will only be in the 3 villages as it is only in the 3 villages (King City, Nobleton, Schomberg) where there is a built up area.

My enthusiasm for intensification in King is tempered by the current lack of  public transit throughout the Township with the exception of the GO Train in King City.   But this opportunity is limited until we see a good solution to eliminate the current parking constraint at the GO station.  Clearly, if the intensification is within walking distance of the GO station, the parking concerns would not be relevant.

Township Staff is starting a process to engage the public in assessing opportunities for intensification in King Township.  I hope people will participate by asking questions about proximity to public transit, impact on the adjacencies (i.e. those who live around it) and other issues.

I understand the “why” at a macro level.  I need to understand much better the opportunities to do so in King.

Here’s More:

1) You can read the Township Staff’s Discussion Paper tabled and approved January 17, 2011 here.

2) The Toronto Star recently published an informative report that will provide a content to King’s requirements under this Provincial initiative to the rest of the GTA: here’s the link.

8 Responses to “ “What’s with “Intensification”?”

  1. Tom Jones says:

    Many of us live with a fond memory of King more than with a love for what exists today. We took for granted farmers’ field, natural forests, clean rivers, and quiet roads. We accepted the distance that prevented us from going shopping more than once a week or out to movies.

    Some of us enjoyed the rural character of King City as toddlers. Many more moved here looking for more space, quiet and privacy without excessive travel time to work. There have always been costs to living here.

    Personal transportation has always been a challenge for residents. We rely mainly on automobiles to access services and recreation. This is especially challenging for those under 24 and over 65 when insurance rates are extremely high. This is improving with transit leading development.

    Traffic has done much damage to the charm of the village centre. We were identified as the least expensive corridor for transport to the Keele Valley Landfill and had to accept first, heavy traffic for disposal, then transition to being a corridor for commuters and transport south and southwest from Newmarket to Oak Ridges. It is an unpleasant walk along the King Sideroad from early morning until after 7:00 PM all week. York Region continues to invest in upgrades that increase traffic flow through rather than around King City. That hurts us.

    The future desirability of living in King depends on attention to King’s heritage and the qualities that are valued. Preserve what is worth keeping. Undo the wrongs that have been done for profit. Plan in keeping with a “big picture” that embraces peoples’ needs within the context of our heritage and Provincial requirements for intensification. If we develop for profit, quality of life will suffer deeply.

  2. Bruce Craig says:

    Hi Debbie,

    Thanks for opening up this forum on the question of intensification. I am also glad the Township has hosted three open houses on this question.

    Personally, I am open to thoughtful, well-designed and landscaped intensification in the village cores. However, this intensification needs to be on an appropriate scale to our relatively small communities – NO to six-story structures. Three stories should be the maximum. I see numerous opportunities on the main roads of King City and Nobleton for redevelopment that preserves heritage structures and creates additional residential units. Architectural design is a critical component to make this work. Maple has some examples of thoughtful concepts in intensification – just south of Major Mac on Keele Street.

    I believe new retail and services need to be well-integrated with areas where intensification takes place in order to create communities that don’t rely so much on cars, encourage more pedestrian activity and provide housing for young people and seniors.

    A clear sense of space between structures and properties needs to be maintained in order to preserve the village character of our three main communities. New structures can be built further back on many of the deeper lots, and heritage homes can be retained.

    As some other writers have stated, transit and traffic flow need to be considered carefully as intensification projects are proposed and approved.

    Overall, I see positive opportunities in proceeding with well-planned intensification projects that fit well into our existing communities.

    Bruce Craig

  3. Sheila Comisso says:

    I don’t disagree about concentrating on redeveloping brown field sites, abandoned lands , the expansion of existing buildings or selling redundant municipal structures/land. However, if it were to happen by means of using severances to add more dwellings and at the risk of shadowing, obstructing views, invading privacy and creating traffic congestion or parking issues then the preservation of King City’s established low density neighborhoods are ALL at risk. Our entire village is low density and limited to growth because of the Oak Ridges Moraine and Greenbelt restrictions many of our residents supported.
    The map of King City in the Intensification Discussion Paper denotes large portions on either side of Keele Street (north of the Go Station) and as well on King Road (between Keele Street and Bennet Drive) as prospective areas for intensification. The congestion at the Go Station increases daily and parking is largely unavailable to anyone who lives in King City. Some clear direction from GO Transit and other regional bus carriers is of tantamount importance when soliciting an opinion from all residents as to the merits of which areas should be intensified or not. More people brings more traffic and a burden on a village infrastructure that appears unprepared for heady regional plans.
    Finally, while one would think intensification is the answer to curbing urban sprawl this is not necessarily so as there is no mention that there would be a ceiling to growth. Without a ceiling it will only be a matter of time before our Township witnesses an explosion of high rises blocking our view of the countryside similar to what has occurred on the lakeshore or between Yonge/Finch and Highway 401 and elsewhere in Toronto and the GTA.

    • Debbie says:

      Dear Sheila,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment – intensification brings so many other issues to bear as part of our overall planning strategy. Your point about severances is “bang on.” And the need for public transit to support intensification, be it in King or in Newmarket is very critical.

  4. Jeff Laidlaw says:

    Intensification is one of those strange concepts that works extremely well in urbanized / urban settings and is somewhat more upsetting in rural communities.

    I remember years ago reading a paper from the City of Toronto Planning Department recognizing that … done properly …. the City of Toronto could increase its population by some 4 million people without altering city boundaries / limits; and I take that to heart when discussing the issue.

    If a place like King needs to accept growth (and the jury is still out on that one), then to do so without impacting farmland and the rural way of life seems sensible….. Having said that; if there’s adequate room in Toronto for the growth to occur, why would we willingly decimate and destroy our rural villages ?

    It’s unfortunate that I’m a tad cynical and suspect that the intensification argument has far more to do with the costs to the development industry of building a 6 story condo vs. 400 lots and single family dwellings.

    Obviously the profit margin in a 6 story condo project is significantly higher; and thus the intensification argument becomes a wonderful rationalization to get away with doing exactly what the developer wants to.

    While I can understand that people think the intensification is a good idea if the growth is inevitable; I suggest that the basic premises need to be carefully reviewed before blindly accepting these sorts of statements.

    But that’s just one man’s viewpoint.

  5. gary vogan says:

    While the population growth numbers shown in the chart are quite real (official plan) I believe it would be more meaningful for the Township of King to show the 2006 column as 2010. We did not grow very much from 2001 to 2010.

    We have fallen well behind the controlled growth pace that was set out for King in the 2001 York Region official plan while debating and eventually approving the much delayed infrastructure projects in the three towns.

    We are 5-7 years behind the growth targets set by the Region in 2001. People need to realize that one of the prices of procrastination and debate is often the accelerated growth required to catch up. The economic consequences of missing our targets will make us even more unaffordable and much less sustainable.

    It is important that we stop using the Township of King as a reserve for the large estate homes. We need more affordable housing for older and younger people alike. The towns need more local shoppers to support the merchants. The business community will not grow to make a 10-15% percent of tax contribution without younger families around to drive it for the next 15 years. There may not be enough land to even allow the business community to maintain current tax levels (estimated at 5-7%).

    We are at 0.7 on the provinces smart growth index. Until we get over the basic minimum of 1.0 King Township will not be close to what we are intended to be. More estate homes will not help. It is time we all accept that the future of King Township needs to involve a much younger base of stakeholders than we have today.

    King has to make a more concerted effort to attract younger families and retain our seniors at the same time.

    Our NIMBY policies of the past won’t cut it going forward.

    • Debbie says:

      Hello Gary– I am glad you have pointed out the need to be using “right” population forecasts; forecasted growth in both King and YR has slowed down versus earlier projections. The YR 2009 Official Plan (approved Sept. 2010) does reflect this lag and it is pretty consistent with your comments: about 5 years slower. For King 35,100 is now forecasted for 2031. Across the Township, community plans do already include a number of developments which are denser than estate lots. To characterize the debate as one between estate lots and intensification polarizes the debate too quickly I think. And as you have talked about “smart growth” I want to add that intensification without effective public transit is not smart at all.

  6. Greg Locke says:

    Thanks for this informative update Debbie.

    Despite my support for intensification on a number of levels, I personally think the Region will have a hard time achieving their overall numbers, let alone what’s demanded for King (and ours: 15 – 20% – is half of the Provincial target).

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