A popular community centre on Queen Street East won’t have to be torn down to make way for the Ontario Line, but despite that good news residents living along the route say they still have concerns about how the provincial transit project will impact their neighbourhood.
On Tuesday, provincial transit agency Metrolinx released updated designs for the most contentious section of the $11-billion Ontario Line: a 2-kilometre stretch between the Lower Don River and the intersection of Pape Avenue and Gerrard Street East.
That portion, which would run through Leslieville and Riverside, would be built above ground in the Lakeshore East GO corridor. Fitting in the Ontario Line while also accommodating additional commuter rail service under Metrolinx’s GO Transit expansion project will require doubling the number of tracks in the corridor from three to six.
The Jimmie Simpson Recreation Centre directly abuts the GO line at Queen East and Degrassi Street, and local residents have been worried that shoehorning more track into the corridor could require tearing down at least part of the facility, which offers swimming, fitness, after school and preschool programs.
But a Metrolinx post accompanying the new designs asserts the recreation centre “will be able to continue operating throughout construction (of the Ontario Line) and beyond.” The agency expects the above-ground portion of the line will stay “mostly within” the “existing footprint” of the GO corridor and the agency will “minimize impacts to surrounding neighbourhoods.”
A platform for the proposed Leslieville station would be located mostly south of Queen, allowing the community centre to remain in its location on the north side.
Kate Hilton with the residents’ group EastEnd Transit Alliance said the preservation of the community centre is terrific news.
She said the facility is a “really important hub in the middle of a very densely populated community that doesn’t have access to a lot of other recreational opportunities.”
But she said the latest plans still don’t provide detailed enough designs for the overground section, which could be either elevated or at ground level, to properly gauge its impact on the community. Once it’s operational, trains will run through the neighbourhood once every 90 seconds.
Hilton said she and her neighbours are also concerned about Metrolinx’s plans to grant property rights near stations to private developers in exchange for them paying for some costs of new transit infrastructure.
“Where are those developments going to occur? How high are they going to be?” Hilton asked.
Coun. Paula Fletcher (Ward 14, Toronto-Danforth) said she would need to see more specifics of Metrolinx’s plans before she could believe assurances the community centre won’t be touched.
“Them just telling us there’s no problem isn’t good enough for me,” she said. “I don’t believe anything they tell me off the bat.”
Fletcher said she’s also worried the line could encroach on seven public parks along the route, as well as nearby businesses and homes.
Asked about possible property expropriations, Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said the agency is “still assessing property needs” and expects to share more information with affected residents later this fall.
“Our default approach is to negotiate with property owners to reach amicable agreements, with expropriation reserved as a backstop,” she said.
Aikins said during the construction of the line there will be “some temporary impacts” to parks so that Metrolinx can avoid acquiring properties, but the agency is “committed to only using the space that is absolutely necessary.”
Early works for the line are expected to begin in 2021, but Metrolinx and the provincial government are no longer committing to the Ontario Line’s initial projected opening date of 2027. Aikins said the winning bidders on the construction contracts will determine when the line will open.