Community groups propose new vision for Osgoode Station, pan Metrolinx plan

By Jessica Bruno

A Metrolinx plan to take over a piece of historic downtown greenspace at Osgoode Hall to build an Ontario Line subway station is getting pushback from city councillors and community leaders, who say it would cause “irreparable harm” to the landmark space.

“The intrusion into this historic cultural heritage landscape is egregious and absolutely unacceptable,” the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario’s Toronto chapter told city councillors.

Plan’s for Metrolinx’s updated Osgoode stop would take over the portion of greenspace at the north-east corner of Queen Street West and University Avenue for the main station entrance and construction staging.

Residents’ groups, architects, historians and Ontario’s lawyers are all speaking out against the plan, which they say will unnecessarily cut into a historic city landmark, while shrinking the area’s supply of green space and creating a pedestrian headache.

“Easy engineering and traffic convenience should not be prioritized over maintaining the integrity of Osgoode’s historic greenspace for the benefit of future generations,” wrote Liz Driver, the director and curator of Campbell House Museum, in a letter to councillors.  

On its community blog, Metrolinx states that “special care” will be taken “to preserve the unique historic character on display at Queen and University.”

The six-acre Osgoode Hall site is nearly 200 years old. The proposed area for re-zoning would stretch 32 metres by 40.6 metres into the garden, from the corner of the property’s iron fencing. Campbell House’s letter to councillors states that this is one-fifth of Osgoode’s garden. The letter also notes that Metrolinx’s rendering for the area “shows trees gone, protected views of the heritage property blocked, and part of the historic fence removed.”

Metrolinx states that while “small portions” of the fence will be removed, they will be put back once construction is done, with the work being supervised by a qualified expert.

“Protective material will be placed around the rest of the fence, entrance gates and any landscape elements near construction work,” the transit agency also stated.

Metrolinx's proposed location for the Ontario Line Osgoode stop

Metrolinx’s proposed location for the Ontario Line’s Osgoode stop is located on the grounds of Osgoode Hall.

Community-driven vision for major Toronto intersection

Toronto’s Planning and Development Committee voted Tuesday to ask Metrolinx to work with city staff to consider an alternative plan, drawn up by community residents’ groups. Full city council is scheduled to vote on the action on June 15.

“The Ontario Line project is a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to transform the public realm at University and Queen,” the Campbell House submission states. The proposal was initially put forward by the Grange Community Association and Campbell House, and then supported by a coalition of community groups.

Instead of taking the corner of parkland, the community groups want Metrolinx to convert the east lane of University Avenue into “Osgoode Plaza,” a parkette that would include the station entrance. On the intersection’s southeast side, the closed lane would be converted into a performing arts plaza directly outside the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

“This proposal has universal support in the community,” wrote Driver in Campbell House’s submission to councillors.

The community groups said they met with Metrolinx to present the alternative for the station in April. The groups say that at the time, Metrolinx promised to have engineers study the idea and respond within weeks, but they have yet to receive a response.  Many of the community groups also called attention to what they say was a lack of notice and public consultation by the city and Metrolinx during the initial design process.

“The proposed station entrance…is unrealistic,” wrote Don Young, co-chair of FoSTRAs advocacy and activism committee, in a letter to councillors. “At all times, but especially during rush hours, those entering and exiting the Ontario Line will be fighting for space with pedestrians who are waiting for the changing traffic lights at this very busy intersection, as well as cueing for streetcars heading west on Queen, and commuters entering and existing the existing Osgoode Station on the University line.”

Plans for the station include a second exit on the southwest side of the intersection.

“The entrances will be positioned to make it easy for customers coming from the subway to get to a streetcar stop without crossing this wide and busy intersection,” Metrolinx noted.

Metrolinx notes that by 2041, about 12,000 people are expected to go through the station at peak travel hours, with 1,000 people an hour transferring to streetcars. The transit agency also estimates that in future, there will be 16,500 residents within a 10-minute walk of the station, and 110,500 jobs in the area.

Other ideas put forward by community groups include moving the main station entrance either to the southwest or southeast corners, or north on University Avenue.

Osgoode Hall garden with station zoning

An estimated 20 percent of Osgoode’s garden would be taken over by Metrolinx’s Osgoode Station and related construction.

Other Toronto heritage properties affected by transit line  

With the exception of Osgoode Hall, the planning committee approved the bulk of the 16 proposed zoning changes that city staff submitted for the Ontario Line, based on Metrolinx information. They include changes to zoning for properties in Thorncliffe Park, Leslieville, the Docklands, Don Valley and Liberty Village. Related locations have faced their own community backlash.

The entire Ontario Line route is problematic for Toronto’s built history, says the Toronto chapter of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario.

“The project makes its way through a concentration of Toronto’s most significant heritage properties and heritage conservation districted, almost as if the route was chosen to inflict maximum damage,” the group has told city councillors and Metrolinx. The conservation group also acknowledges the dire need for transit.

“The Ontario Line will have irrevocable impacts on Toronto’s most significant heritage sites, including Fort York, Queen Street, East and West, Osgoode Hall, and the First Parliament Site,” the group stated.

ACO Toronto points out that, by Metrolinx’s own count, 35 heritage properties will be directly impacted by the project, with indirect impacts on 126 more properties. That includes 22 properties “for which complete or partial demolition is expected.” There’s also one historic property that will have to be temporarily relocated, and one property where the transit agency is expecting to do an archeological dig.

The volunteer groups wants Metrolinx and the city to establish a round table to consult on the historical impact of the route.

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