A report coming before the city’s executive committee next week is recommending that city council move forward with expropriation proceedings for air rights that would enable it to build the first phase of Rail Deck Park.
The 20-acre space above the Union Station Rail Corridor between Bathurst Street and Blue Jays Way represents the last downtown site that could accommodate a large park.
While the city has been trying since 2018 to acquire all the necessary rights to proceed with the park, there has been little progress.
“Negotiations for the acquisition of the property interests have been ongoing with the various owners with no success to date,” the city staff report says.
It goes on to recommend that council authorize expropriation of the air rights to three acres between Spadina Avenue and Blue Jays Way, south of Front Street West.
“Together with the city's existing one-acre Northern Linear Park property, the property interests would support the development of the first four acres of Rail Deck Park,” the report says.
The report says that a four-acre park “provides a wide range of programming potential” and would be roughly the same size as Grange Park, the green space adjacent to the Art Gallery of Ontario and OCAD.
Northern Linear Park refers to a small green space located at Blue Jays Way and Navy Wharf Court.
The four-acre space in question is also adjacent to Oxford Property Group’s “Union Park” proposal, a 3.3 million square-foot development project that would include a three-acre park built above the rail corridor east of Blue Jays Way and just north of the Rogers Centre.
Combined, the area subject to expropriation and the park in the Oxford proposal would create an initial seven-acre green space in the downtown core.
The move has the support of both Mayor John Tory and Joe Cressy, the councillor for the area.
“What’s the old expression? People’s eyes are bigger than their stomachs, or expectations exceed reality,” Tory told reporters at a news conference Thursday when asked why negotiations weren’t successful. “So when negotiations don’t work, it’s usually because there’s a failure to agree on how much should be paid. My job is to get this done, which we will, but also to protect the taxpayers’ interests.”
Tory said that while the city will still try to reach a deal, the authorization to move forward with expropriation sends a message that the project is too important for the city to negotiate forever.
“It just approves us going ahead with a process that says ‘we’re getting on with this,’” Tory said. “We’re not going to have these people keep us at the table forever when this is a very important public initiative that we’re taking in the interest of the city as a whole and the downtown neighbourhood in particular.
In a statement, Cressy called Rail Deck Park “a once in a generation city-building opportunity to transform space for residents, workers and visitors.”
The vision for Rail Deck Park contemplates a space that eventually extends to Bathurst Street. The report says city staff will pursue the air rights to the rail corridor lands between Spadina Avenue and Bathurst Street “at a time when staff are confident that they can be acquired at fair market value.”
While the report seeks authority from council to proceed with expropriation if necessary, it says that staff would first continue to negotiate to try and acquire the rights.
The request to move forward with expropriation for the first phase comes as the city moves to meet a 2020 deadline set by Metrolinx. The provincial transit agency is currently working on a large GO expansion project that would require significant infrastructure work, some of which would impact plans for Rail Deck Park.
The city’s acquisition of the property rights in the area is a precondition for working with Metrolinx on parts of the park infrastructure, such as track-level work, that only Metrolinx can deliver.
It’s not yet clear how much it will cost to expropriate the air rights for the first phase of the park. A city spokesperson said that as part of the process, staff would have to secure an appraisal and report back to council with a recommended acquisition value.
CN, which holds some of the air rights that may be subject to expropriation, declined to comment when contacted by CP24.com. The Toronto Terminals Railway Company, another rights holder, did not respond by deadline to requests for comment.