Altree Developments has announced a new mid-rise project for a three-acre property in east Toronto that sits atop the steep banks of the heavily forested Highland Creek valley — a location that’s a tremendous selling point, to be sure, but also makes for development challenges.
The firm announced in March it had completed the purchase of both 1625 Military Trail and 6000 Kingston Road and its preliminary development plans were to construct two mid-rise buildings with approximately 500 residential units ranging between 425 to 875 square feet. A tentative timetable would see permitting undertaken in the next year, sales start next year, shovels in the ground in 2021 and possible occupancy in 2024.
Altree’s director of operations Jordan DeBrincat said her team is fully aware of the need to undertake full and early consultation with the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) to ensure erosion, slope stability and other issues are addressed at what she calls a “fantastic” site.
“The site is literally right on the creek,” DeBrincat said. “It is not necessarily a problem, we have worked with the Toronto Region Conservation Authority before and they have strict setbacks and rules to follow, which is not news to us but it is an added step in the zoning process. It is also a safety factor in that the slope is really steep, so it is just a matter of realizing that and making sure all safety precautions are taken on the site before we start construction.”
DeBrincat said the due diligence phase was already underway, with TRCA officials advising Altree of a couple of studies the firm would be asked to undertake.
“Working with the TRCA is fantastic,” said DeBrincat. “They know what they want and they know what they are looking for and as an experienced developer we knew what to expect.”
The TRCA’s associate director of development planning and permits Steve Heuchert explained the best practice for a developer with plans for a site that clearly lies in a protected watershed is to contact the TRCA as early as possible to determine what issues have to be addressed, to avoid slowing down the permitting process.
“To us it is very important that people come to talk to us at an early stage and we look at all the technical issues that might be on the site at an early stage,” said Heuchert.
“If the development consultation is looking to be complicated or challenging with regard to our policies, we will ask the proponent to engage us directly in a preconsultation review. We will go out to the site and bring along our ecologist and geotechnical and water resources staff and hydrogeology staff and try to figure out what the challenges might be, and we’ll work with the proponents to determine the types of studies that might be prepared.
“If it is very complicated we will ask them to submit the scope of work for those studies to us so we are all on the same page.”
The creek valley may be a site of great natural beauty but in regulatory terms it is a hazard that must be dealt with, Heurchert explained, to protect life and property. Among the many pieces of legislation that are called into play, the Provincial Policy Statement issued by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing stipulates that developments must be protected from natural hazards, and in turn they must not exacerbate hazards, he said.
“The natural hazard is the river and the flood plain and the meandering of the river and the steep slope,” said Heuchert.
Altree has already embarked on slope stability analysis. Further along in the process, a determination will be made based on a geotechnical study on how deep the setback will be from the top of the tableland.
“They identify where the top of that slope will erode to over a 100-year period,” said Heurchert. “That physical top of bank may not be the long-term stable top of the bank, or that 100-year erosion limit which might be on the tableland portion of the property.”
With greater flows of water today, Heurchert explained, “The bottom part of the river may be impacted more often than it would be predicted to be impacted in the past, which means that the creek will probably erode faster. If the slope fails at the bottom, it is eventually going to work its way up to the top.”