After sitting vacant and underutilized for approximately 70 years, a large property right in the centre of east-end Toronto is on the cusp of being transformed into an infill residential neighbourhood with a mix of condominiums, townhouses, affordable and market rentals, and affordable home ownership units.
Birchley Park will be comprised of two condominiums, 12 and nine storeys respectively, a Habitat for Humanity block of 58 affordable townhouses, and a 124-unit City of Toronto rental building, of which 64 units are to be affordable, significant parkland, and possibly a school.
The developer is Diamond Kilmer Developments, a joint venture of Diamond Corp. and Kilmer Brownfield Management Limited, a company that specializes in brownfield development.
Last year a major earthworks and grading operation was undertaken by York1 and then just this month a four-month rehabilitation of the property’s old sewers was completed. Now road construction and site servicing is underway, with an anticipated spring 2024 completion. Excavation for the parking garage of one of the condominiums has also started.
“We expect to have the first residents on the site by late 2026, with new parks constructed in time for those residents,” says Kilmer Brownfield’s environmental director Monisha Nandi, referring to the condominiums.
A geoexchange system will provide heating and cooling to those buildings. Under an agreement between Diamond Kilmer and Enwave, a borefield was installed and will be connected into the buildings as construction progresses.
The geothermal borefield required drilling of 116 boreholes up to 259 metres deep which will act as ground loop heat exchangers.
The development is the culmination of long years of effort and planning, first by the city and then by developer, says Nandi.
Located at the northeast intersection of Gerrard Street East and Victoria Park, the 19 acres were part of a much larger 49-acre property known as the “Quarry Lands” because it was once used as a brick works quarry and later as a gravel quarry.
By the late 1950s it became an unregulated fill site.
Over the decades assessments of the land were undertaken and several proposed developments considered, but none were implemented, Nandi says.
That situation began to slowly change when the 19 acres were purchased by the City of Toronto in 2006. Between 2013 and 2017 CreateTO, the city’s real estate portfolio manager, conducted a series of assessments and studies, plus obtaining environmental approvals to bring the property to a potential market stage.
In 2018, the agency selected Diamond Kilmer Developments as the preferred proponent to redevelop the property.
However, the developer’s vision for the 19 acres was somewhat different than CreateTO’s and, as part of the due diligence process, conducted environmental, geotechnical and other studies, plus condition assessments. A large team of specialized consultants are involved in the project, she says.
One of the “great environmental stories” about Birchley Park was that soil was appropriate for the site and did not require remediation or to be trucked offsite.
But it did have to be compacted and that was a large and complex procedure. Menard, a subcontractor to York1, used rapid impact compaction. The process did leave the ground surface lower and this was considered in the overall grading plan development for the site.
More than 35,000 cubic metres of soil trucked from other city construction sites, plus soil from the excavation of the first building, is being used to construct needed fill caps and a 600-metre derailment protection berm along the north side of the property adjacent a GO train line. Reaching between 2.5 to 5.5 metres high, the berm was a city requirement and the design had to be approved by Metrolinx, says Nandi.
The earthworks were the first step in the conversion of the site. The second was the rehabilitation of the site’s decades-old combined sewage and trunk sewers, some of which were up to 1.35 metres in diameter and as deep as 13 metres.
“They were in such poor condition that we were advised not to drive construction vehicles across them.”
After extensive consultation with sewer rehabilitation consultant AECOM, it was determined the best solution was cured-in-place lining, a process that involved inserting a resin impregnated tube within the deteriorated pipes.
Completed by Capital Sewer Services, a specialty subcontractor for subdivision works contractor Memme Infrastructure Contractors, the rehabilitation was not easy, Nandi explains.
“It required the construction of three manholes, two of which were 11 metres deep in order to access the sewer with the appropriate equipment. Bypass lines had to be constructed while the old sewers were being cleaned and lined,” she says.
New sewer lines will still be required and their installation, plus the construction of roads and the rail protection berm is the focus of activity currently underway. Work will continue throughout the winter months and then into next spring.
Five development blocks are created at Birchley Park. Under the development agreement with CreateTO, land will be conveyed to the city for its affordable housing project and a second parcel to Habitat for Humanity in 2024. Construction start timing of those buildings will be determined by those agencies, says Nandi.