Tower could present a ‘risk to life’

City fights de­vel­oper over plan to put build­ing near rail line


Toronto is fight­ing a de­vel­oper’s plan to build a high­rise tower right next to a down­town rail cor­ri­dor be­cause city plan­ners say it would put of­fice work­ers’ lives at risk if a freight train de­railed.

Freed De­vel­op­ments wants to build a 19-storey tower di­rectly next to the rail cor­ri­dor prop­erty line. Un­usu­ally, the tower would be split down the mid­dle, with the north and rail­way-fac­ing side of the tower con­tain­ing of­fice space, and the south side of the tower con­tain­ing con­do­mini­ums.

But the city says the of­fice por­tion of the build­ing is too close to the rail cor­ri­dor, would present an “unac- cept­able risk to life” and in­sists a big­ger buf­fer zone is needed to pro­tect the of­fice tower and its oc­cu­pants from a de­rail­ment.

How­ever, the pro­posed buf­fer zone leaves less room for the de­vel­oper to build. The de­vel­oper ar­gues the of­fice tower will act as the buf­fer for the condo and its residents.

The fight, which has drawn ref­er­ences to the 2013 dis­as­ter in Lac Me­gan­tic, Que., is now at the On­tario Mu­nic­i­pal Board (OMB) af­ter Freed De­vel­op­ments ap­pealed the city’s re­fusal of its build­ing ap­pli­ca­tion on Dupont St.

The city is cit­ing rail safety as a ma­jor con­cern, which was the fo­cus of ar­gu­ments at a hear­ing that con­cluded Fri­day.

The city says the pro­posal both repre- sents bad plan­ning and does not cre­ate an ap­pro­pri­ate buf­fer from the rail­way line that car­ries up to 40 trains daily at speeds up­wards of 80 kilo­me­tres per hour.

“Of­fice work­ers spend the ma­jor­ity of their day at their place of em­ploy­ment. If a train were de­railed, the con­se­quences would be no dif­fer­ent than for a res­i­dent in its unit,” se­nior city plan­ner Gi­ulio Cescato wrote in a frank wit­ness state­ment sub­mit­ted as ev­i­dence at the board hear­ing.

“In layper­son’s terms; the lives of res­i­den­tial users are not more valu­able than those of com­mer­cial of­fice work­ers.”

The ap­pli­ca­tion was first sub­mit­ted in 2010 by the Wynn Fam­ily Trust for three mixed-use build­ings of vary­ing heights that would be be­tween eight and 29 storeys.

Staff re­fused that plan in May 2011, with a re­port not­ing sev­eral prob­lems with the de­sign, in­clud­ing that it “fails to ad­dress se­ri­ous rail safety mat­ters.”

A state­ment from Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­way (CPR), which op­er­ates the line, said the com­pany was “not in favour of res­i­den­tial uses ad­ja­cent to our right-of-way as this land use is not com­pat­i­ble with rail­way op­er­a­tions.”

Since then, Freed has taken over the site and sub­mit­ted re­vised ap­pli­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the cur­rent con­fig­u­ra­tion in 2016: A nine-storey of­fice build­ing linked to the 19-storey com­bined of­fice and condo build­ing.

With no set­back from the rail cor­ri­dor prop­erty line, the de­sign in­cludes what’s called a crash wall, meant to de­flect a de­rail­ing train.

The de­vel­oper says they are fol­low­ing na­tion­ally-ac­cepted guide­lines on rail safety by pro­tect­ing res­i­den­tial uses from the threat of de­rail­ment.

But the city’s rail in­fra­struc­ture ex­pert said best prac­tice would be to set back any high-oc­cu­pancy build­ing, which he said in­cludes of­fices, and ar­gued the devel­op­ment as pro­posed pre­sented an “un­ac­cept­able risk to life.”

There is no le­gal re­quire­ment for how far a build­ing must be set back from the rail cor­ri­dor.

Na­tional guide­lines pro­duced by the Fed­er­a­tion of Cana­dian Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in co­op­er­a­tion with the Rail­way As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada, rec­om­mend res­i­den­tial uses be set back 30 me­tres from a rail­way cor­ri­dor with an earthen berm sep­a­rat­ing those build­ings and the rail line.

When staff stud­ied the Dupont St. area in 2014, the city’s con­sul­tants rec­om­mended res­i­den­tial and of­fice uses be set back a min­i­mum 30 me­tres from the rail cor­ri­dor and have a berm.

But af­ter sev­eral ap­peals at the OMB along the south­ern edge of the rail cor­ri­dor, a set­tle­ment be­tween the city and de­vel­op­ers re­quired a min­i­mum 20-me­tre set­back and al­ter­na­tive safety mea­sures found ac­cept­able by the city, such as a crash wall.

Bous­fields Inc. part­ner and land use plan­ner Peter Smith, hired by Freed, wrote in a wit­ness state­ment that the of­fice is not a sen­si­tive land use and ar­gued there could be more peo­ple in a re­tail space than the same sized of­fice space, so of­fice spa­ces could be al­lowed closer to the rail cor­ri­dor.

Though the de­vel­oper has not said so out­right, the set­back im­pacts how much it could con­struct on the land and there­fore how much profit it could make. Be­cause parts of the ir­reg­u­larly-shaped site are 35 to 38 me­tres deep, a set­back of 20 or 30 me­tres would com­pli­cate what could be built, Smith told the OMB.

“I don’t think it’s about whether one loses 50 peo­ple in the case of a cat­a­strophic event or 500 peo­ple,” Smith said un­der ques­tion­ing from the city’s lawyer Abbie Moscovich. “We all col­lec­tively have made de­ci­sions through this process, in­clud­ing putting more res­i­den­tial units closer to the rail cor­ri­dor than what the purest de­fault po­si­tion would say. I don’t think any of us have done that think­ing we’re putting peo­ple in harm’s way. The rea­son that we’re rec­om­mend­ing that is be­cause of the crash wall de­sign and mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures, which are de­signed so that there’s no loss of life. And so, if there’s no loss of life, it doesn’t mat­ter if we save 50 peo­ple or whether we save 500.”

Smith said he was re­ly­ing on ev­i­dence from the de­vel­oper’s other ex­perts on rail safety mea­sures that the wall would hold and it was not nec­es­sary to build an of­fice fur­ther back from the rail line.

One of those ex­perts, Lawrence Rut­ledge, a se­nior en­gi­neer­ing tech- nol­o­gist with John­son Sus­tronk We­in­stein + As­so­ciates made the fol­low­ing con­clu­sion in his writ­ten state­ment: “Based on the de­sign of the pro­posed build­ing and crash wall, the pro­posed of­fice use is an ap­pro­pri­ate buf­fer from the per­spec­tive of rail safety.”

The city’s rail in­fra­struc­ture ex­pert, Pa­trick O’Con­nor, dis­agreed that the wall alone would pro­tect what’s be­hind it against a de­rail­ment, and there­fore the of­fice should not be used as a buf­fer.

“Should the crash wall fail so could the struc­ture above it re­sult­ing in an un­ac­cept­able risk to life,” O’Con­nor, an en­gi­neer with con­sult­ing firm Hatch, wrote in his wit­ness state­ment.

O’Con­nor said a de­rail­ment on a main line like the CPR route run­ning along Dupont can oc­cur for a num­ber of rea­sons, in any di­rec­tion, at any time.

In con­clud­ing its case and urg­ing the board to ap­prove its pro­posal, Freed’s lawyer David Bron­skill, a part­ner at Toronto firm Good­mans LLP, said: “What is be­fore you is safe . . . It will not just be safe, but it will be safer than the ex­ist­ing sit­u­a­tion.”

The city’s lawyer, Moscovich, out­lined that no ev­i­dence was pro­vided that a wall of any kind could be de­signed to be im­pen­e­tra­ble.

“In light of what you heard the rail in­fra­struc­ture ex­pert say, that yes a wall can be breached, you can’t say un­equiv­o­cally that it won’t be breached and in light of that you should have some space to spare . . . do you re­ally want to take that risk? And I’d sub­mit to you that you don’t.”

The fi­nal de­ci­sion on whether to ap­prove the devel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tion is now up to the OMB mem­ber. A de­ci­sion is ex­pected in Au­gust at the ear­li­est.


A de­vel­oper wants to build a 19-storey tower next to this rail line along Dupont St., near Spad­ina Rd. and How­land Ave.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.