The redevelopment of Wilson Station’s main parking lot: A brief overview

Aerial view of the Wilson Station parking lot.

Wide streets with right-of-ways, narrow sidewalks, and parking lots. It’s no secret that our sprawling city was designed to accommodate vehicles – often at the expense of pedestrians, cyclists, and surface transit. 

But today, Toronto is at a crossroads. To improve our quality of life and to ensure an equitable city for generations to come, we need to accommodate a quickly growing population in an increasingly unaffordable city. In part, this means adding density to our neighbourhoods by giving up space dedicated for vehicles to build public amenities, retail, and housing at both market and affordable rates. 

Of course, one of the most significant barriers to doing so is the scarcity and high cost of land in Toronto. But to tackle this challenge, the City has established an agency called CreateTO (formally Build Toronto) to assess the development potential of Toronto’s ‘surplus’ real estate, including the three commuter parking lots at the Wilson Subway Station. 

At its peak, there were a total of 2,110 parking spots dedicated to commuter parking at Wilson Station. Today that number has shrunk to nearly 1,000. This has left many commuters often lining-up to access parking or even being turned away in frustration by the “lot full” sign. 

In 2016, CreateTO sold the Wilson West Lot (610 parking spots) to a developer who transformed the land into retail space. And in 2017, the Wilson South Lot (541 spots) was sold and turned into a mid-rise condominium. Commuters were assured that the reduction in parking spots would be offset by additional spots at Yorkdale Station and at new stations along the recently extended Yonge-University subway. 

Now, CreateTO has turned its attention to the final remaining parking lot at Wilson Station, the Wilson Main Lot at 50 Wilson Heights Boulevard. The agency sees the redevelopment as an “…opportunity to create a new pedestrian focused complex…[with] an affordable housing component within the development”. This is supported by the City’s ‘Housing Now’ initiative to redevelop multiple city-owned properties into “affordable housing within mixed-income, mixed-use, transit-oriented communities”. 

But the local community is split on the issue. 

On one hand, people accept that Toronto’s streets are clogged with vehicular traffic and that the future of our transit system can’t be based on parking lots, but instead based on connecting people to our transit system in more efficient ways. These people recognize the necessity of transit-oriented development, especially building affordable housing near our subway stations. Supporters also point to data collected by CreateTO which suggest that the parking lot at Wilson Station is not serving local residents, but rather, 70% of spots are being used by commuters from the Greater Toronto Area, places like Woodbridge and Kleinburg.  

On the other hand, people see the redevelopment of the parking lot as yet another attack in the longstanding “war on the car”. And while some, including York Centre Councillor James Pasternak, acknowledge the need to build more affordable housing in Toronto, they believe the selection of a commuter parking lot is “ill-advised”. “It would be far more prudent to build [affordable housing] on [a] site where you are not disrupting hundreds of commuters and creating anxiety in the community,” he said at a public meeting to discuss the proposed development. Furthermore, some community members have expressed concerns that have nothing to do with parking, but rather a lack of a strategic planning for the infrastructure required to accommodate an increase in population, such as local schools and parks. 

Councillor Pasternak has set up a working group for community members to discuss the proposed development at 50 Wilson Heights Blvd. and to address the concerns raised regarding parking capacity and accessibility. The first working group meeting will be held on August 14th at 6:30pm at the 6:30pm-8:30pm at Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am, Sisterhood Hall. 

This is a developing story which I will continue to cover over the coming months.

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