BY LINDA MONDOUX
Imagine a lakefront community where access to the water is cut off by a coal-fired power generating station occupying 64 hectares of prime waterfront property, its four smokestacks sticking out like a sore thumb on the shores of Lake Ontario as they cast a dark shadow over a neighbourhood that is tired to the bone of fighting off polluting industry.
Now imagine that same power generating site years later, wiped clean of all traces of dirty coal, combined with neighbouring property and transformed into a sustainable mixed-used community where the waterfront is the star attraction. In this 99-hectare master-planned paradise you will find eco-friendly homes and green businesses, greenspace galore, waterfront trails, European-inspired recreational canals, wetlands, an arts and culture island and a kilometre-long pier perfect for evening strolls.
It’s this vision of healthy living on the waterfront, inspired by one man’s late-night walk with his dog in 1994, that is unfolding with amazing speed in the Lakeview neighbourhood of Mississauga, east of Port Credit. When fully developed over the next two decades, the master-planned community that will rise up on the northern shore of Lake Ontario will be a showcase for brownfield redevelopment.
“There will be nothing like it in Canada,” says Jim Tovey, the Lakeview resident behind the redevelopment vision. He is now propelling the project forward as the new councillor for the ward, a position he reluctantly ran for at the urging of his many supporters. “The goal is to be the most sustainable community in the world.”
While world-class sustainable communities are not built in a day, Tovey tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com: “I want to start building within two years. We’ll start at the lakeshore and work our way out.”
'Exciting step forward'
There are several issues to hammer out before construction can begin, including who will own the former generating site now in the hands of Ontario Power Generation; what needs cleaning up; and how the lake will be filled to create the islands that will connect to the Port Credit waterfront via a floating trail. There are also the logistics to consider, such as which areas will be zoned for housing, commercial etc., and how transportation will fit in.
If anyone can get things moving quickly, however, it is Tovey, whose tenacity has already resulted in a signed Memorandum of Understanding committing the province of Ontario, OPG and the City of Mississauga to work together on the shared vision known as Inspiration Lakeview. The agreement, announced on June 20, was cobbled together in record time.
“This is an important and exciting step forward for Mississauga’s revitalized waterfront,” Mississauga South MPP Charles Sousa said in the June news release. “I’m so proud that we’ve been able to get everyone to the table to help write this next chapter in Lakeview’s post-power story.”
While future ownership of the OPG land is being decided, residents anxious to see their waterfront redeveloped as quickly as possible won’t have long to wait for the first improvement — access to Lake Ontario, something that has been cut off here for more than more than 120 years by various industry.
Before we look ahead to the changes you’ll see on Mississauga’s waterfront in the near future, here is a look at how this ambitious redevelopment plan, which eventually could see 25,000 people settled into the new master-planned community, came to be:
• The Ontario Power Generation site at Lakeview includes about 65 hectares of land south of Lakeshore Road East in southeast Mississauga, next to Peel Region’s water treatment plant and wastewater treatment plant and the City of Toronto’s Marie Curtis Park to the east. Coal-fired power first started to be produced there in October 1961.
• It was in 1994 when Jim Tovey, a resident of Lakeview for 10 years at that time, was walking his dog around the hydro corridor one late night. As the moon broke above the smokestacks over Lake Ontario, “it was only then that I realized the size of the power generating site.” It was this revelation, together with the fact he had noticed health issues in the neighbourhood — “a lot of people with cancer” — that got Tovey thinking about how things needed to change. He still chuckles at how “a conversation started with my dog back in 1994 made it to the premier’s office.”
• The power plant was closed in 2005 after 43 years of service, following a decision by the McGuinty government to eliminate coal-fired energy in Ontario by 2014, and the OPG land was to be rezoned from manufacturing to utilities. “We feared another plant would be setting up,” recalls Tovey. “Then there was a proposal for a gas power plant.” Tovey, who says “it’s wrong to pour dirty industry into neighbourhoods, especially on the waterfront,” feared that Lakeview’s history of pollution, which stretched back to the early 1800s and included everything from an artillery range to a garbage dump to a munitions factory, would continue. “I thought, ‘We have to break the cycle.’ ”
• In early 2006, Tovey was in contact with the minister of energy. “I said there was a great opportunity to get public access to the waterfront,” now that the power plant was no longer in service. He started a residents’ association to build support for a Lakeview that did not include a plant on the OPG property. Up to 800 people joined. Thinking big, Tovey and his association teamed up the University of Toronto’s department of landscape research, which used its modelling equipment to show how the residents’ ideas for the OPG site would look.
• While the residents planned, OPG spent 2006 and 2007 clearing the site, including demolition of the smokestacks, known as the “Four Sisters.” Talk of a gas plant lingered.
• With the vision for Lakeview now complete, Tovey took the plan to Mississauga council on Feb. 27, 2008. Council liked what it saw, and passed a resolution telling the Ontario Power Authority that “we are strongly opposed to the construction of a gas power plant in the Lakeview community; and further, that the council of the City of Mississauga encourage staff to commence planning for the redevelopment of Lakeview as a diverse, multi-faceted community for the 21st century.”
• Later in 2008, on July 16, the minister of energy invited Tovey, MPP Sousa, Mayor Hazel McCallion and others to a meeting where he told them that Lakeview “would be a model for smart growth in the province.” The mayor asked Tovey to chair a committee on waterfront redevelopment. The Lakeview vision was about to take shape.
• In 2009, the Lakeview Ratepayers Association was named a Design Exchange Award winner for its Lakeview Legacy Project, spearheaded by Tovey. It was one of two national awards the project won for urban planning. Tovey was told that the plan was worth at least $500,000 — a fine gift to the city. Also in 2009, Tovey was named Citizen of the Year, an honour he accepted on behalf of his community. “I just rode the wave,” he tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com.
• In April 2010, council asked that a request for proposals be prepared to hire a consulting firm to begin a study of the OPG lands and how they might be redeveloped. With Urban Strategies Inc. leading the exercise, the Inspiration Lakeview process began on Oct. 6, 2010, with the first of a series of community meetings.
• On Dec. 1, 2010, it was officially announced that the province, the city and Ontario Power Generation would be working together on a shared vision and action plan for the redevelopment of the Lakeview lands.
• The consultant’s report on what the community envisioned for the Lakeview lands was presented to the city’s planning and development committee on April 18, 2011. Bruce Carr, the city’s director of community initiatives, presented the report and the “next steps,” which includes the preparation of a master plan for the Lakeview area, lakefill studies and access to the western pier located on the OPG lands.
Pier walks the first step ...
“It’s going to be an exciting community, one that people would want to live in,” Carr told MyNewWaterfrontHome.com in late June, just one week before his retirement from city hall. “We’ve even identified a place for a community college.”
Carr said the working plan is very similar to the concept that Tovey and the residents of Lakeview dreamed up three years ago. “It’s a refinement of what they were proposing,” he said. “They had more density — we’ve made the public space bigger.” He is also excited about the planned canals — borrowed from a community project in Sweden — and says they could be used year-round for recreation, including skating in the winter. “We could have another Rideau Canal here,” Carr enthused. Landscaped canals to capture stormwater are also planned.
The proposed canals would create an island at the south end of the community. According to Inspiration Lakeview, the island will be a showcase for cultural activities, with everything from small art galleries to artisan workshops to theatres, with supporting uses such as markets, restaurants and public squares for festivals and other gatherings.
Developers are “itching” to get going, with industrial land around the former generating site being snapped up for future development. Carr expects the ownership issue to be worked out within three years.
In the meantime, plans are in motion to get people out onto the deep-water OPG pier, which extends one kilometre into Lake Ontario, offering incredible panoramic views. Access to the western pier would be a first step in providing a link to the Waterfront Trail from Lakefront Promenade Park and marina to the west. “It will be great to get the community out on the site,” says Carr, who said pier walks should be available by next summer.
Meanwhile, the city is working with the Region of Peel and the Toronto and Credit Valley conservation authorities to get the ball rolling on providing waterfront access that is now cut off to Lakefront Promenade Park from the east because of the OPG site and the adjacent regional waste water treatment plant. According to the Lakeview plan, the strategic use of lakefill could create a new “green water’s edge” south of the waste water plant, connecting the Arsenal lands (a former industrial site) and Marie Curtis Park to the eastern breakwall and the proposed green corridor. Along with providing a continuous east-west trail along the waterfront, the new shoreline would improve marine habitat and reintroduce wetlands.
For the nature-loving Tovey, who is also an advocate for heritage conservation, he couldn’t be more pleased with the final Inspiration Lakeview plan. There’s more greenspace than even the residents thought of including, he says, making it “even more environmentally friendly.”
The next time you’re admiring the waterfront in Port Credit — Mississauga’s current gem on Lake Ontario — head east to Lakefront Promenade Park to check out the progress at the OPG site next door. Then imagine yourself strolling along that long, long pier next summer as Part 1 of Inspiration Lakeview becomes reality, thanks to a man and his dog out for a moonlight walk.
MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — July 2011