What Does the Downtown Relief Line (DRL) mean for Homeowners?

Last week, the Ontario government announced that they were giving Metrolinx more than $150 million to plan and design the downtown relief line, also called the DRL.

There has also been a preferred route revealed, travelling from Pape Station in the east, down to Queen Street East and Eastern Avenue, and west to Osgoode Station. The line would relieve the ongoing congestion occurring along the Yonge line, especially at Bloor-Yonge Station.

But what does this mean for homeowners along Pape, Queen, and in nearby areas? Will Riverdale, one of the prime neighbourhoods in the city, be altered for the better or worse? And how will Toronto real estate change?

What we know so far

While officials are being fairly vague with specifics, there are a few things we’ve been told thus far.

Toronto’s Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat spoke to the CBC on Friday, giving some details about the project. Homeowners in the east end should be happy to hear that “there won’t be expropriations” along Pape Street, meaning no homes will be taken from owners to make room for the subway.

However, Keesmaat was smart to include the fact that subways will be running under current homes. While that’s common along certain corridors of our current subway system, it definitely changes how locals perceive their neighbourhood. She did clarify, though, that “there are very stringent guidelines from the ministry of environment around noise and vibration that of course we will be adhering to.”

And although Keesmaat said all of that on Friday, TTC CEO Andy Byford and TTC spokeswoman Susan Sperling both said on June 1 that it’s too early to talk about expropriations, with Byford going so far as to say “any construction that’s done downtown, there’s going to be some impact.”

And even if there is an impact, Mayor John Tory reiterated that we could be up to 15 years away from an operational subway through that area. We also know that funding is not secured, so much of these plans are speculative for the time being.

The planned stops

While it’s hard to be sure at this point where the exact stops will be, the preferred route shows the following stops along the line:

  • Danforth & Pape
  • Gerrard & Pape
  • Queen & Pape
  • Eastern & Broadview
  • King & Sumach
  • Queen & Sherbourne
  • Queen & Yonge
  • Queen & University

ttc-relief-line-queen-pape-june-2016

New development and increased value

There is a strong preference for living near rapid transit, shown all along our current subway system and rapid transit systems around the world. This desire will bump home values and boost interest in new development.

If you’re wondering how much, consider this: commercial real estate company Avison Young conducted a survey ending in 2015 which shows that units in buildings less than 500 metres from a subway station are worth 30% more than those further away.

Lauren Haw, CEO of Zoocasa, sees a ton of opportunity and change with the arrival of the DRL.

“Condo developers will be looking to build,” she says, “shifting the density away from other areas and providing convenient living opportunities for those along the new line.” This could change the dynamic of a few areas, like the currently mixed Queen & Sherbourne or the eclectic Danforth & Pape.

“Leslieville, one of the hottest neighbourhoods in the last few years, will also see a change,” Haw adds. “Right now, the west end of Leslieville is closer to downtown, so it’s arguably more desirable. With this new line, the east end could see price growth and development allowing it to surpass the west end of Leslieville altogether.”

She adds that the new condo developments in Corktown and the Distillery District, where many of the Pan Am athletes were housed, suddenly has access to rapid transit, promoting condo growth only rivalled by Liberty Village. “There is also a new YMCA in that area. These routes will help those trying to use that great piece of community infrastructure.”

The impact on the neighbourhood

Byford is obviously correct in his earlier statement; if this subway line is going through dense, established areas, there will be disruptions. And it is possible that expropriations could occur: 32 residents in Scarborough were just sent notices that their properties, in part or in full, will be expropriated to make room for the Bloor-Danforth extension.

Also, none of the TTC spokespeople mentioned impacts on local businesses. Many of these corners have retail or private businesses that service the surrounding neighbourhoods. There are also small businesses like cafes and shops along Pape and Queen that may move or close due to ongoing construction over the coming years.

That said, there are commercial areas that will only benefit from this expansion.

“Gerrard Square—essentially a Walmart, Home Depot, and McDonald’s at Gerrard & Pape—will have the opportunity to expand into much more,” says Haw, “possibly building upward, or filling up with higher-end shops.”

Value versus grievance

Current homeowners have to decide if the headache of living in construction for the next decade or more is actually worth the eventual jump in value and convenience of living on rapid transit.

Owners could hold on to their properties and transition them into rental units once the subway is built, as they’ll be able to charge a lot more in 15 years’ time. They could also keep their properties as investments and live elsewhere, should they be able to afford that.

If homeowners know that their current home is not a long-term home, meaning 15 years or more, they’re best to sell now.

“Although the sell price may be more once the subway is complete, short-term owners don’t want to be bound to their homes during the period of development,” says Haw. “These owners will get good value now and great value upon completion, but will have trouble selling during construction.”

How to find out more

If you want to get involved or stay up-to-date in this process, there are several planning meetings happening around the city in the coming month:

Relief Line Meeting

Wednesday, June 15

Matty Eckler Community Centre

953 Gerrard Street East

6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

Relief Line Meeting

Monday, June 20

Calvary Church

746 Pape Avenue

6:30 pm ­– 8:30 pm

Transit Network Planning Meeting

Tuesday, June 21

City Hall, Members’ Lounge

100 Queen Street West

3:30 pm – 6:30 pm

Flickr: Chris Tyler

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About Jam Michael McDonald

Jam is a content editor based in Toronto. He's been the editor of a community newspaper, a national magazine, and two startups. Although he lives in a tiny condo, he uses every corner, and is an avid cheerleader of the compact home movement. You can find him every day on Twitter @mcjamdonald.

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