As part of the Thornhill Yonge Street Study for the municipalities of Markham and Vaughan, Urban Strategies prepared a unified urban design vision, and supporting land use plan and policy framework. These components formed the basis for Official Plan and Secondary Plan Amendments as well as amendments to two Heritage Conservation District Plans. The goals of the policy framework focused on establishing new mixed-use land use categories and corresponding density permissions to allow mid-rise commercial/residential intensification along the proposed Yonge Street transit corridor. At the same time, it seeks to strengthen existing heritage conservation policies and preserve concentrations of house form commercial fabric, features that positively contribute to the character of the district. Automotive, service commercial and highway commercial land use designations were eliminated and minimum FSI requirements were established to ensure new developments would appropriately reflect the scale and character of an urban main street.
Urban Design Standards
Urban Design is fundamental to the creation of successful environments that endure and retain value. As part of the Thorhill Yonge Street Study, Urban Strategies prepared comprehensive urban design guidelines to direct the evolution of public and private properties within the Thornhill Heritage Conservation District. The urban design recommendations will be utilized to structure, organize and evaluate development proposals and capital improvement projects to promote a high quality, pedestrian friendly district with a high quality of design execution.
Components of the guidelines include an urban design plan, which graphically communicates the organization and recommendations of primary built form elements. It creates a simple point of reference to communicate the intent of the guidelines to developers, municipal staff, politicians, and the public. General site development guidelines establish recommendations for building orientation, height, setbacks and general site landscaping requirements. Detailed built form guidelines establish design parameters for new infill developments, additions to existing heritage structures and concentrations of house form mixed use developments, to ensure the character of the district as a historic village is enhanced. Many of these guidelines will be integrated into the Heritage Conservation District Plans of both municipalities, or amended within municipal bylaw.
Main Street Revitalization
Urban Strategies was retained to establish a unified urban design vision, policy framework and an integrated transit and streetscape improvement plan to guide revitalization of the Yonge Street corridor within the Thornhill Heritage Conservation District. This was the first joint planning initiative undertaken by the municipalities of Vaughan and Markham, and the first initiative for both municipalities involving intensification along a proposed transit corridor within a designated heritage conservation district.
Established as a mill town in the 1830s, Thornhill has lost much of its historic character on Yonge Street due to post-war expansion, successive street widening and suburban strip mall developments, making the village centre unattractive to people and commercial activities.
The urban design vision encourages infill development and establishes a balance between new mid-rise mixed-use developments on underutilized sites, while supporting significant improvements to heritage structures and the public realm. Mid-rise intensification will support a new dedicated rapid bus transitway, and an integrated transit and streetscape improvement program will help to encourage desired private sector reinvestment along the corridor.
Parks & Streetscape
As part of the Thornhill Yonge Street Study, Urban Strategies established a comprehensive public realm master plan and a detailed streetscape improvement program to direct over 7 million dollars of capital improvements. The program identifies streetscape design components, regional and municipal responsibilities, and financial and cost sharing agreements necessary for the development of the Yonge Street Primary Streetscape and Transitway. Private sector developments are required through the redevelopment process to complement public sector improvements and expand the Yonge Street public realm and pedestrian environment to create a 7.0m pedestrian and retail shopping environment with a very high quality of streetscape and landscaping. These improvements will distinguish and strengthen the urban character of the Thornhill Heritage Conservation District.
The Public Realm Master plan and Streetscape Improvement Plan include a recommended palette of elements, including special paving, street lighting and pedestrian scale lighting, and a district landscaping plan which identifies street tree and median plantings, seasonal and special plantings at transit station locations and pedestrian waiting areas and parks. The Region of York and area municipalities will implement the program jointly.
Transit Oriented Planning
One of the key challenges of the Thornhill Yonge Street Study was to establish a clear direction for the design of a rapid bus transitway and conceptual direction for streetscape improvements to provide guidance and input an Environmental Assessment for the transitway. Working collaboratively with the York Region Rapid Transit Consortium, local stakeholder groups and municipal staff, Urban Strategies developed a preferred landscaped centre median option and associated streetscape and transitway design criteria that were subsequently adopted within the final recommendations of the Environmental Assessment. This has established the basis for the approved transportation right of way and the transit station location. The streetscape and transitway design criteria will integrate the transitway within the established heritage community and include reduced roadway and transitway design standards, the creation of safe in-street pedestrian refuge areas, the elimination of unnecessary dedicated right turn lanes, and the development of a high caliber streetscape in keeping with the character and importance of the Heritage Conservation District. These criteria provide the basis for the development of a detailed streetscape improvement program also undertaken by Urban Strategies.