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Building on the allure of Yonge St.

City’s top condo builders discuss the appeal, the character and the transformation of Toronto’s main artery

Tracey Hanes – Toronto Star

Historic Yonge St. was built by Toronto founder John Graves Simcoe as a strategic military and commercial route between Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe.

More than 200 years later, the artery plays a central role in the city’s evolution.

It’s the site of Toronto’s first subway line, it spawned a rich musical and entertainment scene starting in the ’60s, and became home to the Eaton Centre, one of Canada’s largest malls and major tourist attraction. An estimated 1 million people gathered around Yonge and Dundas Sts. to celebrate the Blue Jays 1992 and ’93 World Series, and again in 2002 and 2010 for Olympic hockey gold.

The Guinness Book of World Records once listed it as the longest street in the world, stretching 1,896 kilometres from Toronto to the town of Rainy River, on the border with Minnesota. That changed in 1999, when the province separated it from Hwy. 11 and now Yonge St. ends just south of Lake Simcoe in the Barrie area.

In the past decade, a flurry of condo development has transformed the stretch of Yonge running through Toronto — and recently, beyond Toronto — into a highly desired residential corridor, from downtown to midtown to the suburbs, driven partially by provincial and city policies that encourage growth along existing transit corridors.

According to figures from market analysts at RealNet Canada, the period from January 2000 to October 2014 saw 135 condominium projects built along Yonge St. In those buildings, 41,923 condos were sold — almost 27% of the total 155,845 units launched across the city.

The Star brought together seven executives of the city’s top development companies with condo projects along Yonge St. — Riz Dhanji of Canderel Residential; Marco Filice of Liberty Development Corp.; Peter Freed of Freed Developments; Anson Kwok of Pinnacle International; Jared Menkes of Menkes Developments Ltd.; Jim Ritchie of Tridel; and Chris Wein of Great Gulf Residential; along with moderator Danny Roth of Brandon Communications — to explain the historic, renowned street’s significance in the residential condo market and what it means to the city.

Yonge Street 1903
The importance of Yonge St. to condo development

Yonge’s key appeal, according to the panelists, is transit — and the subway is the main draw. That applies whether the building is at the foot of Yonge St. and Lake Ontario’s shoreline, or north of Hwy. 401.

“The subway has always been the big draw for condos, whether it’s the Yonge line or another subway line,” said Ritchie. “For us, it started in North York on the subway line or very close to it. I don’t think there’s anyone in this room that doesn’t look at that transportation route and all the ancillary stuff that goes with it, such as office space and retail. That’s the simple answer.”

Freed’s company built its brand raising condos on King St. W. with no subway access (though it is served by streetcars) and now has two Yonge St. projects. “Yonge St. obviously is the main artery of our city and the longest road,” Freed said. “King West is more defined by a small neighbourhood and its own history, is close to the water and Queen St. West, and has other characteristics. Yonge has easier-to-understand characteristics as far as investors, renters and other potential purchasers are concerned, such as being on the subway, and different characteristics as you go north.”

Torontonians identify themselves by Yonge St., said Menkes, and whether they live east or west of the artery. The subway line serves as the dividing line.

“We are really committed to Yonge St.,” says Menkes, whose company has been a key player in the evolution of the Yonge-Sheppard area from bedroom community into a thriving area of office towers, retail shops, institutional buildings and highrise condominiums.

“I think for the development industry, Yonge St. is the Milky Way,” agreed Filice. “World on Yonge (Liberty’s large mixed-use development north of Steeles) is one of the newest shining stars and all along the corridor, there’s potential for a lot of stars to come out. It’s one of the main areas the world comes to.

“When you look at demographics, whether it’s retail, office investment or residential, a lot of international flavour is coming to Yonge St. and allowing Yonge to densify and become a popular place.”

“It’s the spine and it’s critical to the city’s success,” says Kwok. “When we (Pinnacle International) first came, Yonge St. was where to start, as that’s where Toronto begins.”

Yonge Street 1977
Diverse character

The Yonge St. in the heart of downtown isn’t the same street as that at midtown Yonge and Eglinton, or the Yonge St. that runs north of Steeles Ave.

“Yonge is such a long street, it’s not like King West,” said Wein. “It’s numerous neighbourhoods as you go up and down the strip… from the financial district to transitional areas, to the Mink Mile to Lawrence Ave. and North York — you can’t define it as one street. It’s a series of completely different neighbourhoods connected by the subway.”

“We are selling Yonge St., but there are collections of neighbourhoods that have different appeals to different buyers,” says Ritchie. “On either side of Yonge you have completely different markets and in North York, there is even different zoning, different school systems.”

There is no overall city (planning) policy for Yonge St., but there is a policy for various neighbourhoods, said Ritchie.

How condos have transformed Yonge St.

Large-scale condo developments have played a crucial role in revitalizing and re-energizing the street, says Wein. “You need density and scale. Part of what’s creating this is the size of the projects . . . the fact that we can do very large projects has really helped Yonge. There are other parts of the city where you just can’t get that density.

“What politicians and planners need to understand is that without (population) density — and that’s what makes New York so magical — you cannot create these great pedestrian thoroughfares and you can’t create retail that actually works because retail needs people,” Wein said.

“Density creates exciting retail opportunities,” agreed Freed. “If you have land, you can do exciting things with sidewalks and parks.”

Yonge Street 2014
The developers discussed the return of downtown Yonge St.’s popularity. Once the epicentre of Canada’s music scene and lined with clubs hosting live bands, the strip grew silent through the mid-’70s.

Dhanji said the Yonge and Gerrard Sts. area was very quiet when Canderel started developing YC Condos just north of the now-busy intersection. “In talking to the city (planners), it wanted more retail to bring the kind of vibrancy you see at the Eaton Centre and a walking pedestrian presence. When I started in 2007 selling Aura, there was nobody at Yonge and Gerrard. It was like a ghost town.”

He foresees Yonge St. developing into something similar to Fifth Ave. in New York — a long street with wide sidewalks, great retail, places to people to sit and connect, and courtyards. “I think that’s what the city’s future vision is for Yonge St., to animate it and make it this pedestrian-friendly walkway. At Aura, we extended sideways and added new retail and I this is going to continue to Yonge and Eglinton, and beyond.”

Filice said condos are also integrating features that encourage people to come out of their homes — features such as office space, retail shops and parkland allow a multitude of stakeholders to use and enjoy condo developments, he said.

Is mixed-use a must?

Blending components such as office space and stores with condo suites has created a new, mixed-use trend that draws a variety of people and uses to developments, including along Yonge St.

“Mixed-use can be many things — a hotel, office building, retail. It’s easier (for developers) to do a project without mixed-use as it’s just a single application (to the city) but you have a better community with it,” said Ritchie.

Wein said while many planners want mixed-use to go everywhere, it has to be in appropriate locations. “The neighbourhood dynamics have to function properly. There are areas where mixed-used is applicable, but other areas are not large enough to support it. On paper, it looks amazing but I’ve seen a lot of failures and it has to work beyond the project itself. You need thousands of people.”

Kwok said Pinnacle works on mixed-use projects on a large scale and having office and retail space is critical to its developments. Retail at street level and at the city’s underground PATH walkway level will be key to One Yonge playing a role as a gateway to the waterfront, he added.

Dhanji said “it’s a huge plus” for people to live in a building attached to retail shops where they don’t have to go outside. An even bigger advantage, he said, will be the extension of the PATH system allowing people to go in and out of buildings and integrating the city more.

Menkes said plans to extend the PATH system will also connect residents of Harbour Plaza project when the underground walkway is linked to the One Yonge development. “It’s so important. Our sidewalks are overextended and we don’t have any more room for people so they are going into the PATH.”

Yonge Street
The role of Toronto’s new government in developing Yonge St.

What the city desperately needs is a substantial investment in transit, the panelists agreed.

Filice said that a portion of the taxes, development fees and other charges generated by large condo projects should go back to the neighbourhoods it came from, most of them along Yonge, to continue the subway line. “The subway has to go north and integrate the 905.”

“We all know what we’d like to see, but there’s a reluctance to expect that someone will accomplish it at the end of the day,” said Freed. “There are huge infrastructure requirements. It’s so obvious as to what we need. Hopefully the leadership now will make it happen.”

Freed said he’d like to see a downtown core plan written with fixed dates and fixed dollars that couldn’t be changed as politicians change. “That’s more important that any individual’s opinion or platform.”

Dhanji said he believes the crosstown LRT will be a “game changer” and if a downtown relief line were built, it would be a major step forward.

Ritchie said while new mayor John Tory was elected on his platform of SmartTrack, it doesn’t directly address congestion on the Yonge St. line.

Menkes says the new mayor seems receptive to listening to all stakeholders in the community, and “he understands if you are going to build a city you are going to need development — I don’t know how he’s going to fix Yonge St. It’s going to come down to adding new lines.”

“It’s more than one mayor or city council,” said Wein. “It’s a provincial and city issue — and also a federal issue — because Toronto is an economic engine that feeds this country and we need to make sure it’s supported by all levels of government.”

“We are experiencing a massive migration of billions of people over the next 30 years to major cities and Toronto will continue to grow, like it or not, and we need to put infrastructure in place to support that growth.”

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.


Possible four-storey, low-rise condo envisioned for 35 Wabash Avenue

Many neighbouring residents not happy with the proposal, especially those on Lukow Terrace

Hilary Caton – Parkdale Villager

Condominium developer Curated Properties has a vision for 35 Wabash Avenue. It includes transforming the abandoned industrial lot that was once home to a sock factory into a four-storey condo complete with a rooftop terrace and underground parking.

But neighbouring residents aren’t sold on the vision.

It’s too big, too high and too dense, according to North Parkdale residents who came out to the pre-application meeting at Greek Cathedral Church, held by Curated Properties and hosted by Ward 14 councillor (Parkdale-High Park) Gord Perks.

Comment: Four storeys is too high? Wow… yet again, Toronto NIMBYs raise their heads to complain. Because yes, that nasty vacant lot is SO much better than a new building.

35 Wabash Avenue
The majority agreed the building simply does not fit the character of the neighbourhood.

Comment: The current character in the immediate area is a dilapidated abandoned factory and a vacant lot, next to the train tracks. How is a small 4-storey building going to make that worse?

However with the proper re-zoning and approval from the city, 35 Wabash Avenue could become a 70,000 square foot residential property containing 58 units, all of which are a minimum 1,100 square-feet, with 22 one-bedroom units, 28 two-bedroom units and eight three-bedroom units.

Comment: Exactly what the city needs. Low rise buildings in existing neighbourhoods with units large enough for families. But no, god forbid, can’t have that in MY neighbourhood.

The front of the condos, designed more like townhomes, will face Wabash Avenue with ground floor units equipped with separate entrances.

The overall concept, however, is still preliminary, according to the developer and its architect Roland Colthoff from RAW Design, who presented the concepts to about 30 residents.

But preliminary design or not, the residents along the east side of the proposed building are not happy with the idea that people in the new condos will be able to see into their backyards.

Comment: Like there is anything to see in their backyards. Why everyone gets so wiggy about that, I just don’t know. My neighbours behind me can see into my backyard from their second floor. Who cares? Why would they be staring at me? I just don’t care… Plant a tree if you want more privacy.

“That, to me, is a problem,” said Julie Pigozzo, a homeowner on Lukow Terrace who “spent a fortune” on her home last January and has a long list of concerns regarding the development.

“My main concern is privacy,” she told the Villager, visibly upset during meeting Thursday night, Jan. 15.

“This potentially has 14-20 units staring into our backyards and a fifth story staring down on us too. My second concern is if I did turn around and try and sell this house, who wants 20 people looking into your backyard?” Pigozzo asked, concerned about her home’s future resale value.

Comment: You know what? Most people really don’t care. My dad lives on a very posh street in Toronto. Years ago an old church was converted to condos, overlooking his yard. Did his property value go down? Nope. Still worth a fortune.

She suggested the idea of a fence for the rooftop portion, but according to Curated Properties’s president Adam Ochshorn that would only create “a jail-like” atmosphere. Instead, he said the best option is four-foot planters will be used as a buffer. He also added this building would not have balconies to encourage the overlook.

Attendees also brought up the issue of density. The building, if approved, would have a density of 2.7 in an area that allows 0.6. With such an increase it could put a strain on the community in a variety of ways, including parking and traffic issues.

Comment: Except the units would have their own parking. And 58 units might bring 58 cars, probably less. There is very little traffic in that area now, that tiny increase would not even be noticed.

“It’s additional traffic and it’s additional pressures on the community infrastructure which is very old as it is,” said Brian Torry, co-chair of the Roncesvalles-Macdonnell Residents’ Association (RMRA).

Comment: Maybe this would provide the final impetus needed to get working on the old Canada Linseed factory across the street. Renovate it and create community infrastructure. Two problems solved.

“Parking and traffic is a huge issue in that section of the community, especially because everything around it is small. Sorauren is very small, the streets aren’t built to accommodate that kind of increased density they’re thinking about putting in there. They’re just not.”

Comment: 58 units. This is the density they are freaking out about. 58 units.

Councillor Perks plans to ensure all the necessary studies are done through the city to ensure the impact the building will have on the area is minimal.

“The things we look at will be shadows, pressure on existing community services like daycare, parks, recreation facilities, libraries. We look at traffic, look at whether or not it creates problems and if the overall design is nice,” Perks explained. “It’s a very comprehensive process.”

During the meeting’s question and comment period, it was clear residents don’t approve of the proposal and would prefer single family homes be built on the lot, especially the residents on Lukow Terrace.

One resident suggested the condo developer consider a “good neighbour” incentive, which would have the developer contribute and maintain a community amenity, in turn for building this condo. Examples included maintaining and paying the maintenance for an ice rink that can operate at night with proper lighting, or contribute to beautifying the nearby Charles G. Williams Park.

“It’s something we’d consider, depending on what it was (that they want),” Ochshorn admitted, who added he’s open to hearing more about what the community wants from them.

“We’re not like, this is it and we’re going ram it down their throats. If someone told me they wanted me to build bigger and fewer units, I want to hear what the neighbours want. We’re open to anything. All these things are still evolving because it’s so preliminary and we’re going to regroup and see how our design will evolve and get ready to apply (to the city).”

Comment: But the residents need to stop complaining and turning little things into huge issues. Calm down and work with the city and the developer. Come up with something that works. Complaining doesn’t get anyone anywhere.

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.


GTA housing affordability falling; ‘we’re not far behind New York’

Ontario’s “laudable” push to higher density housing has gone too far, says a new report, driving unprecedented construction of condo units typically tailored for shorter-term living.”

Susan Pigg – Toronto Star

The GTA is fast becoming the New York of the north and even if house prices cool over the next few years, relief will be “modest,” at best, for beleaguered home buyers, says TD Economics in a report released Monday.

Comment: Toronto house prices are not going to cool. And how is it bad to be compared to New York? NYC is a highly desirable place to live. I would be happy to be in the same league as NYC.

The GTA is facing “growing structural challenges” that are pushing both renting and home ownership increasingly out of reach of even high-income residents, it warns. Top among them are government regulations and taxation.

The Ontario government’s “laudable” push to higher density housing has gone too far, driving unprecedented construction of tiny condos “typically tailored for shorter-term living,” while seeing the supply of more affordable, family-friendly townhouses and single-family homes plummet across the GTA.

Comment: Small condos are not caused by the government. More people want to live downtown, which drives condo construction. Land costs and overall housing costs are rising, making condos more expensive. Builders create smaller units to keep prices down, so that more people can buy them. It actually has nothing whatsoever to do with the government or taxation.

Toronto housing boom
This dramatic shift in the housing market is “contributing to poor housing choice and reducing mobility of residents,” TD notes, urging the need for a regional approach to housing problems, as is now happening with transit.

Comment: As I noted before, we have housing choices running from rooms for rent for $400 to rental apartments and rental condos for $1,600 a month. Through to houses in rough shape in non-trendy areas in the $300,000s to $600-800,000 for decent homes in cool neighbourhoods, through to $1 and $2 million luxury homes. And that is just in the 416. There are TONS of choices out there.

“Housing affordability has decreased in the GTA to the point where we’re not far behind New York,” said TD economist Diana Petramala, co-author of the report.

In Manhattan and its surrounding suburbs, it now takes 6.1 times the average income to buy a house, down from 7.9 times the income it cost in 2006 before the housing market collapse.

The more than decade-long GTA housing boom now has us outpacing New York, requiring 6.5 times the average income to buy a house here, up from 4.8 times the average income in 2006, Petramala said in a telephone interview.

Comment: Show us the math. What are the average incomes in both cities and what average housing prices are you using? I don’t believe your results without seeing how you got there. Especially when the GTA is ranked 323rd out of the 360 most expensive cities and New York is number 16. It is a completely illogical claim. Median sales price in NYC is $1,310,000 USD ($1,629,600 CAD)compared to $510,532 CAD in Toronto. Price per square foot for condos is $1,450 USD ($1,804 CD) in NYC vs. $543 CAD in Toronto. And yet this person wants to tell us that Toronto is LESS affordable than New York? Really? This means that the average income in NYC would have to be $267,148 CAD for their math to work, vs. $78,543 CAD in Toronto. According to the US Department of Labour, income in Manhattan is $2,749 USD a week, which is $177,823 CAD per year. That means it would take 7.4 times than income to buy the average property in New York. And Toronto’s median income, according to StatsCan is $71,210 for 2012. Which then puts us at 7.2 times income to buy the average property. While much closer than I had thought, their math is still wrong.

New York City
“The stakes are high surrounding the fortunes of the Greater Toronto Area housing market,” adds the report. “A healthy housing system is critical to a region’s economic fortunes. And with the GTA key to Canada’s economic engine, the success or failure of housing in this region carries significant national importance.”

Comment: And 87,049 sales last year, with probably 20-30,000 new condo sales – plus 20,000 MLS condo rentals and another 20,000 private rentals – indicates a VERY healthy market. If the prices were that out of whack, we would not have record sales and rentals.

Even renters are struggling, with monthly lease costs eating up almost half of household income for wage earners in the bottom 40%, “and the share of those in core housing need remains unacceptably high,” TD notes.

Comment: Their cherry-picked bottom 40%… with no mention of the top 60%.

At the same time, higher land costs, development charges, the HST and “restrictive government regulations,” such as the lack of proper zoning for higher density housing in many parts of the region, have added to costs and stretched build times to as much as seven years.

Comment: Housing cost are not connected to lack of proper zoning. Remember, this is all coming from the only major Canadian bank with a negative opinion of housing. Their CEO predicted house prices would decline in 2014, remember? So take anything they say with a few grains of salt.

The report largely echoes what the GTA development industry has been warning provincial and regional politicians for years — that the intensification policies of the province’s 2005 Places to Growth legislation come at a cost, and it’s largely being borne by homeowners.

“This has been 10 years in the making,” says George Carras, president of RealNet Canada, which provides sales and other new home and condo research to the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), the umbrella group for GTA home builders.

“The report has shone a light on the changing complexities in the approvals process that has brought with them increased costs and delays.”

The price gap between low rise homes and highrise condos hit another new high in 2014, says Carras, and now stands at $251,337. Even in areas like Vaughan, a new detached home can cost about $1 million and the alternative, semis and townhomes, are also climbing out of reach.

The price of townhouse land, for instance, climbed 22% in 2014 alone, notes Carras, to an unprecedented $1.9 million per acre.

Comment: What exactly is the definition of “townhouse land”? And where does it cost that much? Are there areas where it costs less? I bet development land in Oshawa costs less. Vaughan is known to be expensive, so it is a loaded stat.

vaughan house construction
The TD report only confirms the worrisome spikes in new home costs that RealNet is seeing, said Carras. The average cost of a new home across the GTA hit a new record in 2014, it reported Tuesday, up 8% from 2013 to $705,813.

The average new condo price also hit a new high, up 4% over 2013 to an index price of $454,476.

Comment: So people who want to pay less can buy resale.

Local governments, including Toronto’s real estate arm, Build Toronto, have been too slow in freeing up surplus land that could be used to build more affordable housing, says TD Economics.

And it may be time to consider an “idle land tax,” for land owners who are leaving lands undeveloped, hoping values will climb further.

Comment: That would be stupid.

BILD maintains the much bigger issue is the need to simplify approvals and provide more municipal infrastructure, like roads and sewers, that will allow projects to get off the ground.

Comment: Simplifying the entire planning department would be a start.

The province declined to comment on the TD report, other than to note that a public review of Places to Grow and greenbelt policies is expected to start sometime next month. It will include public meetings across the province, aimed at ensuring continued protection of prime agricultural lands but also planning decisions that support “healthy living and shorter commute times.”

More GTA residents are expected to be pushed into renting, both because of costs and aging demographics, TD says.

TD predicts that house prices could start flatlining this year after gains averaging 6 to 8% the last few years. But demand remains so strong for single-family homes that it could be 2021 until enough seniors and aging homeowners opt to cash out and move into smaller houses, condos or rentals, and boost the supply of houses for sale, says Petramala.

Comment: TD said prices would fall last year… uh huh.

Toronto Condo Construction
Challenging housing affordability, as well as a transportation system that is “struggling,” requires more of a regional approach and new government tax and incentive programs to get developers and the non-profit sector actually building the type of housing that demographics warrant, says TD.

The report adds that rising home costs “have been instrumental in driving up average debt-loads in the region, leaving households vulnerable to any unanticipated negative economic shock.”

Purpose-built rental has accounted for just 4% of new construction the last decade, yet demand has risen dramatically, notes TD.

Comment: And yet no one wants to build new rental stock. There has to be a reason. I don’t know what it is, but the demand is obviously there and no one – other than private condo owners – is trying to supply it.

“Helping these individuals most in need will require government subsidies,” says Derek Burleton, deputy chief economist at TD Economics.

Comment: The government should build apartment buildings and rent them out and subsidized rates.

Why the climb?

Key reasons behind increased housing demand and prohibitively higher prices, according to TD Economics:

$409,000 - Amount of combined mortgage and consumer loan debt carried by the average GTA household thanks to rising house prices and lure of low interest rates, according to consumer credit reporting agency Equifax.

Comment: Sure, but there is a HUGE difference between mortgage debt and credit card debt. The two MUST be separated to provide proper context.

5% - Average percentage a year that mortgage carrying costs have climbed in the last three to four years, just because of rising house prices.

Comment: If you are talking about buying a house today vs. 4 years ago. For people who already own, their mortgage carrying costs have not changed at all. Likely gone down, as they renew at lower rates.

$1,700 - Average monthly rent in the GTA of investor-owned condos largely geared to middle-income earners.

Comment: No, that is wrong. The average for a 1-bedroom condo is $1,609 and a 2-bedroom averages $2,165. They are not “geared” to anyone, those are simply the market rents out there right now.

$18,000 - Average development charges now levied on a new condo in the City of Toronto, which has increased fees more than 100%. The 905 regions charge even more, citing the costs of new infrastructure.

$28,000 - Development charges for a single-family home in the 416.

$140,000 - Annual income needed to finance a single-family home in the GTA, which TD says now costs about $740,000.

Comment: Or you could pay a $400,000 house in Ajax with an income of $80,000. Or a condo for $300,000 with 2 people making $30,000 each. There are all sort of options.

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.