Search Results for: converting commercial property to residential toronto
By Derek Raymaker – Globe and Mail
Some call the East End, ‘the last really good opportunity in the city’ for infill
Between the dull roar of the Don Valley Parkway and the dreary strip malls of Victoria Park Avenue lie some of Toronto’s most robust and proud neighbourhoods.
A little farther east is Leslieville, straddling the formerly skid-row stretch of Queen Street East that is being transformed into a vibrant core of cafes, boutiques, and visual art studios at a hellacious pace.
The residential portion of Leslieville used to be a solidly blue-collar enclave of compact semi-detached houses, but in the past five years, it has become an attractive market for first-time buyers on a budget. Prices and renovation activity have been cranked up accordingly.
Finally, there is the Beaches, one of Toronto’s most storied neighbourhoods, and the only one in the original city of Toronto with direct access to lakeshore recreation areas without an expressway or arterial road being in the way.
A rendering of the Queen City Vinegar Lofts in the former Queen City Vinegar Co. factory. Good use is made of the brick walls and large windows of the structure at 19 River St.; glassed-in units will be added to the top.
It’s also home to ferociously proud residents, well-versed in the finer points of zoning regulations and bylaws, and their battalions of school-age children. Homeowners have given the community a West Coast flavour, unafraid of experimenting with San Francisco style architecture and maritime-themed designs and finishes.
The Beaches has acquired so much cachet that it’s boundaries have mysteriously grown to include the Upper Beaches, a real estate agents’ euphemism for those neighbourhoods along Kingston Road as far east as Victoria Park Avenue, a stretch that gets noticeably un-Beaches-like the farther east you go.
Toronto’s well-entrenched east-side neighbourhoods don’t necessarily lend themselves easily to high-rise condominiums.
Small pockets have become home to successful 10-storey-plus condos, but they’ve usually been attached to a larger redevelopment. Such is the case around the Distillery District, where four condo towers have been built surrounding the upscale multipurpose shopping and dining complex.
The east-side neighbourhoods, with their creative, upstart, never-say-die character, have proven to be a successful breeding ground for similarly inclined developers with a specific interest in infill redevelopment or loft conversions.
Streetcar Developments Inc. started converting old industrial or commercial buildings into lofts on the east side almost four years ago, and has continued to actively seek out opportunities in the area.
“Everything else in downtown Toronto has been played out [in terms of loft conversions], so logic would dictate that this area is the last really good opportunity in the city,” says Les Mallins, president of Streetcar Developments.
“These are established neighbourhoods,” he adds. “We’re not looking to go in among people who’ve been living there for years only to have a negative impact. It’s important that we make ourselves part of the community.”
Mr. Mallins is holding out a lot of hope for the successful redevelopment of the East Don Lands, a massive urban rejuvenation spearheaded by Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp. that will replace 15 deteriorating factories east of Parliament Street in what is known as Corktown. TWRC hopes to have a large public park built there by 2009, and the area will eventually boast almost 6,000 new dwellings, a recreation centre and a school.
Streetcar Developments is getting ready to launch a new 38–loft development in the area in the former Queen City Vinegar Co. factory. It has four other Corktown sites in the planning stages.
The design of the Queen City Vinegar Lofts makes good use of the brick walls and large windows of the current four-storey structure at 19 River St., and adds another two storeys of glassed-in units.
The core of the West Don Lands’ residential component will likely come under the control of the more established high-rise developers and their standard designs, “so we’re staking out ourselves on the periphery,” Mr. Mallins says.
“The people [who] come to us – I’m not sure that they’re comparing us to other condominiums in the city,” he says. “I think they just don’t want to live in an ant farm.”
Farther east in the Beaches, Rashmi Nathwani, the principal of Namara Developments Ltd., is putting the finishing touches on the company’s North Beach project, an attractive six-storey brick-and-glass mid-rise at the corner of Main Street and Kingston Road.
“We’re definitely searching for properties” in that area, says Mr. Nathwani.
“We don’t really include a lot of amenities in these projects besides the usual party room and a common terrace,” he notes. “I feel that the real amenity is the neighbourhood.”
Perched near the top of the Kingston Road hill, the 74-suite project takes in a pleasant view of Lake Ontario below.
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By Jane Gadd – Globe and Mail
A bid to launch a creative new style of downtown loft by converting a laneway commercial building into two “town lofts” became a harsh primer in the bureaucratic process for two young sons in a Toronto development dynasty.
The costly tribulations of Jordan Mecklinger, 25, and his brother Shawn, 27, show just how hard it is to build housing anywhere in Toronto’s 311 kilometres of back lanes, despite the city’s commitment to increasing density in the core and to considering such projects on a case-by-case basis.
Jordan and Shawn, recent graduates in urban development and real estate finance, respectively, and the fourth generation in a family of builders, thought they’d come up with a no-brainer to brand their new company, Kilbarry Hill Corp., as a hip, young downtown developer.
They had purchased a building on Croft Street, tucked behind the shabby cafes and variety stores of Bathurst and College streets, right next door to a pioneer laneway loft conversion (the Croft Lofts) that had set a precedent when the Ontario Municipal Board approved it in the eighties.
The Mecklingers’ building, though zoned residential, was being used as a commercial photography studio. To turn it into housing would restore it to its correct legal use.
Furthermore, city planners had specifically mentioned Croft Street as the type of lane that is suitable for the odd, innovative little laneway homes that have been pet projects of a number of architects in the past 20 years. It was classified as a street, had water, sewage and power hookups and a number of commercial structures.
But their plans to transform the big square commercial building into two 2,100-square-foot residences with three open-plan levels and exposed beams and ducts quickly ran into trouble. They needed zoning variances because the present building filled the whole lot, and that meant notices were sent out to the neighbourhood, including the homeowners on to whose yards the property backed.
They got unlucky. Some of the neighbours hated the idea and one happened to work for the city. A massive neighbourhood mobilization ensued, and the Mecklingers found themselves facing a crowd of hostile faces at two public meetings called to discuss the plan.
At the second one, they were shouted down and hustled out of the public hall.
“We had introduced ourselves, said ‘Hi, we’re gonna be in the neighbourhood,’ and there were 20 or 30 people there all shouting,” Shawn says. “We weren’t building 150 townhomes or a high-rise condo, yet there was this huge mobilization and email campaign.”
After purchasing the property a year ago and closing the deal in February, they’d hoped to be starting the construction work last April.
Their uncle, Jerry Mamid, wanted to move into one of the units and had agreed to sell his family’s Forest Hill home to Shawn.
“The city ground us,” says Mr. Mamid, a former lawyer, teacher and garment factory owner who is “acquisitions director” for Kilbarry Hill.
When the variance issue went to the committee of adjustment, the plans were rejected.
The Mecklingers didn’t want to throw in the towel, and prepared an appeal to the OMB. It scheduled a meeting for August. The afternoon before the meeting, the family’s lawyer got a call from city solicitors asking for a compromise that would push the massing of the building away from backyards and onto the lane.
Mr. Mamid called on his father-in-law, 75-year-old architect Peter Darling, to do an 11th-hour overhaul of the plan, and the funky H-shaped original with its cut-in courtyards at front and back, and open space on the lane, was gone.
“It would have been beautiful,” Jordan sighs. “We wanted it to be like a wedding-cake step-up to the second and third levels. It would have been more aesthetically pleasing.”
Mr. Darling drew the redesign by hand, Mr. Mamid recalls.
“Faxes flew back and forth that afternoon and the next morning between lawyers’ offices.” When they got to the OMB hearing they had made a deal, which the OMB approved.
But still no building permit came.
After spending more than $700,000 on the property and $100,000 to get it through the approvals process, they still don’t have a permit in hand – though the city has said it will come in two weeks and has given them the go-ahead to proceed with digging up the floors and excavating soil for new footings.
Jordan and Shawn’s father, Alan Mecklinger, a developer and landlord of industrial and commercial plazas throughout the city, expresses bitterness.
“NDPers [at the city] are just picking our pockets,” he says. “A simple project is turned into a very, very costly chain of events orchestrated by the bureaucracy. … Everyone is a loser in the end.”
Then he switches from experienced businessman to fond father.
“I really saw it as a great opportunity for the boys to put themselves on the map with something creative in the central core, and it turned into a very miserable experience,” he says sadly.
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