New condos in Beaches try to respect institutions
National Post – Alex Newman (www.integritycommunications.ca)
It’s an oft-repeated saw that Toronto has turned its back on the waterfront, regarding it in only the most utilitarian of terms. Even the city’s east-end beaches of Woodbine, Kew, Scarborough and Balmy — at one time pleasure destinations with their Coney Island-like amusement parks — fell into the doldrums for several decades.
Only after the global urban revolution to revitalize waterfronts was well underway did Toronto developers begin to recognize the charms of this bit of lakeside Eden. Since then, condo development in the Beach over the past 15 years has been quiet but steady.
Apart from the transformation of the master-planned community at the former Woodbine racetrack, the Beach has not experienced rapid infill growth, due in part to the shortage of available land, but also because of vocal neighbourhood associations and stringent city planning guidelines. And the condo projects that have risen here and there on main streets are barely noticeable — generally no taller than six storeys, and stepped back so they don’t tower over the street.
Developers have been successful with Beach House Lofts, Academy Lane Lofts, Waterworks Lofts, GreenHouse Lofts and Hammersmith Lofts on Queen Street. Along Kingston Road, there’s Modern Beach Lofts at No. 952 and North Beach Lofts at No. 601. A little farther north along Gerrard Street, the Ted Reeve redevelopment in the Upper Beach prompted a spate of new townhome developments that now line Gerrard Street from Main to Victoria Park.
It’s main streets such as these that are designated as suitable for intensification by the City of Toronto. Called “Avenues” in the city’s new plan, these streets can support a mix of retail and housing, and are ideal for condo development. In fact, Shane Fenton, who is developing LakeHouse Beach Residences at 1962 Queen St. E. with his father, Shelley, believes that condos and retail make excellent bedfellows, because they support one another — retail provides amenities for condo residents, and condos supply more foot traffic on the street. It’s a win-win, especially if the development can promote good neighbourhoods.
The object, writes Jay Walljasper, author of The Great Neighbourhood Book, “is to create a place not a design, because good places promote sociability … some historians have noted that the gradual shift of outdoor life at home from the front porch to the back patio is a key element in our declining sense of community.”
With large expanses of glass at street level, the more recent mid-rise condo projects — Bellefair, LakeHouse, One Rainsford — offer a “front porch” focus that looks to promote a neighbourhood feel along Queen Street.
To the Fentons, who specialize in mid-rise main street condo projects, neighbourhood is the key selling feature here. Location is the amenity, Mr. Fenton says. “Kew Gardens and the library; shops and restaurants; the Boardwalk” are all nearby.
There’s also the Beach’s general laid-back atmosphere, the preservation of which has some community activists opposing the new condo projects, particularly LakeHouse, which is situated at the former Lick’s Homeburgers. Roland Rom Coltoff, the architect with Raw Design who designed LakeHouse, chalks this up to a “strong sense of community identity.”
Part of that identity lies in an emotional attachment to Lick’s, started in 1980 at that location, which is also why the developers have promised to relocate it somewhere in the neighbourhood. As for the building, nobody — developer, city planner or architect — felt the mixture of structures added on to over the years was worth restoring.
What will take its place is a six-storey building rising 16 metres up from the sidewalk, at which point it steps back “to tie into a 45-degree angular plane, so when you’re walking along the street you aren’t dwarfed by a high building, and you can only see four storeys, not the full five or six,” Mr. Fenton says.
Being entirely new, LakeHouse will be mostly glass to allow for as much natural light as possible into the suites. It will be mixed with other materials such as iron-spotted brick, spandrel (translucent and coloured) glass and ipe wood mullions that are sympathetic to the neighbourhood, Mr. Rom Coltoff says.
Since this is the Beach, and lake views are coveted, balconies (with a gas hookup for the barbecue) come with every suite — even the smallest 550-square-foot ones — but some suites have enormous terraces of 1,000 sq. ft., which also have water views. As space is too tight to accommodate ramps, the building has a central car elevator system to access the 25 underground parking spots.
At the Fentons’ other project, the Bellefair, history, nostalgia and emotional attachment were very much part of the process. Although the 1922 former United Church was not on the heritage list, a heritage architect was hired to “make sure the façades could be retained, and done with the best heritage preservation in mind,” says Mr. Rom Coltoff, architect in charge of the project.
It was the developers’ willingness to preserve the church façade that won them the bid, elbowing out 10 other contenders in the process, even though the congregation had dwindled to the point it has joined the United Church on Wineva Avenue.
“They still wanted to exit with grace and make sure that whoever bought it would be sympathetic to its history,” Mr. Fenton says. “As it is now designed, it will stand as emotional connection to everyone in the neighbourhood. People will forever be able to walk by and say, I was married or baptized in that church.”
Not only did the church bestow atmosphere and character to the street, Mr. Rom Coltoff says, it also had intrinsic architectural merit. The precast and brick exterior, as well as some interesting pilasters around the church tower, were design details worth keeping. Elevations and unit sizes were worked out around those features.
The effect is a blend of modern and late Gothic, with glass and steel grafted on to the architectural details and embellishments of the old church. There will be 23 condos in the church structure at the corner of Queen and Bellefair, and six townhomes connected by a courtyard in the structure to the north.
West of Woodbine Avenue on Queen Street is One Rainsford, a modern mid-rise condo of 28 units developed by Mitchell & Associates with the Riedel Group. As with both LakeHouse and Bellefair, this project has large expanses of glass that keep it connected to the street. Situated at the foot of Rainsford Road amid a quickly developing retail area of chi-chi bakeries and shops, One Rainsford is offering what downsizing Beachers desperately want — space.
By any condo standards, the suites are large, averaging 1,700 sq. ft., with 40% of them larger than 2,000 sq. ft., and the smallest at a generous 1,000 sq. ft. Mr. Mitchell says buyers downsizing out of Beach homes are not keen on moving into an 800-sq.-ft. condo, and they’re willing to pay for the space — prices range between $500,000 and $2.2-million.
It just goes to show what Mr. Mitchell considers “a clear demand for the Queen Street corridor.”
There’s also demand for condo buildings elsewhere in the area, but not everyone is enamoured of them, especially people who live on side streets. Residents of Kippendavie Avenue have been fighting a proposed 83-unit condo co-op on their street for the past two years. Bill Burrows, who founded the nearly 500-member Kew Beach Neighbourhood Association in response to the condo, says the problem is not development, which “is inevitable … and part of living in a big city,” but the way the city approved it.
Objections from the KBNA resulted in the project, called Kew Beach Living, being reduced to 60 units ranging from 550 sq. ft. to a 1210-sq.-ft. penthouse.
Basically, “the city had already made up its mind to go ahead with this development,” Mr. Burrows says. “The infrastructure is sick … overburdened and under capacity” with parking problems and basement flooding on the street.
What concerns the KBNA most is the precedent for intensification on residential streets, which Mr. Burrows says has the potential for “changing the whole character of a neighbourhood.” The project does replace several cottages, and unlike the projects along Queen Street, will be a predominantly brick structure and will appear more like traditional condo apartment buildings.
But the city doesn’t see it that way. According to Leontine Major, senior planner for this area, Kippendavie is the only residential street to have a condo project because “the proposed building is between two apartments and behind an apartment … so apartments are one of the prevailing building types.”
Furthermore, she adds, “it’s not expected that there will be a substantial amount of new development in the Beach. Like the rest of the city’s main streets, Queen Street East will continue to evolve over time. Within the areas [that are] designated neighbourhood, the city’s official plan envisions these areas as remaining stable without significant development.”
Good news for the neighbours, maybe, but for anyone buying a condo, it can only mean that condo suites will be harder to find, and with the Beach increasing in desirability, they’ll have a bigger price tag.
Contact the Jeffrey Team for more information – 416-388-1960
Laurin & Natalie Jeffrey are Toronto Realtors with Century 21 Regal Realty.
They did not write these articles, they just reproduce them here for people
who are interested in Toronto real estate. They do not work for any builders.