Rush to get condo plans approved amid fears of labour disruption
Natalie Alcoba – National Post
With City Hall labour strife on the horizon and the condo craze still firing on all cylinders, downtown Toronto city councillors will consider a stack of development applications in the new year that propose to add another 7,000 Toronto condo units to the market.
The rush to move forward on 18 projects appears to be fuelled by fears of a municipal lockout or strike. The contracts of more than 28,000 city workers expire on Dec. 31, and labour disruption would bring progress on planning to a halt.
It also speaks to the unrelenting pace of the Toronto condo market — a marvel for many a speculator who is both charmed and stunned by its growth. National home sales rose half a per cent in November. In Toronto, residential real estate transactions were up 11% from last November, and the price of an average home jumped nearly 10%, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board.
The Bank of America Merrill Lynch warned that the Canadian housing market is showing signs of a “classic bubble,” and predict that in the nation’s largest city there will not be enough renters to fill the glut of condo units as they are completed.
This kind of dire forecasting rankles Brad J. Lamb, a prolific Toronto condo developer.
“I don’t think Merrill Lynch or any U.S. bank analyst in the real estate industry has any credibility. You can’t believe anything they say,” he said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “It’s like throwing a dart at a spinning dartboard. Nobody can predict the future of the real estate market.
“I’ve been selling real estate since 1988, and the No. 1 question I get asked is when is it going to collapse? I’m not saying that there aren’t issues in our marketplace, but here are the facts: The resale market for condos is extremely strong, and the average time to sell is 27 days. The average time to sell in the U.S. is nine months.”
About 18,000 new condo units are expected to be finished in 2011 in the Toronto area, according to one estimate, and 37,000 are under construction.
Don Campbell, president of the Real Estate Investment Network, said that is “a massive amount of keys” to be handed out and will lead to an oversupply in 2012, followed by a cap in home value increases in 2013 and 2014.
“Outside of China, Toronto is the hottest condo market, and really, do the demand and the job growth really support that? No. It’s not Calgary or Edmonton,” said Mr. Campbell. “I’ve been telling [people] for six months, I really think that 2013 you’re going to start to see issues show up.”
In total, developers behind the 18 projects are proposing to construct 7,045 new units, mostly towers with a sprinkling of townhouses. The projects are up for consideration at the Jan. 10 Toronto East York community council meeting. Ten of the 18 applications are in the early stages of the planning process. These include building a trifecta of towers on the site of the former OPP headquarters at 90 Harbour St. — two that soar 70 storeys and a 31-floor office building — converting a historical church on Perth Avenue to lofts and turning a heritage building in the Distillery District into a 34-storey hotel and condo.
City planners oppose two projects — a 36-storey tower at 323-333 King St. West and 11- and 15-storey towers at 621 King St. West — because they constitute “over-development” of the area.
Mr. Lamb and Councillor Adam Vaughan (Trinity-Spadina) say the onslaught of applications is due to fears over labour unrest. Developers are also trying to avoid rising application and development charges, Mr. Vaughan said.
“The industry is very afraid that the Mayor’s move for a lockout is going to have significant consequences for the real estate market,” Mr. Vaughan said.
It would delay building inspections, along with permits for construction staging, he said. “If the Mayor’s goal is to break the union, it’s going to be a long lockout,” Mr. Vaughan said.
The city has asked for a Ministry of Labour appointed conciliator to help it reach an agreement with CUPE Local 416, which represents 6,000 outside city workers.
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday says he remains optimistic both sides can hammer out a resolution. “I have not heard from a lot of residents, but I certainly have heard from a lot of employees and they would be quite happy to make whatever changes, avoid large pay increases and let life go on, the last thing on earth people want is a disruption,” he said.
Still, he said, “if I was a developer wanting to get matters through, I would want to do it sooner rather than later just because of the unknown.”
Retaining the view from the top?
Amid the construction frenzy, City Hall is moving toward ensuring developers do not build on at least one site: its own backyard.
The city’s planning division wants to launch public consultation meetings on a change to the official plan that would protect the views from the south of City Hall and neighbouring Old City Hall.
“Jurisdictions around the world protect views of their important civic buildings out of respect for their significant histories and symbolic value,” says a report to be considered by the Toronto East York community council.
Since both addresses are “two of the most important heritage buildings in the city,” staff argue that more robust zoning and policies are needed “to preserve the silhouette” of the two buildings, specifically, the roofline of the clock tower at Old City Hall, and the silhouette of City Hall.
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
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