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Loft conversion projects are transforming abandoned factory lands into residential neighbourhood as local residents want redevelopment that integrates with the community.
About four years ago, shortly after developers tore down a derelict industrial building on Lansdowne Ave., local resident Dyan Marie decided it was time to get a cat. The rodent population in the neighbourhood exploded when the boarded-up eyesore, once home to the American Standard factory, was razed.
“No one wanted to touch those buildings for 20 or 30 years, so we were delighted when the developers moved in. But when they started cleaning it up, the mice and rats infested the neighbourhood,” the local activist recounts.
Adopting her cat, Pip, was a small price to pay to see Lansdowne Ave. redeveloped. New condominiums and condo townhouses are now replacing abandoned factories, and the influx of new homeowners is revitalizing the neighbourhood.
“The rodent infestation was just a passing phase,” laughs Marie, founder of DIG IN (Dupont Improvement Group: Improving the Neighbourhood.) “We’re delighted we’re getting these lands back on line. We do see the neighbourhood making huge improvements.”
A century ago, factories were drawn to the neighbourhood because of three railway lines that run through it. But most have since shut their doors and moved to cheaper, more accessible properties outside the downtown core. Like other former industrial sites in Toronto, such as Liberty Village, Lansdowne is now transitioning into a residential neighbourhood.
About 24 hectares of land on Lansdowne between Bloor St. and Davenport Ave. were formerly home to Canadian General Electric’s Davenport Works, which set up shop in 1902. The Davenport Works churned out everything from locomotives and transformers to televisions.
Much of the land has now been purchased by developer Tom Falus. He has begun building about 210 stacked, two- and three-storey brick and stucco condominium townhouses on the southwest corner of Lansdowne and Bloor. Units in the project, known as Davenport Village, range in price from $204,990 to $309,990.
“It has good bones. It will be brought back to its original glory,” he says, speaking excitedly about what is now known simply as “Building 13,” which fronts onto Lansdowne. Falus, who has also built many rental units and houses in the area, sees Building 13 as his crown jewel.
Touring the dark, gritty interior, he boasts of its potential. Skylights that run the entire length of the building have been boarded up for decades. Falus plans to remove those boards and bathe the new Foundry Lofts in natural light. He hopes to do a similar conversion on an identical structure, adjacent to Building 13, rather than knock it down.
He also plans to spare a 216-foot-high smoke stack from the wrecking ball. It was once the second-tallest such structure in Canada.
For Marie, the best part of the development is seeing the toxic brownfields cleaned up. The former GE site is contaminated with such chemicals as trichloroethylene, a degreaser for metal.
“In the 1980s, this was the most toxic neighbourhood in Canada. A lot of work has been done to clean it up,” she says.
Ward 18 Councillor Adam Giambrone has his fingers crossed for the future of the site. “I’m really afraid that if you don’t do it right, you just put up boring condos. Historical renovations cost more. The cheapest thing to do is put up boxes,” he says. “There’s a potential there for the absolutely most amazing development.”
Giambrone is nervous because of some of Falus’ earlier work in the area, namely the replacement of the former American Standard factory with a six-storey rental complex. The building, aptly named the Standard, is covered in stucco and its back faces onto Lansdowne.
“It’s classic bad planning. There’s only one point of vehicular access,” Giambrone says. “What you have is an area that’s cut off from the surrounding community.”
Falus says he was constrained in building the Standard because he wanted to keep some of the old American Standard infrastructure intact. For example, he says he wanted to preserve some interior brick walls, and that meant having to insulate on the outside. The insulation, in turn, then had to be covered in stucco.
Marie is trying to get developers to work in tandem with area residents. “Development is going to overtake this neighbourhood, no matter what we do. We just want to moderate it so that it integrates into the community. Development is a powerful force here,” she says.
She and her group have been instrumental in lowering the height of some developments, and in promoting the existence of more green space. For example, they were successful in fighting to lower the height of a 1,600-plus-unit development on the site of the existing Galleria Mall, on the corner of Dupont and Dufferin.
“We’re not happy with everything developers are doing, but they are working to improve the neighbourhood. They’re taking big financial risks to move into the neighbourhood. It’s up to us to work with developers in a positive way,” she says.
An artist, Marie has also helped create public artwork in the neighbourhood. The Walk Here Project, a work in progress, is a walkway connecting area parks. It includes displays of works by area artists, including Marie.
She says the area is a haven for artists. “A lot of artists moved into the neighbourhood because Queen St. has become so expensive,” she says. “This is the most reasonably priced neighbourhood that’s still within the city.”
Marie notes that plans are in the works to open two art galleries in the area this fall – one on Dupont and another on Lansdowne. But as with all regentrified neighbourhoods made cool by artists, conflict inevitably arises when developers purchase the land for redevelopment and displace artists from their affordable digs.
Such is the case with a former industrial building Falus owns on the northwest corner of Lansdowne and Dupont, now home to more than 25 artist studios. The developer plans to knock down the structure and build a commercial-residential complex there.
It could become home to a drug store, a video store and a condominium tower. Falus is enthused about the project and hopes it will be among his proudest achievements, up there with the GE loft development.
Kitty corner to that is a new development that has met the satisfaction of both existing residents and developers. The new, seven-storey, modern glass building, known as the Chelsea Lofts, will be ready for occupancy later this month.
Its 69 units range in price from $129,900 to $289,900, and the building is almost sold out. “It’s a very urbane, contemporary design. We are very proud of our work,” says developer Rashmi Nathwani.
The units boast nine-foot ceilings and large, warehouse-style windows. The building also includes three ground-level retail units, one of which has already been purchased by a dentist.
“We go into areas in transition. That’s what we do. It’s where the land is most affordable,” says Nathwani, who specializes in infill projects. He says sales started off slowly, but picked up this summer. Asked about the slow start, he explains: “It’s not College and Clinton – yet.”
Indeed, Lansdowne has long been known for its problems with drugs and prostitution. But that’s changing, Nathwani says. He points to a similar transition he saw when he built a development on Jarvis and George streets 10 years ago. “There was a big problem with crack there, but as soon as we built, it went away,” he explains.
Ross McKerron, who works with Falus, agrees. “Development changes the tone of a neighbourhood. When you talk to planners, they talk a lot about having eyes on the street.” During the years that buildings sat idle on Lansdowne, there were no eyes on the street.
“It becomes an attraction for vagrancy and squatters,” he explains. “Not that anyone is putting out the welcome mat for them, but no one is saying you’re not welcome either.”
Area residents are hopeful that a new police station, planned for the west side of Lansdowne just north of Bloor, will serve as a deterrent to crime. “You’re going to see more police presence… and I think we’re going to see an actual reduction in the drug and prostitution trade at Bloor and Lansdowne,” Giambrone says.
Marie bristles at the media’s fixation on the area’s crime problems, choosing instead to focus on its assets. Attractions include the Wallace Emmerson Community Centre, the Joseph Picininni Community Centre, Corso Itialia and Earlscourt Park.
Marie also points out the neighbourhood’s vast array of quality eateries, including Piri-Piri Portuguese Churasqueira and Grill House on Dupont, Caldense Bakery and Pastries on Symington, Soul Food on Lansdowne and South Indian Dosa Mahal on Bloor. A new cafe, called Yasi’s Place, is set to open on Wallace Ave. in the fall. The restaurants reflect the neighbourhood’s diversity. Many residents are of Portuguese and Italian heritage, while many people of South Asian and Southeast Asian heritage are moving in.
The area has always been a draw to new Canadians because of its affordability and proximity to the Lansdowne subway station and Bloor GO station. The new condominiums are attracting a lot of young, single first-time buyers. Nathwani says the majority of purchasers at Chelsea Lofts are young urban professionals.
Many young people are moving onto Bloor St., just west of Lansdowne, where several condos are sprouting up, such as the Bloorline Lofts, Bloorwest Lofts, Bloor Street Station, Be Bloor and The Bloor. McKerron says the neighbourhood is ideally situated between the Annex and Bloor West Village.
“It’s still in the early days of its transformation. People who buy here now are ahead of the curve,” he says.
Giambrone agrees. “If I had to buy a house today, I would probably pick right in the Bloor-Lansdowne area. There are still a lot of challenges and I don’t think we can underestimate them, but the area is incredibly undervalued in terms of property values,” he says.
“You can still buy a house in the area for $250,000, which is pretty amazing for being that close to the subway,” he adds. According to the Toronto Real Estate Board, the median price of single detached resale homes in this area – W2 – has increased by a whopping 52% since July 2000.
The median price of a single-family detached home in the area in July was $439,500, up from $290,000 in 2000.
“That area is only getting better – with a new police station going in, with condos going in and with the price of land continuing to go up in Toronto,” Giambrone suggests. “I think if people are looking for an area that’s going to be changing, that’s it.”
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Completed in 2004, The Glebe is a fabulous loft conversion of the architecturally magnificent Riverdale Presbyterian Church, located at 660 Pape Avenue, in prime Riverdale and just steps from the subway.
Very rarely does an opportunity come along to live in history. Designed by renowned period architect J. Wilson Gray, originally constructed for the trustees of the Riverdale Presbyterian Church, this imposing architectural building is now retrofitted, entirely within the existing envelope, into only 32 astonishing multi-level loft residences.
Erected in 1920 as an extension to the original 1912 Riverdale Presbyterian Church, this loft conversion pays homage to the soaring height of the original sanctuary in all of its two storey primary living spaces, featuring large open plans, expansive interconnected to flow with the building space.
Each loft is custom designed for the purchaser, to optimize the dramatic effects of light and spatial volume: incorporates solid masonry demising walls, thermopane windows, superior thermal and acoustical insulation, individual high efficiency heating systems, all new electrical and mechanical systems, and a host of luxury features.
Located at 660 Pape Avenue, steps from the subway and the vibrant cosmopolitan shops, restaurants and coffeehouses of the Danforth, close to the downtown and the cultural heart of the City, The Glebe offers a unique lifestyle for character, location, design features and value anywhere in Toronto.
Mitchell & Associates is a design/build firm that has been creating new residential built form in the City of Toronto for the past eighteen years. In 1982 they designed, developed and built the first legal loft condominium conversion in Toronto at 41 Shanly Street, previously the Dominion Felt Company, and won the Ontario Renews Award in 1984 for that project for excellence and innovation in design.
Since then, Mitchell and Associates, through subsidiary project specific companies, has converted numerous factories, Churches, and institutional buildings into high quality residential loft condominiums.
The principal of Mitchell and Associates, Robert Mitchell, holds a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Civil Engineering, and a Master of Science degree in Urban and Regional Planning. He is a registered member of the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario, and the Canadian Institute of Planners, and has over twenty years hands-on experience in all aspects of the retrofitting and conversion of buildings into lofts.
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