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Architect instructed to ‘give me something different’

Ryan Starr – Toronto Star

Architect Richard Witt knew he’d designed a great condo when a community meeting for the project ended with him receiving a round of applause.

“That’s never happened to me before,” Witt says, still sounding taken aback. “Usually it’s like I’m being sent out as a sacrificial lamb for everyone to tell me there’s not enough parking or that the height is too big.”

In the case of Abacus Lofts, it was the opposite: the community was jazzed about what Witt proposed for the site, formerly an auto service centre at 1245 Dundas St. W. just east of Dovercourt Avenue.

His design previously had been selected as winner of a limited competition organized by developer Tony Azevedo, principal of Daz Developments; he’d told Witt to “give me something interesting,” the architect recalls.

Witt obliged. His design for Abacus Lofts, a seven-storey midrise, features an inverted stepped facade that cantilevers out toward the street and then back in again toward the top of the building.

This will not only look super cool when it’s built, it also will reduce shadowing and allow for more pedestrian activity at the base of the condo, in accordance with the city’s midrise development guidelines. The street-level space will likely house a café or a bookshop with an outdoor patio that’s tied into the street life.

The design went over well at the community meeting, Witt says.

“People got up and made impassioned speeches about how this is the kind of design they want to see on Dundas because it’s bold and creative and it’s really going to make that strip of Dundas better,” says Witt of RAW Design.

Abacus Lofts on Dundas West

Abacus Lofts will comprise 40 suites that range from 469 square feet to 1,284 square feet. Prices start in the mid-$200,000s and go to more than $700,000. Occupancy is slated for 2014.

The lofts will have nine-foot ceilings in principal rooms, floor to ceiling windows and exposed concrete ceilings, depending on the plan.

Homes on the Dundas-facing front of the building will have balconies; lofts at the rear of the building will have terraces. All will have a gas barbecue connections and hose bibs.

Kitchens come with Scavolini cabinetry and island, a choice of stone or quartz surface countertop and mosaic tile backsplash. A stainless steel appliance package a gas cook top and electric built-in oven

Bathrooms will have a soaker tub and shower with frameless glass enclosure, depending on the plan.

Paul Johnston, who is handling sales for Abacus Lofts, notes that midrises are the way of the future for residential development along the city’s main streets and avenues.

“So much of what we’ve experienced in terms of development in Toronto has been placing highrises into otherwise vacant lands and trying to create community around them,” says Johnston, principal of Unique Urban Homes. “Midrise is the opportunity to carefully insert buildings into existing neighbourhoods, to re-enliven these areas.”

The Dundas West community, aka Little Portugal, is already well serviced by existing shops and amenities, he says. It’s just around the corner from Ossington Ave.’s “gastronomic strip,” and a few blocks from Trinity Bellwoods Park. “It’s got all the stuff that makes a pedestrian Sunday a pleasant way to spend the day,” Johnston says. “This neighbourhood is authentic and vibrant.”

Plus, Abacus offers more intimacy and interaction than the average condo tower. The building has only 40 units, not 400, and Johnston says it’s not irrational to expect you might end up knowing a neighbour or two. “You’re walking through your lobby and you might be like, ‘Hey, Peter, how are you?’ . . . How novel.”

Councillor Ana Bailão thinks Abacus Lofts will be a good fit for the area. “It’s the kind of development we want to see on our main streets in downtown,” she says.

The unique design of the building was a big reason it won the support of the community, the councillor notes. “Because it’s one of the few midrises we’re getting in the area, I think it helped set the standard.

“I hope this is a strong message to future developers that want to do work in our area that that’s the kind of standard we’re looking for. We want good architecture and good design.”

MIDRISE CHALLENGES

While midrise buildings like Abacus may be the ideal solution for in-fill sites downtown, it’s a type of development that faces serious challenges.

The greatest is financial: midrises are not nearly as cost-effective for developers to build. The approvals process for an eight-storey building can take as long as for a 40-storey highrise tower. And there aren’t as many units to sell to cover the cost of development; economies of scale are far more difficult to achieve.

Municipal servicing requirements for midrise buildings also don’t allow for much flexibility on tighter infill sites.

What’s more, existing communities can be touchy about new construction. “Neighbourhoods are generally very sensitive to their main streets, to their main shopping boulevards,” Johnston says.

“So they’re often resistant to the types of change that the midrise guidelines are intended to create: to increase density, livelihood and retail presence, and to create new residential opportunities.”

Owing to these challenges, midrise developers tend to be people who are seeking more than just profit. “They’re the ones who are really looking to achieve something at a much more modest scale,” but with added emphasis on achieving unique design, Johnston explains, citing Abacus as a good example.

For Azevedo, a lawyer whose background is in industrial and commercial development, the project was a labour of love for his community, says Johnston.

“Both his business and home are nearby, and this is his opportunity to give back, to take a piece of land that was largely unused, develop it, and bring people back to the neighbourhood.”

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

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto Realtor 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.

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