Tower Threatens to Trample Church Street

Not content with demolishing Yonge Street, Toronto developers are closing in on Church Street as well. One developer has already secured permission for a 37-storey tower at Church and Carlton. Now another developer wants to put up an even taller building just a block north, on the parking lot east of Maple Leaf Gardens.

The proposed condo, at the corner of Church and Wood, would soar 45 storeys from the midst of an urban landscape dominated by 19th century stores, a 1930s hockey arena and 1950s mid-rises. Even by the cookie-cutter standards of Toronto developers, this seems a tad out of place.

The heart of the gay bar strip is housed just two blocks north in a cluster of two- or three-storey, mostly 19th century buildings. Woody’s, the business that launched the strip way back in 1989, occupies part of a five-unit, three-storey complex that dates from 1893.

Across the street from the proposed development is a playground, a three-storey school, some mid-rise co-ops and the bulky but relative stumpy Maple Leaf Gardens.

The first public consultation was held Dec. 8, 2015 in a rather beige room at the Courtyard Marriott. The city failed to give proper notice of the meeting but 70-odd people still showed up. Most of them talked about problems related to shadows, traffic, congestion, gentrification and garbage disposal, but of course the central issue is size. The building is simply too big for the neighbourhood.

Existing zoning limits the site to 10 storeys and a recent amendment to the city’s official plan suggests 15 to 25 storeys, but that doesn’t seem to bother the property owners. They’re already appealing the amendment to the Ontario Municipal Board.

Worse than the plan’s size, though, is its sheer numbing blandness. The developer has tried to tart up the tower with what it calls “honeycomb” balconies, but the overall design is the biggest cliché in contemporary Toronto architecture: the podium and tower. No word on what to expect at ground level, where retail/commercial spaces are proposed for both Church and Wood Streets, but anyone who knows Toronto condos knows what to expect here: a bank and a drug store.

If this development gains approval we’ll see two to three years of noise and construction followed by a daunting tower that will evaporate what little remains of Church Street’s creaky but still authentic charm. If you want to see where this might lead, check out Charles Street East, where near constant condo construction has turned a once charming street of friendly low-rises into an alienating parade of glass boxes patrolled by security guards.

Nobody doubts the site should be developed. The parking lot that currently occupies the land adds nothing to the neighbourhood. But whatever the developers dream up it, it should be no more than 10 stories with solid provision for an interesting mix of retail and even – in an ideal world – a park.

A second public meeting is scheduled for Tue. Feb. 9, 2016 at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel, 475 Yonge St. at Wood. For further information, contact Councillor Wong-Tam or the city planner in charge, Mark Chlon.

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