2005 to 2017—South of Queen
The OMB Triangle case dealt with three projects in a tight triangular area west of Abell, south of Queen to the railway tracks, the three projects being:
- 1171 Queen, (The Bohemian);
- 48 Abell; and
- 150 Sudbury.
But just as the OMB case was wrapping up, even more developments were proposed in the surrounding blocks. At that point, in 2007, the story begins to run off in all directions. Hold on to your hat!
Here’s one to get started. It shows the properties in the West Queen West Triangle colour-coded by property-owner in 2006.
Having been through the OMB case for the first three buildings in the Triangle, the basics of height and massing were more or less established for the larger Triangle area. And, in fact, none of the new projects in the area south of Queen progressed to the OMB until 2017. 1181 Queen.
But there were seven more large projects in the works in 2007 that evolved into new buildings, or OMB cases in the following ten years. This is in addition to the three litigated at the OMB in 2006. See WQW at the OMB. Warning—development also started north of Queen, which I have capriciously thrown into a separate chapter called … North of Queen. It was boom time!
The new projects were: - Baywood—1155 Queen St - Baywood—1181 Queen. - Baywood—2-90 Lisgar 2-90 Lisgar Baywood eventually passed all of these except 1155 on to other developers. - Medallion—45 Lisgar (Medallion)
Active 18’s work on the these later developments had more to do with design than massing. We attacked ugly head on. I call it the Design Wars. Most of this chapter is about our brilliant failure. Keep reading. See Design Wars below.
The other storyline in the continuing development was and is the accumulation of even more Section 37 benefits. The grand total of all this, and the complexity of the negotiations which put in place the various arts projects and institutions, is a worthy of a Russian novel. But lucky for you I don’t speak Russian. A18 had a strategy for an arts precinct. So, from our defeat on the planning and massing front at the OMB emerged a strange and happy win? And maybe we won really big if the TMAC deal finally works out. TMAC rates a separate chapter.
Not to mention that after the OMB case the City was forced to buy parkland which now sits in the middle of West Queen West Triangle. (See map.) There is a separate chapter on the park. There was a series of meetings on Park design—part of “the design wars”. A18 hosted its own park design charrette and participated in the City’s official working group. A18 developed a vision for the larger Triangle beyond the park—“an Arts Precinct”.
What of Queen Street itself? The struggle over Queen St. as a main street, its character, and height is ongoing. As I write, in 2017, this struggle takes the form of a fight over a Heritage designation. Yet another separate chapter and a different phase of the design wars.
So…A18, the Citizens for Good Design, bought black shirts and baggy black pants at the Architects’ Haberdashery and laser pointers at Staples and took our sketch books to public meetings. We fought the Uglies first at the public meetings and then at Community Council. We crashed a secret peer review meeting where they tried to persuade the City planners, without inviting us, that their Queen Street façades were great stuff. We prepared slide shows setting forth better designs or ideas for better designs, or hopes for better designs. We fought ugliness in the alleyways and in the boardrooms, we fought tiny condos in the committee rooms and in the bar rooms late at night, we fought chain stores in the dawn’s early light. We never surrendered. And mostly we lost. Look around you and weep.
Yes, there was more than a little guerrilla theatre in all this. But what was the opposition doing with all their fancy sketches of buildings that bore little relation to what was going to get built? We had several artists, designers and architects on our steering committee and did gangbuster sketches and photo shows of good design that looked way better than the developers’ sketches—and just like the developers’ promotional sketches, would never get built either!
See the following descriptions of the issues and efforts regarding:
We can say:
- of our work at the OMB and in the follow up Section 37 discussions, that we succeeded mightily in wringing from the planning powers a real park, more properly called a square (see Lisgar Park), and worked out a good design for it (ground cover excepted);
- we failed miserably in getting more sensible massing and street layout;
- starting in 2007, we failed brilliantly in our strident efforts to improve design;
- we succeeded brilliantly in our arts precinct project and the accumulation of the Section 37 benefits (subject to a good result on the TMAC problem);
- and, with respect to the pluton███ ████████ we achieved a decent compromise given the lack of funding. There have only been ███ from r████████████ion among the steering committee members, a very good record by international standards. The sarcophagus will eventually cover over the entire WQW Triangle and we will be out of danger for at least a century. Big Good to the Planning Division.
In the fall of 2006, there was a fourth major project in the Triangle, a large apartment building due east of the new park by Medallion Properties, with a looming OMB date and negotiations going on simultaneously with “the big three” developers. Active 18 had signed on as a party at the OMB though my intention was to attend only for selected issues.
I haven’t mentioned Medallion so far. This was a developer which owned the west half of the large block between Dovercourt and Lisgar. They already had built and were operating an eight-storey rental building just south of the Carnegie library building. They wanted to build a much larger rental project to the south. Height was a big issue for the City. And it was more or less determined by the precedent of the big three. A18 was more interested in Section 37 benefits. Everybody was happy to have a rental building.
Here’s Medallion’s ambitious plans for their property, looking north east from the south side of Sudbury. In this rendering Sudbury looks to be eight lanes wide.
It was with Medallion that the City finally made a Section 37 deal for free office space for the Toronto Public Health staff on the ground floor of the new building. These staff were up until then located in the Carnegie library building itself. This was a space trade I had pushed for with the other developers and it finally clicked here. We needed to get a new home for the Toronto Public Health offices that occupied the Library building so The Theatre Centre could move in there. There was $1 million Section 37 money from Westside (Urbancorp) to launch the rehab of the building as a functioning theatre. This trade was a big GOOD. For the city it meant free rent for these Public Health offices for many years. I don’t know the commercial value of this. To us it meant a theatre space rent free in a beautiful building. Again I don’t know the commercial value of this. When you tally the Section 37 benefits you don’t see this (very large) number. In other words, the crude total of our Section 37 benefits—of which we do not boast, no, not us—is way undervalued.
All this led to a press conference at the end of October to announce this two-pronged settlement which yielded a theatre. We used the press conference to announce the new park. It was a fresh start for the neighbourhood and an opportunity to build up some pressure for the resources necessary to make the new park click as a neighbourhood focus. Park planning was to become a major focus of our further organizing. Go here for the story of the park development. The fight with Urbancorp over 150 Sudbury was also settled and that put $1M in the kitty to start funding the theatre retrofit.
40 Dovercourt Road—Art Lofts
This project on the northwest corner of Dovercourt and Sudbury was not controversial once the massing issues west of Lisgar were settled in the Medallion building. Maybe we were exhausted. It was approved at 11 storeys and brought in more Section 37 money.
Here are the lovely pre-construction renderings of 40 Dovercourt. Golly, All the surrounding buildings have disappeared! And the Sudbury extension? Whaddya think—six lanes or eight lanes?
And here’s the finished product
In 2007 Baywood announced it had purchased four more properties in the area:
- 1055 Queen (at the southwest corner of Queen and Dovercourt)
- 2-6 Lisgar (the property south of the new park which eventually got built out as The Edge)
- 1155 Queen (the site immediately east of The Bohemian Embassy, which eventually got built out as an extension of the Bohemian building. It replaced a car wash.)
- 1181 Queen just to the west of the Bohemian Embassy, at the corner of Queen and the new extension of Sudbury.
Later in 2007 Baywood bought further property on Lisgar to the north and so owned 2-90 Lisgar. A good part of the larger lot was eventually sold to the City and became Lisgar Square (or park). And, later, Urbancorp agreed to convey a portion of the north part of their first purchase to the City to satisfy their statutory parks levy in kind. Good thinking by Planning and Parks.
Baywood then presented design proposals for these four additional buildings. And these proposals morphed into the first act of the design wars described below. Baywood sold the 2-90 Lisgar property to Urbancorp and we started over with them with a fresh design. (See Urbanccorp.) And they sold off 1181 Queen, due west of The Bohemian, and we started over on that site with a new developer and a new proposal. See Design Wars.
This meant more public meetings and Active 18 was back in action. OMB cases were threatened for all. But at the preliminary stages design, rather than massing, was the number one issue at the numerous public meetings.
The Baywood proposals for the three new buildings fronting on Queen Street were presented to a public meeting in November 2007. That meeting was reassuring to me in that the proposals were roasted by people who, to my knowledge, had nothing to do with Active 18. We had travelled in deep and dark outer space, but we were not alone! Among the issues at this meeting was the fact that all four were designed by the same architects who did the approved Baywood building at 1171 Queen. Five buildings in four blocks with the caveat that 2-90 Lisgar was merely visible from Queen Street, across the vast expanse of the new park. But that made it even more visible as a very visible building.
To us they looked the same! Imagine! Not 2-90 Lisgar! It was definitely different!
In all this, the City Planning Division objected to the massive scale of the Queen Street façade, the same position A18 was taking. But having approved 8 storeys for 1171 Queen they were hard pressed to deny it for the balance of the street. Technically the zoning set the height at 5 storeys. The City’s Secondary Plan for the balance of the street, which technically had not yet been passed, gave the go ahead for 8 storeys. And the Avenue designation in the Official Plan also authorized 8 storeys. It was a little late for the City to wake up. There was a gross failure here. This fight still goes on. See Queen Street Heritage.
1155 Queen Street West—Baywood
1155 Queen was to be an extension of the Bohemian Embassy building on the east along Queen. It replaced a car wash. At the time we didn’t think to ask that the car wash be declared a “heritage property”. Shit happens.
It made sense to add this property as an easterly addition to the Queen Street part of the Bohemian, at least from the point of view of the internal mechanics of the building.
We met earnestly with the Baywood architect trying to persuade him that extending the same 1171 design further east to create a huge, block-long factory facade on the south side of Queen facing historic old Victorians on the north side was—uh—not nice. We pleaded. Just make it look different. Baywood and its architect were completely resistant.
We were not crazy, despite what you have heard. Here are three pictures of what other architects have done to address this problem. The Italian variant is too gaudy for Toronto? Maybe. But here are two examples of Toronto facades that address the problem successfully.
Here’s the architect’s sketches of what they thought the Queen facade should look like.
This profile shows the comparative height on the north and south side of Queen Street.
Active 18 sketches by Graham Caswell as we tried to persuade the developer the building extension at 1155 could and ought to look a little different.
Here’s the architect’s sketch of how they proposed to change the building in response to our pleas.
If the faint change in the colour of the brick doesn’t show, well, damn!
In 2007 Baywood bought 2-90 Lisgar and then the property to the north so that that they owned almost the whole block between Lisgar and Abell. Then they sold some of the property to the north to the City for the park. (Would the City buy this property itself, after being directed to buy land for a park—instead of buying it from the developer? Too much to ask!) They proposed a new building on their land to the south. Then they sold that land to Urbancorp, which proposed and eventually built a different building (called The Edge) at 2-90 Lisgar. Got it? Which flips faster, Jackie Chan or Toronto developers? Read on.
The discussion with Baywood about the design of this proposal was somewhat more cordial than previous discussions regarding 1171 Queen Street W. All agreed that the architect was at least trying to get something better than a factory box building. (See Baywood and 1151 Queen.)
This site faced onto the new park and the facade of this building was quite visible from Queen Street. Active 18 design mavens wanted something outstanding. Baywood presented to a public meeting a proposal for a fifteen storey building on a podium that had a shape to it that wasn’t a box. The architect was trying but we didn’t like it. We called it the Love Boat.
Not to make a thing about it… but a ten story apartment building and the Carnegie library to the east have…disappeared! And check out the faint, faint hint of 150 Sudbury in the background, mansions in the sky.
The meeting with the architect was illuminating to me. It was apples and bananas. He was concerned with massing and volume. We spoke about the skin and the interface with the park to come.
What did I learn? Architects work from the inside out. They have to address the planning requirements first. The appearance of the building, other than its sheer size, is the last thing off the drawing board. This is how God designed the world. The details, the tree, the snake, and the people, were the last thing. It’s like…like…if at the stage He was parting the waters, we asked Him…what colour will the tails of the rabbits be? The opposite lesson is also true. If the architect comes to the first meeting with sketches that show the colour of the bunny’s tail before the waters are parted…well…like…you know…ignore Him in all his glory.
I hope this comes out right. I like being stupid and learning stuff.
Getting back to the interface with the park design for this new building. There was, of course, an obvious problem. What park design?
Here is Graham Caswell’s suggestion to lighten things up—the book trees.
Go here for our excellent show on 2-90 Lisgar and the park.
The report of Planning Staff on April 9, 2008, recommended against the proposal.
All this came to nothing. The developer appealed to the OMB but never proceeded with the appeal and then sold the property to Urbancorp and we started all over agin.
1093 Queen Street West—Baywood
1093, at the southwest corner of Queen and Dovercourt, was a one-storey factory-type building. There was no rational argument that it was not a good site for development. But it was across the road from the Great Hall, one of the neighbourhood landmarks and we wanted something good.
Here are the original Baywood sketches for 1093 Queen. A decent effort at articulation and stepbacks. We liked this design.
And—surprise—it didn’t last.
The planners didn’t like it. Too tall. Not an unreasonable thought. And the result? Squash it down and out, so the developer would not lose rental square footage. Always the bottom line. It morphed into a big block like all the rest.
Here are the renderings from the first round.
And here is the revised rendering after the planners got their whacks in. From the northeast corner of Queen and Dovercourt, where a whole church has disappeared.
1181 Queen Street West
1181 is the address for the site immediately west of the Bohemian at 1171 Queen. It has been in play almost from the very beginning of the Queen West fandango. The tale illustrates how difficult it is for citizens to get any leverage in the planning process. Check out The City Hall Maze and The Citizen Squeeze. The last round of OMB proceedings are being played out in June 2017.
Active 18 saw 1181 Queen, right across from the Gladstone Hotel, as a very important site from a design point of view. It would be the western gateway to Queen Street as it comes out of the railway underpass. It seemed obvious that whatever building was erected on the this site should be outstanding and at the same time respectful of the Gladstone. The Gladstone at the west end and the Great Hall at the east end were key historic buildings on West Queen West.
During the years of the OMB case Baywood Homes owned 1171 Queen (the Bohemian Embassy), then bought 1155 Queen, (just next door to the east) and 1181 Queen to the west. (They also bought 2-6 Lisgar. which grew into 2-90 Lisgar.)
Baywood presented designs for several building along Queen. At one point they owned and were developing five. See Design Wars. 1181 became part of the argument about the massive build on the south side of Queen. But it was also the subject of extensive argument in its own right.
Here are the sketches they first presented.
We thought this was awful. It was neither complementary to the Victorian Gladstone, nor an outstanding modern design.
This was one of the buildings in the private design charrette Baywood hosted with some other architects to try to sell their set of Queen Street buildings to the City. I say “private” because it was not before the official Design Review Panel and it was only by accident I found out about it and wangled an invitation. All this arose after Community Council reject the Baywood proposals after A18 did a great objector’s presentation - Buildings We Like - our own slideshow of what good architecture might look like. Really, this was a temporary rejection. Baywood’s architects then set up their own ‘private’ design review for City Hall staff to persuade them their set of designs was “ok”. This was the meeting we crashed. In the meeting we crashed Baywood’s expert evaluators didn’t have a problem with massive overbuild on the south side of Queen. Tinker with the height a little. So much for experts. Community Council then proceeded to approve 1155 but the other two projects were sold on to other developers.
The second and especially the third are good illustrations of how perspective drawings can be deceptive. The new eleven storey building seems hardly taller than the five storey Gladstone.
Our imaginers went to work. We wanted a standout building. Graham Caswell did some fun sketches which alas I have lost, showing the 1181 corner as a Japanese lantern. Our guerrilla design work made a point but didn’t win the war. The next developer, Skale, came with an over-the-top design intended to win us over. (see below) Alas for them, 26 storeys was not a winner.
Anyhow, Baywood then sold the property to Skale.
Skale Developments proposed a 26-storey building. It certainly filled the bill for “striking and unique”. But were they listening when we said we didn’t want something that overshadowed the Gladstone Hotel?!
This application didn’t get out of the gate with City Planning. Obviously. But it was so obvious, sorry, that it doesn’t even rate a GOOD here.
But Planning never in fact wrote an opinion stating their opposition, City Council never properly “decided”, and so Skale appealed to the OMB against the City’s failure to decide. Active 18 filed as a Participant. At that point the Bohemian Embassy condo at 1171 wasn’t finished, or the condo corp wasn’t functioning. Translation—the people most interested in the proposed 26 storey proposal as their neighbours immediately to the east were not at the OMB. If you think Planning was looking after these future residents, think again.
Nor did the Gladstone Hotel across the road take an OMB position. One would think they might have cared to fight this monstrosity.
In theory, A18 had a position on behalf of the neighbourhood different than the immediate neighbours’. Bottom line reality—we weren’t going to fight the case if the parties right next door were silent. But at the time, it was a waiting game.
Planning was struggling. They had approved a twenty-storey building across the road as part of The Carnaby. It had about the same stepback from Queen Street. Who could be surprised that the next developer at bat, right across the road would want more. I won’t say I warned the planner of this argument. No. I will say it. And sure enough, when the case gets to the OMB City Planning is agreeing to 15 storeys. The developer’s planner is saying, ‘look at the precedent across the road’. Planning didn’t even know to be embarrassed.
1181 QSW Development Inc.
Then in 2015 Skale sold the site to 1181 QSW Development Inc. (“QSWD”) and they inherited the dormant OMB case for 26 storeys.
QSWD presented their new plan to a meeting of the A18 steering committee. They proposed yet another, but no-so tall building for the site. Sixteen storeys this time. In terms of look and height, this was the best of the three. Still nobody from 1171 Condo corp or the Gladstone showed up or spoke up.
Here are the developer’s sketches as presented to the OMB.
At this point, with the case before the OMB, the discussions between QSWD and the City (Planning and Legal) were secret, as confidential negotiations between parties at the Board. QSWD’s modified proposal was not resubmitted in a formal way to the City. But they were discussing it with Planning. So no new notice to the neighbours was sent out. A18 knew about it from the meeting we had had, but we had heard nothing from 1171 Condo corp.
You can see how this building proposal slipped from public view. Nobody did anything bad or wrong, but that doesn’t make it right.
So in March 2017, the OMB case came alive as QSWD proposed to go ahead and present the new proposal they had been discussing with the City as an amended OMB proposal.
And finally Condo corp 1171 came alive. (Partly because A18 pestered them about what was happening.) They truthfully could say they “didn’t know” because they didn’t exist! And the City Planners said “we can’t tell you anything because everything we are doing is secret negotiations.”
The Condo corporation at 1171 asked the OMB to adjourn so they could figure out their position. The OMB agreed. It was not a good position strategically. They were very late to the party and Planning had already more or less agreed with the developer.
The Councillor broke the ice and hosted a meeting or two with all the interested parties, including A18. (The Gladstone Hotel never appeared.) There was a good and confidential negotiation in the back room. (Basic advice—find the back room and go in and act like you belong there.)
1181 Queen West perspective drawings This is the modified proposal which QSWD was pushing at the OMB in March 2017.
After the meeting with the Councillor, the next thing we know—the day before the OMB case is set to resume—is that the City has settled with the developer and the settlement has been passed by Council. In secret. Confidential advice by City Legal to City Council is normal and proper. But what’s not right is that community groups can’t keep up. And they can’t count on Planning to represent them or even tell them what’s happening.
So on June 2, we (A18) appear at the OMB on the return of the developer’s application. We don’t know until the day before about the settlement. We don’t know until we meet the condo board from 1171 Queen at the hearing what their position is. Neither did they, because they didn’t know the City had settled. Here is the revised proposal:
Now all this procedural whingeing probably makes you want to vomit. It makes me want to…and I’m doing the whingeing. Who cares? What are the real issues?
First, the revised plan has vehicle access off Sudbury very close to the intersection. Too close in my view. “Too close” is an opinion that needs traffic evidence and cross-examination of it. Cars entering and exiting will get tied up with traffic at the intersection.
Second, the revised design of the building is steeply raked so there will be more sun on the north side of Queen.
In terms of complementing the Victorian Hotel, it is, to me absurd. But, then who cares what I think? Where are the “experts”? This is the City’s job and they’re not doing it.
Third, I would say, it’s too much building on too small a space. There are slightly wider sidewalks but basically no public realm around the building. The developer and his experts say there isn’t enough room. Of course there isn’t enough room, because the building is too big for the site. So why does the City buy this developer-profits-above-all logic?
You can see in the photo the tiny addition of space to the public realm. When I complained about this in my evidence, the developer’s lawyer argued, “oh, there’s another new park going in north of Queen.” (He was referring, correctly, to a new park being supplied by Streetcar Developments as part of the Carnaby Development adjacent to that massive project, several times larger than the project in question. In other words, QSWD was borrowing Streetcar’s park and pretending it was their own. It’s hard to get mad at this kind of hypocrisy by developers. It’s what they do. The Planning Division! Shame! Shame! Double BADS
Not only does this story illustrate the tight timing and secrecy issues. There is another absurdity. As a Participant, but not a Party, you can make a statement to the OMB. That’s it. When you are up against the developer and the City in agreement, you are ignored. To get out of this trap and play the game as a Party requires massive effort, expert witnesses, and that means money. Lots of it! As a practical matter, citizens can’t participate. And as this case illustrates, you can’t look to the Planning Division to help you.
Urbancorp Buys Big
Before any of the new Baywood projects even got to the OMB, Baywood sold the 2-6 Lisgar project to Urbancorp, and the 1093 project was taken over by a sister corporation of Baywood, Pemberton. And 1181 Queen was sold to Skale. At the same time, Urbancorp bought out the unbuilt east half of the 48 Abell project (eventually built out as The Epic) from Verdiroc. It already owned the Artscape building at 150 Sudbury just to the south. So now it controlled most of the buildings around the new park. This set design maven hearts a-fluttering and set the stage for some more Section 37 discussions. See Section 37 deal for TMAC.
At the OMB in 2006, Veridroc sought and won approval for two large buildings on the 48 Abell site. One became an “affordable” building at the west end of this tortured site. The west end got built promptly at 180 Sudbury and is operated by St. Clare’s Multifaith Housing Society as a low income rental building. The eastern half of the property was approved for 14-storeys with an eight-storey extended podium which was not built at the time. And this is the half that was sold to Urbancorp.
And it was agreed that the ████████ dump would moved from the basement of ████████ to the ████████ in ████████ as part of the Section 37 ████████ with the Moscow ████████ Leukemia.
You know already, or will if you click here, that part of Urbancorp’s building to the south (150 Sudbury) was sold to Artscape. That Section 37 deal kept some artist living in the ‘hood, albeit in tiny units. So the arts precinct was taking shape.
Keep this straight or you’ll be expelled. And don’t tell your friends. Or they’ll want to be expelled too.
Urbancorp and Artscape revised settlement for 150 Sudbury
The original settlement after the appeal was that Urbancorp would get more height, and convey a chunk of the building to Artscape, which would then rent out units to artists, their standard mode of operating. They came back a year later and said the numbers didn’t work, and wanted to sell some of the units as condos, but subject to the same restrictions as their tenants—that they had to be working artists. This was an issue for the City, rightly so. Here was a Section 37 benefit that was going to private individuals rather than a non-profit group. However, the terms of the mortgage arrangements provided that if re-sold within ten years they couldn’t take the profit with them. Active 18 was consulted. We agreed. We were getting artsy types back in the neighbourhood. The City eventually came on board.
Urbancorp and 2-90 Lisgar and TMAC
After Baywood’s love boat design, Urbancorp took over this property and proposed new designs with greater density. We put a proposal on the table that a second Section 37 deal be discussed, giving more cultural facilities in exchange for the extra density. Urbancorp was interested. The story of how this led to the new cultural space for TMAC (Toronto Media Arts Cluster) is here. TMAC gets a whole section all to itself. Very interesting. Also depressing.
Aside from the Section 37 density bargaining, there were more meetings about Urbancorp’s property south of the new park. The new design by Prish Jain of TACT was more interesting to us.
Above: the first TACT sketch. Looks like the building is at the seaside! All the surrounding buildings have disappeared!
A prize to architect Prish Jain. Here’s a preliminary sketch of the building that actually looks like the finished product. Somehow this architect learned the meaning of telling the truth! There are shadowy hints of the buildings next door! Amazing.
There wasn’t much to argue about on height given the OMB precedent for the neighbourhood in the Triangle case.
But A18 was really interested in the fact that now the new park was surrounded south and west by the same developer. Prish Jain said all the right things at our meetings about coordinating his design with the new park.
We took this idea to the park working group meetings that were then dealing with a design for the new park. “Hey, let’s invite Prish to these design meetings. He might have some good ideas.” The Parks Division was horrified. “No! No! No!” They didn’t want to hear anything outside the precise perimeter of the park.
Eventually we forced them to let us bring him. As a visitor.
The design issues for this building that emerged had to do with the design of the arts space which was to go on the first three floors facing the park. See TMAC. There was intense cooperation between the developer and TMAC and the respective architects. I saw it. So every once in a while great design does come out of community collaboration. Eventually what emerged was great space fronting on the park. Judge for yourself.
Design, Design, Design
Reflecting in 2017 on the design wars over the past ten years, was it all futile but noble? (It’s good to be noble if your gesture is futile.) It seemed we had very little immediate impact. The city had very little power to influence, let alone command good design. If they have no power, we have no power. We were pushing a rock with a wet noodle—and great slide shows.
Whatever the formal legalities of public control over design, there was an interesting dynamic with the builders and their architects. The first meeting was almost always cordial with great interest in what we had to say. I think the architects liked discussing the design with the public in front of the owner. We pumped up the pressure for better design, whether the architects liked our particular suggestions or not. Some developers were actually interested in producing neat looking buildings. And many architects wanted to be able to do better work. Weirdly, and secretly, they liked being shouted at because it created an atmosphere of demand for great architecture. Where else was there pressure for good design?
It’s essential that such discussions take place early in the process before detailed work gets started. Substantial sums can be spent on finished drawings and there is great reluctance to re-do them.
Early drawings are mostly massing drawings and it is hard for some people to translate these to the end product. Over and over I saw a disconnect between the sketches and massing diagrams.
Often there would be interesting proposals to start, with impressive articulation. But Planning and the community would often say “too tall”, and the result would be that the developer redesigned a shorter, squatter building with the same amount of floor space—and profit. And what came out the other end was yet another fat glass box. I’ve watched several of these negotiations between City planners and developers. I could never figure out why the premise of such discussions was that the developer’s profit margin had to be protected. Had to be! Could not figure it out! Could not!
Our greatest success was at Community Council when we got the first Baywood proposal delayed with a request that they consult with the community. We wowed the Council with a slide show of Buildings We Like. They did consult. But it was mostly pointless.
The most interesting “consultation” was the one we crashed. It was a private “peer review” of the Queen Street building by Baywood. They invited some prominent architects to view and comment. This was done for the benefit of the Planning Division to get them to roll over after the rebuke at Community Council. I found out about it by accident and we invited ourselves.
What I witnessed was senior architects blessing each other. They certainly didn’t agree with our complaints about how the to-be-overbuilt south side would dwarf the north. For these sorts the issue of the impact on the community was immaterial. I will never trust architectural peer review.
Looking back on the OMB decision in the Triangle case and the reaction to it, I am troubled by how much blame is directed at the OMB and how little is directed to the City and particularly the Planning Division. The land south of Queen—technically south of the row of buildings on the south side of the street—was designated as “Regeneration” in the Official Plan. This meant the land could be developed for any purpose, but before this happened there had to be an Area Plan. This made some sense in that the land was mostly abandoned industrial sites, like much of the land in the west end close to the railroad tracks. In defence of the Planning Division, the development wave hit very quickly in 2006 and before they could get organized there were three development applications on their desk. The City was fumbling through the OMB case to figure out an Area Plan on the fly. The OMB refused in the hearing to adjourn to allow this process to be completed even though the Official Plan said an Area Plan was mandatory. The OMB was wrong in this. A double mess. Active 18 developed by far the best Area Plan going, but we were presenting it after the development applications had been filed at City Hall. A triple mess. The City was left trying to make up an Area Plan out of three separate adjoining properties at the OMB. A pathetic folly.
The twists and turns of a secondary plan for the area before the OMB case are told in WQW at the OMB—Secondary Plan.
Anyhow out of this came an obvious need and demand for a proper Secondary Plan for the rest of the Triangle before thing got worse.
A Secondary Plan for Queen Street
One of the root problems of the Triangle fight was the fact that a detailed Secondary Plan was not in place for the area before the development wave hit. The OMB can overrule a Secondary Plan but it is harder to justify with the recent changes to the Planning Act. A clear and current Secondary Plan is a key tool for community control.
The Area Study required for the West Queen West Triangle could have been the basis for a fresh Secondary Plan for the Triangle with some teeth if it had been in place before the development applications hit City Hall. Developers generally have the right to have their applications considered based on the in-force zoning and plans.
I note in passing that the first variation of a local Secondary Plan—the Garrison Creek Secondary Plan—that was argued at the OMB in 2006 covered the Triangle Regeneration area, that is, all the Triangle except the buildings facing on Queen Street. The second version from City staff in June-July 2007 covers all of the Triangle land including the properties facing on Queen Street.
This second version might have mattered if it had been in place before the three fresh Baywood proposals were presented—which is unclear, see above—and if it had addressed the Queen Street height and design issues properly. It did not.
The Official Plan required that for a Regeneration area (that was us) there be an Area Study which, among other things, set out design guidelines. All we got by way of a design guideline was the eight-storey height allowance. We needed something better, especially if we were to be stuck with the eight-storey street wall.
Well, there was a Secondary Plan developed in 2007, and passed by City Council. But not given the equivalent of third reading, which is a formality, the passage of a bill or by-law in its final and tidy form. All the debate takes place on second reading. And so, what happened to the Secondary Plan for the regeneration area after all the debate had taken place? It got lost! And disappeared. BIG BAD for Planning.
As you look at the complex set of trades and Section 37 money in the West Queen West Triangle, the Medallion/Public Health Division/Theatre Centre was a key move. The Theatre Centre, a long time theatre which had had several locations in the Queen West area, got a very favourable lease from the City, and Franco Boni and his Board set out to raise the rest of the money for rehabilitating the building. This was all horse trading within City Hall. The Planners did a GOOD here. The end result was that our neighbourhood got a wonderful theatre asset as an anchor for our arts precinct. One million dollars in Section 37 money from 150 Sudbury went to the The Theatre Centre as part of this shuffle.
I’ll hit you on the head with it. Five different Section 37 benefits came out of all this: the park itself, the theatre, TMAC and the Artscape condos and the Mews units. We salvaged something of an arts precinct out of the massive redevelopment. GOOD and GOOD on the Planning Division and the Division of Economic Development (especially Laurie Martin) for rising to the occasion of these complex negotiations. And the Councillors, Adam Giambrone and then Ana Bailao, for pitching in. Their help was crucial. It has not all been smooth sailing but the end result has been worthy.
A lesson for others who might have a similar opportunity. Don’t be modest in your vision, or stupid in the negotiations. Work to get the councillor and the key bureaucrats on your side. No reason it has to be arts facilities. Whatever makes the community click.
99 Sudbury Street
In 2015 the owners of this property on the south side of Sudbury proposed a wedge shaped building squeezed between Sudbury and the railroad tracks. Everybody but the developer thought it was too tall. When did that matter?
I happen to like ridiculously shaped buildings in impossible locations that make no sense. This one is a winner on all counts.
The city planner who hosted the public meetings didn’t like it. Too high. And it was too high. But they cut the height down and the City approved it.
The first few floors are supposed to be a boutique hotel. The ‘hood has arrived! Or something.
But the real news on the south side of Sudbury and the north side of the railway track is that a station for commuter trains is planned here and on the site next door. When will this get built? Who knows!
Here are the renderings for this fantasy building.
Get a load of Sudbury St in this rendering. It looks like it’s six lane lanes wide, instead of three.
Here’s another fantasy sketch we hope comes true. A view from south of the tracks, with a pedestrian and bicycle bridge across the tracks to the beautiful hotel. And the pretty blurry trains whizzing right along at, I’d guess, 500 mph.!]
Putin ████████ Plutonium Centre ████████
The largest and most difficult of the projects in the WQW Triangle was ████████. The ████████ and ████████ of the ████████ presented special problems. The before pictures are ████████ but here’s the project nearing completion.
The building was awarded the Stalin Prize for best architecture in the Triangle. This is the podium base before the 3000 condo units were added on top.