The politics behind the planning process is anything but tidy. Driven by market logic to maximize revenue by selling the greatest number of units permissible on a site, developers often meet stiff resistance from owners of neighbouring properties who object to the sharp increase in density. These local residents in turn often have strict expectations as to what form development should take, more often than not favouring a replication of the existing form and density of their neighbourhoods. 

The latest confrontation between developer and neighbourhood involves a residential project at 245 & 253 College Street and 39 & 40 Glasgow Street. Developed by Knightstone Capital, part of the site of the proposed new residence is on land leased (99 years) to the developer by the University of Toronto. UrbanToronto has been following the project since the university initially made public its intentions to partner with Knightstone to construct a major new building on the site several years ago. Since then the developer has scaled back the project from 42 storeys to 24 with the hope of securing the city's approval. Since we last reported on the revised plan, the developer has appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board on the basis of Council's failure to enact the requested amendment within the timelines prescribed by the Planning Act. In response, the planning department has produced a direction report for City Council prior to the hearing. The report echos the concerns of the prior decision, finding that the proposed structure would not be a harmonious fit with the existing neighbourhood at over 12 times the permitted density and five times the permitted height. As stated in the report, "the proposed density, building type, and building height, and lack of transition do not reinforce or respect the physical character of the existing neighbourhood" (pg. 9-10). Below is a rendering of the project as well as elevations:

245 College Street Residence, Toronto. Designed by Diamond + SchmittRendering of 245 College Street, image courtesy of Diamond + Schmitt Architects.

245 College Street Residence, Toronto. Designed by Diamond + SchmittNorth Elevation of 245 College Street, image from City of Toronto Planning Application.

245 College Street Residence, Toronto. Designed by Diamond + SchmittSouth Elevation of 245 College Street, image from City of Toronto Planning Application.

This ongoing effort to construct the residence has strained the relationship between the University of Toronto and the community groups bordering the St. George campus. At issue for the residents is the manner in which the university has conducted itself during the process, in essence using the private-public partnership as a means to excuse themselves from their responsibility to actively engage with the community in the planning process. As evidence, they cite the failure of the university to convene a liaison committee in order to gather feedback from the community. This is in contravention of the university's own official policy that requires such a committee to meet at minimum twice per year to discuss issues of mutual concern. Additionally, local residents point to the 2011 St. George Campus Masterplan and its requirement that "the form and scale of future expansion should define and develop appropriate relationships with surrounding buildings and landscapes" (pg. 344). They assert that if this is a guiding principle for on-campus development, why is the university not sympathetic to the desire of residents for the same principles to inform the design of the new residence?

In turn, the University of Toronto has stressed that it is in urgent need of additional residence spaces to accommodate increasing enrollment. The decision to allow a third party to build and operate a residence is a reflection of the fiscal restraints placed on the administration as a result of the compartively low levels of per capita funding provided by the provincial government. In response to allegations that the residence will be little more than a rooming house, the university maintains that only registered students at U of T and other local universities will be admitted and that strict rules of conduct will apply. A lack of community consultation is explained as a legal requirement of the agreement between the developer and the university; an agreement that prohibits full public disclosure. The university also holds thats as an occupant rather than developer of the project, negotiations over form and density are to be held between Knightstone and the community. The school is therefore, under no obligation to enter into consultations with either area residents or local city councillor Adam Vaughan. For more information, take a look at the university's press release on the issue here.

What do you think of the project? Are the actions of the University of Toronto justified? Are community groups overly concerned about the development? Leave a comment here, or join our Forum discussion to participate in the debate.