Hearing of a developer who voluntarily reduced a proposal by eight storeys despite the protests of the local councillor is a pretty rare occurrence in Toronto. Hearing of a developer who has gotten ten developments approved without going to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB)? In the highly politicized world of land-use planning, that's pretty rare too.
That it comes from a developer who has led development not only Downtown, but in Etobicoke, North York, and now Scarborough simply makes it even more impressive. The Lash Group of Companies might be one of the most influential developers in Toronto, even if you may not have heard of them before.
Lash Group—Lash Development Corp., Lash Property Management, and Barrie Manor—has historically been more involved with high-rise rental apartment buildings and low-rise residential development. In the last decade, however, they began partnering with other developers to create new condominium buildings in Toronto, beginning with mid-rise buildings Downtown. Now with ME, an acronym which references its location at Markham and Ellesmere, Lash have progressed to flying solo in the creation of a master-planned community in Scarborough.
If Lash has a problem, it might be that they're too modest. Lash's president, Larry Blankenstein, has perhaps been too willing to let partners such as Freed Developments and the Goldman Group take the lion's share of credit on buildings such as 66 Portland and 530 St Clair West. Speaking with him at his office near Downsview Station, he measures his words carefully, and appears somewhat reluctant to boast about his company's success. Blankenstein has been involved with the Lash Group for over three decades, having started out on a construction site and working his way up. An urban planner with a degree from York University, he has seen real estate development in Toronto evolve in the many years he's been with the company.
“It's become more political, more complicated, more sophisticated.”
Lash's current portfolio encompasses properties from across the GTA:
- King West Area: 66 Portland and 20 Stewart – two 9-storey buildings – and 455 Adelaide – a 10-storey building – just south of King St W. Lash partnered with Freed Developments for all three developments.
- Bathurst & St. Clair Area: 500, 530, and 743 St. Clair West Ave, which are 23, 19 and 9 stories respectively. Lash partnered with the Goldman Group for all three developments.
- North York: 777 Steeles - located at Bathurst and Steeles, a 6-storey development with 72 units.
- Etobicoke: Cloud 9 Condos - a 12-storey, 260 unit residential building located on Kipling Ave that is between Finch and Rexdale Blvd. Lash have partnered with Carttera Private Equities for this building, now under construction.
Most recently, they've begun marketing of ME Condos in Scarborough, just south of the Markham and Ellesmere intersection.
Blankenstein takes pride in the work Lash has done to date.
“We're trailblazers. We were one of the first to develop in the King West area, and the first at Bathurst and St. Clair—nobody ventured west of Bathurst Street, then everyone seemed to come and join us—we did 777 Steeles, which was a fairly new area. Definitely Cloud 9 in Etobicoke was real trailblazing, as well as ME.”
The Bathurst & St. Clair properties (500, 530, and 743 St Clair West) represent the largest concentration of work that the group has done to date. At least, until ME Condos is fully built.
“We worked with [Ward 28] Councillor Joe Mihevc who developed a revitalization plan for St. Clair between Bathurst and Dufferin, and working with us on the first building for what he wanted to see between those two major intersections on that street. We now have 3 successful buildings finished on St. Clair, and we're planning on a couple more there. 500 St. Clair—our first one at Bathurst and St Clair—stands up and makes a statement. It's the gateway to St. Clair West.“
Throughout the interview, Blankenstein emphasizes several times that Lash's success is in part a result of building bridges with the community and local councillor.
“I have a great relationship with the councillors, and I think that's the most important thing. The councillors represent the community, and you need to hear what the community needs. The ratepayers associations; you need to hear what their needs and desires are. With ME being such a large project, we did meet with the residents, heard their concerns, and when it came time to the rezoning, there was not one objection. We've never had to go to the OMB. We've done eight successful projects in the last seven years and have never had to go. Part of it is our relationship with the City; we'd rather work hand in hand with them instead of fighting them.”
Located east of Scarborough Town Centre, just south of Ellesmere along Markham Road, ME Condos is set to kick-start the revitalization of the area. Lash is looking to construct four towers ranging between 12 and 24 storeys in height, unprecedented for development in this particular area of Toronto. Turner Fleisher Architects is handling the exterior design, and Tanner Hill & Associates is handling the interior. The development, in some ways, is the completion of a cycle: the two existing six-storey rental apartment buildings on the site are the first development built by Larry Blankenstein's father over 50 years ago.
“It's the largest residential project that Lash has undertaken. We've felt that it's a GTA project, and there's a lot of people who want to come back to the GTA. We also think there's a big pent up demand in Scarborough... the area needs a sprucing up, it needs new development. Hopefully with us coming in here with a major project, other developers will follow suit.”
The original proposal had a vision that included a pair of 32-storey towers that would front on Markham Road, but over the course of meetings and public consultations, the height was reduced substantially.
“There were a few residents who didn't want to see that height. [Ward 38] Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker wants to see it back at 32 storeys, he feels that's where it should be. We don't like being in confrontations, so for the time being, we're leaving it at 24 storeys.”
A row of townhouses was added to better create a transition to the low-rise residential neighbourhood to the east of the property. The towers are perhaps more typical of the construction found in downtown Toronto: an eight-storey podium will run along Markham Rd, atop which two towers will rest, topping out at 24 storeys. Replacing the existing rental apartments, required under the city's Official Plan, will be a new 16-storey building at the northeast corner of the site. The rental apartment building will be built along with the first 24-storey tower in the northwest.
As part of the development, Section 37 monies will be put towards improvements at the Centennial Recreation Centre on Ellesmere, a splash pad at Greenbrae Park, and improvements for Thompson Park.
The ground floor along Markhman Road will feature retail, of which Blankenstein says they're working to find quality tenants. At this time he is not specific about what types of businesses will be featured on the site, though he is hoping for something makes the neighbourhood "more sociable", like cafés.
“We're being very finicky with who we want to attract there. We're waiting for the right tenant, and the right mix. That's very important to us. The Councillor and I have talked about who we do want to come in and not come in. We'd like it do be something vibrant, and something that gets people out and socializing.”
ME Condos will also host a plethora of amenities, including a rooftop pool, a games room, a sports lounge, a movie lounge, guest suites, and a pond that will double as a skating rink in the winter. According to Blankenstein, the list was part of the reason why Councillor De Baeremaeker was so enthused about the project. Councillor De Baeremaeker has been a close ally for Lash in the creation of ME Condos. The collaboration between the local councillor and Lash Developments extends beyond the political, and into the marketing for ME: staff from the councillor's office appear in all the advertisements for the new building.
“We're bringing part of downtown Toronto to Scarborough. Councillor De Baeremaeker said 'you're giving my residents the opportunity to get into home ownership, the chance to get the swimming pool they probably couldn't afford, the change to own the big screen TV, and the chance to live a downtown lifestyle out in Scarborough.'”
With ME Condos underway, Lash is continuing to diversfy their portfolio. They have submitted applications to build two new high-rise buildings in Toronto, hopefully to be completed for 2017. They've proposed a 17-storey building at Yonge and Eglinton, and a 19-storey building in the St. Clair West and Bathurst area, continuing the development set by 500 and 530 St. Clair West. A second application for another 19-storey building at St. Clair and Raglan nearby is under works, but has not formally been submitted.
Blankenstein may have to be prodded to brag about his company, but he is enthusiastic that Toronto is really growing up, and evolving from the city it was back in 1982 when he joined the Lash Group.
“It's starting to realize it's a major city in North America. It has taken some steps to become a major player in the world, to become the world class city that it should have become many years ago."
What do you think about the work Lash Group has done in Toronto so far? Find out more by visiting the dataBase pages linked below, or choose the associated Forum threads to get in on the discussion. Of course, feel free to leave a comment in space provided below!