Planned to replace a surface parking lot at the corner of Church and Lombard, a proposal for a 49-storey rental tower at 89 Church Street was assessed by members Toronto's St. Lawrence community in a consultation held on Tuesday, September 20th.  

89 Church Street, Toronto, by Cityzen Development Group, architectsAllianceA massing diagram of the proposal in its urban context, image via submission to the City of Toronto

Proposed by the Cityzen Development Group, the architectsAlliance-designed tower would rise well above its immediate surroundings, with the rest of the block—which spans Church to Jarvis between Lombard and Richmond—occupied mostly by 4 to 10-storey structures. However, the area is also home to several of Downtown's last surface parking lots, some of which are in the process of being redeveloped as high-rise towers. 

A block to the west, another surface parking lot is now an active construction site, with ground recently broken on Great Gulf's pair of 45-storey 'Yonge + Rich' towers, also designed by architectsAlliance. Just southwest of the 89 Church site, meanwhile, another aA-designed point tower—the 45-storey Spire Condos, completed in 2007—is one of the area's early harbingers of the current development boom. 

89 Church Street, Toronto, by Cityzen Development Group, architectsAllianceAerial view of the site (labelled) in its urban context, image via Google Maps

Throughout the meeting, the disparity between these two contexts was a recurring cause of uncertainty and tension. While the surrounding neighbourhood is becoming home to a growing number of similarly scaled high-rises, the block itself—most of which is unlikely to be redeveloped in the near future—retains a mostly mid-rise character.

Meanwhile, although a Downtown Tall Buildings Visioning Study (2012-2013) calls for heights of 20-35 storeys on the site, as-of-right zoning allows for a maximum FSI of 4.0. "The appropriate density isn't 4.0," aA's Peter Clewes argued at the meeting, stressing that existing zoning is out of date. "That isn't a realistic context for new development. The right density is somewhere between 4.0 and 26.22, and your input will help determine what's appropriate," he told the audience. 

89 Church Street, Toronto, by Cityzen Development Group, architectsAllianceThe as-of-right zoning context, image via the City of Toronto

Desipte the tower's exceptionally slim 589 m² average floorplate, the compact 1,099 m² site means that the base building's setbacks will be relatively limited. However, Clewes argued that the block's built-up character means that adjacent development will be unlikely, meaning the lack of setbacks is unlikely to hinder future projects. 

The architect's presentation also revealed that the 228 m² retail space fronting Church Street will likely be given over to "an independent café or restaurant, since they tend to do well in narrow spaces," Clewes explained. The double height space will feature 6-7 metre ceilings, making for a more spacious atmosphere in the relatively compact space. Along the Lombard Street frontage, however, much of the space will be given over to private and service vehicle access, which Clewes explained was a necessity given the compact site. "We design our cities around trucks. Europeans design trucks around cities," he lamented. 

89 Church Street, Toronto, by Cityzen Development Group, architectsAllianceThe site plan, image via submission to the City of Toronto

Clewes emphasized that the project's "architectural vocabulary has yet to be developed," and that the renderings seen so far should be interpreted as massing diagrams rather than indicators of the architectural expression to come. "There's no architecture here yet," he added. 

Following City Planning's description of the urban context and Clewes' overview of the project, members of the community shared their concerns in a roundtable and general Q & A. Many of the attendees were residents of the Muriel Collins Housing Co-operative (MCC), which abuts the site to the east. A number of MCC residents voiced concerns that the 152-metre tower—drastically taller than any of the block's existing buildings—would severely increase shadowing to the MCC courtyard, compromising quality of life and area character. 

Clewes response was that they are aware of the shadowing issue, that if the development conformed to the current zoning on the site it would still cast shadows, and that they would take the concerns into account. 

89 Church Street, Toronto, by Cityzen Development Group, architectsAllianceA rendering reflecting the massing (but not the design) of the Lombard Street frontage, image via submission to City of Toronto

More general concerns about the tower's 152-metre height were also voiced by a number of attendees, who felt that the added incremental shadowing, residential density, and vehicular traffic risked overwhelming the neighbourhood. The lack of setbacks and the mix of units were also concerns for some, with commenters pointing out that the 468 units will be too dominated by the 310 one-bedroom suites, which make up 66% of all living spaces. 112 two-bedroom (24%), and 46 three-bedroom suites (10%) round out the proposed unit mix. 

While many in attendance were interested in seeing the project evolve (and reduce somewhat in height) to better fit the neighbourhood, there was apprehension that the planning process would be "undercut" by an appeal to the OMB. 

89 Church Street, Toronto, by Cityzen Development Group, architectsAllianceThe massing of the undesigned tower in its immediate urban context (Spire in foreground), image via submission to the City

"That's something we hope to avoid," planning consultant Craig Hunter—representing Cityzen—told the audience. "I can't guarantee that it isn't going to happen, but it would be our preference to not to," he added. Ward councillor Pam McConnell echoed concerns about the planning process, emphasizing that community input—and the City's planning guidelines—should be addressed before any area development is approved. 

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We will keep you updated as the proposal continues to develop, and the project's architecture begins to take shape. Until then, further information is available in our introductory editorial, as well as our dataBase file, linked below. Want to share your thoughts about the proposal? Leave a comment in the space below this page, or join the ongoing conversation in our Forum. 

NOTE: As indicated above, the renderings do not indicate the project's architectural expression, which has yet to be developed.