"It's too tall." "It's mountainous." "No more than four storeys." These were just some of the comments made during the March 8th community consultation for Rosewater Capital's proposed eight-storey development on 227 Gerrard Street East in Toronto's historic Cabbagetown. Some 100 people made it out to the packed meeting room of the Central Neighbourhood House on Ontario Street, anxiously waiting to express their concerns for the proposed development.
Currently occupied by a suburban-style Beer Store and its surface parking lot, Rosewater brought forth an application to rezone the site in late 2016. Bounded by Seaton to the west, Ontario to the East, Hagan Laneway to the south and Gerrard to the north, the proposal calls for an 8-storey, 99-unit condominium, with retail at grade level. Designed by Architecture Unfolded (AU), the development includes 62 parking spaces on two levels of underground parking, with vehicular access to the garage as well as garbage and servicing accessed from the southeast end of the site, via Ontario Street. 131 bicycle parking spaces would also be provided on the P1 level.
During the meeting, a representative from Rosewater Group stated that the The Beer Store is intended to remain as the principal retail tenant. Of the proposed 7,700 ft² of proposed retail space, The Beer Store would ultimately determine how big or small of a space to take on, with the retailer planning an up-market "Beer Boutique" (a concept that currently exists in Liberty Village and is planned at Avenue & Park). The space would be accessed at the corner of Gerrard and Ontario streets. Dependant on the Beer Boutique's size, additional retail spaces could be provided, with entrances along the Gerrard Street frontage.
Local residents were concerned whether or not the store would accept empties as it currently stands. Given the daily morning queues that reportedly line the street before the store opens, residents urged that the new Beer Store discontinue that operation, citing reports of trespassing, littering, and urination on their properties. Rosewater Group representatives explained that the new store's operating structure has yet to be determined, with no finalized plans for returns set.
Generally speaking, attendees were happy to see redevelopment activity on the underutilized site, though the vast majority did not support the project as currently proposed. Concerns about height and density were the evening's most frequent objections.
As described by architect Eduardo Ortiz from AU, the mid-rise building meets Gerrard with a 3-storey frontage, reflecting the scale of the neighbourhood's Victorian buildings. As it rises beyond the third level, the building steps back 1.5 metres throughout the remaining floors on the south, so as to minimize shadowing, fitting within a 45 degree angular plane—a Planning Department guideline for mid-rise development—and transitioning in response to the surrounding buildings. The north front steps back on the fourth and seventh floors.
The current zoning for the site allows a building 12 metres tall, or roughly under 4 storeys, while the proposed condo would be 28 metres tall. The scale and massing was criticized by community members, who felt that the building is out of context for the neighbourhood. With no structures of similar height in the immediate vicinity, concerns about setting a future precedent for taller height were commonplace.
Conversely, the rationale for the development—explained by Bousfield's Sasha Lauzon—is that Gerrard, a minor arterial street, is designated a mixed-use area, where growth is anticipated to occur (away from the established residential streets). The massing generally fits in to the Mid-Rise Building Guidelines, while the urban design conforms to the policies set out in the Toronto Official Plan. Cooper also reinforced that while the building is taller than the status quo, is it important to look at the long-term planning vision of the neighbourhood, and to what degree are other nearby developments (such as 307 Sherbourne Street) would transform the area.
Despite these explanations residents were still unconvinced, calling the proposal a "giant wall on Gerrard." Several times throughout the course of the meeting, shouts for "four storeys" received loud cheers and applause. One man went on to say former Mayor Crombie's 45-foot height limit from the 1970s should never have been lifted by the Ontario Municipal Board. Another pointed out that the north elevation drawing of the proposal shows it being out of scale to its neighbours, a one-storey mid-20th century auto-repair garage to the west, and a three-storey 1875 listed heritage building to the east.
Toronto's zoning bylaws are—in general—outdated, and are often at odds with the intentions of the Official Plan. As the City responds to growth pressure, it is important to get intensification right, especially in established neighbourhoods such as Cabbagetown. Toronto was a different place when Cabbagetown was built up, and while it is unlikely that the City will only allow four storeys here, whether or not eight storeys is the right number for this site remains to be seen. This design is still preliminary, and the plans will almost certainly evolve as it progresses through the planning process.
We will follow this project as it goes through planning. Additional information and renderings can be found in the project's dataBase file, linked below. Want to share your thoughts on this development and its potential implications? Feel free to comment using the space provided on this page, or you can join in the ongoing conversation in our associated Forum thread.
ED NOTE: The story has been updated with a newer rendering replacing the initial image, and a correction to the name of the planner with Bousfield's.