In 2005 the Government of Ontario passed a planning act known as Places To Grow. We often reference the act on UrbanToronto as it is the piece of legislation most responsible for the way this city is now growing, which is more up than out these days.

Places to Grow and the creation of the accompanying greenbelt around Greater Toronto's urban area sought to put a halt to the unending spread of tract subdivisions across formerly productive farmland, and sought to concentrate new growth in areas where urban services already exist—and where the intensified population would tread more lightly on the environment. It's all about us becoming greener.

The Greenbelt Plan area

The City of Toronto responded; partially. The City formally agreed to densify, and identified places where it wants that to happen (mostly along transit lines), but it has not successfully rewritten zoning by-laws to support the larger, taller buildings we have to accept to meet our intensification targets. That means that just about every building of any size being developed in Toronto today has to go through a process of having the local zoning by-law and often the official plan amended for the site, to allow for the increases.

It's a system that has turned every building project into a protracted adversarial process of negotiation between the developer on one side and the City Councillor, Planning Department, and nearby residents on the other. In areas of the City that are seeing more development pressure the local Councillor and the City Planners have become more adept at the whole process, having learned what is going to work, and more than likely what the Ontario Municipal Board will say on any given project if the developer decides the appeal the City's decision. In areas with less of that pressure, things are not so smoothed out yet and the bumpy road to the decision can be even bumpier. 

Location of 383 Sorauren superimposed on the City of Toronto's Urban Structure Map

383 Sorauren is in one of those areas. The Parkdale neighbourhood where you will find this address has not exactly escaped the attention of developers, but neither has it seen the onslaught underway in more central parts of town. It's here where more recent planning department hires are finding their feet, and where the local City Councillor was emboldened by a 2010 OMB decision that stopped a development at Dundas West subway station .

It's also where developers Gairloch Developments and Centrestone Urban Developments found a spot that exactly fit the spirit of the Places to Grow act. Bill Gairdner, principal of Gairloch and founder of the young firm but with many years in the industry, found a site with a single-storey warehouse on the east side of Sorauren, a block south of Dundas, and backing on to the West Toronto rail corridor. To the south was a recently converted 6-storey warehouse-to-condo building called Robert Watson Lofts, while across Sorauren are more 2 and 3 storey homes and a 5-storey loft building. Red bricks predominate, and trees are plentiful: it's a classic mid-city Victorian neighbourhood, once scruffy but now in (the occasionally painful throes of) revival.

383 Sorauren site and environs from the air, image from Apple Maps

Gairdner wanted to do something special here, so he hired one of Toronto's top firms, architectsAlliance, to create a boutique-sized building to fit the neighbourhood. Known more for their soaring minimalist glass towers, aA (for short) came back with an 11-storey building that was modern but still reflective of the area's past. A uniquely applied two-storey red-brick grid covered the building, a reference to the warehouses that rise alongside the railway here, on and off for several kilometres. The top couple of floors stepped back, hidden from the street, making the building only appear nine storeys tall.

Any developer proposing 11 storeys where the tallest nearby building is 6 storeys knows that they are going to get some blowback. Meeting the goals of the Places to Grow Act does not necessarily mean that the neighbours will be pleased, and local councillor Gord Perks was only too happy to back the opposition to it. The councillor and the City's planner declared the project an overdevelopment of the site, and sought reductions in height and total size. Gairdner agreed to drop the building to 10 storeys and lower the architectural grid by one floor—to the top of the 8th storey—to more closely align it with Robert Watson Lofts to the south. It was this 10-storey concept and rendering that 383 Sorauren went to the market with.

First 10-storey version of 383 Sorauren, image courtesy of Gairloch Developments

The reductions were not enough to change the mind of the councillor or planning department, and the report languished at City Hall. With no chance of a settlement in sight, Gairloch appealed the project to the Ontario Municipal Board when the City failed to make a final decision on the project within 120 days of its submission. As the OMB hearing date approached, more senior officials in the planning department advised the councillor's office that they believed the City would lose the case, and they sought to reopen negotiations to reach a settlement prior to the hearing.

Gairloch agreed to an additional 3 metre stepback for units on the eighth floor, while the architectural grid was maintained at the proposed height. Seventh and eighth floor suites now have larger terraces. Gairdner is happy that the beauty and architectural integrity of the building has been maintained, preserving the building's uniqueness. Gairdner told us he "did not want it to start to look like every other wedding-cake style mid-rise in the City".

New rendering of 383 Sorauren showing the changes as per the settlement with the City, image courtesy of Gairloch Developments

The new rendering above represents the plan as settled on at the City and ratified by the OMB. A new perspective was chosen to add to people's comprehension of the building, now hinting at the penthouse units which couldn't be seen in the previous perspective. A detail shot makes the stepbacks, with balconies of the 6th floor and larger terraces on the 7th and 8th floors clearer below. The 9th floor is hidden behind the architectural grid from this angle, while the top floor of the two-storey penthouses can be seen above and further back.

Balconies, terraces, and stepbacks on 383 Sorauren's top floors, image courtesy of Gairloch Developments

The building's unique attributes remain the same, with a rich material palette of bricks—laid out in a checkerboard punched pattern in places—of diagonally installed zinc cladding, of stone paving, and of lush landscaping at ground level. An amenities terrace is hidden behind the tree in the lower right corner. Two-storey townhomes have individual entrances from the sidewalk.

Material palette at 383 Sorauren: stone, zinc, brick, lush landscaping, image courtesy of Gairloch Developments

Want to know more about 383 Sorauren? UrbanToronto's database file for the building contains more information and images about its features. You'll find it linked below along with associated Forum thread links if you want to get in on the discussion about this project. Otherwise you are always welcome to leave a comment in the space provided on this page.

Related Companies:  architects—Alliance, Bluescape Construction Management, Gairloch Developments, NAK Design Strategies, Peter McCann Architectural Models Inc.