It has been several months since we last reported on Westbank's grand proposal for the Honest Ed's site and Mirvish Village that burst onto the scene earlier this year. The project received a generally positive response lauding its socially-conscious precedent-setting design by Henriquez Partners Architects of Vancouver, in collaboration with ERA Architects and Janet Rosenberg + Studio. The large-scale redevelopment incorporates two full blocks at the southwest corner of Bloor and Bathurst Streets, transforming the area into a mixed-use neighbourhood comprised of residential rental units, fine-grained retail, heritage buildings, a public market, and a significantly improved public realm.
The initial excitement around the proposal caused quite a stir, but we know all too well that the lengthy planning process is bound to bring about changes and improvements to the proposal. Over the past few months, the project has made its way through community meetings and Toronto's Design Review Panel, as well as receiving input from City Planning, and we have been able to compile comprehensive feedback to give a snapshot of what's currently in store for the massive redevelopment.
The Mirvish Village proposal brings a host of distinct features that set it apart from other developments in the city. The massive program is broken down into smaller elements to bring a more fine-grained, community feel to the development. The initial proposal incorporates three towers—the tallest being located at the corner of Bloor and Bathurst—as well as a mix of mid-rise residential buildings stepping down to a five-storey streetwall, all exclusively comprised of nearly 1000 rental units.
Ground-level retail will be divided into long, narrow plots with shorter street frontages, mimicking the historic character along Bloor Street. This division will be determined by the narrow plots of the buildings, which will feature eight different facade treatments and varying heights to avoid creating a monolithic, homogeneous block. Historic properties along Markham Street - which bisects the property - will be restored and repurposed for retail, with a new 'Honest Ed's Alley' creating an intimate shopping atmosphere just east of Markham. The public realm will see drastic change, with a new public market located mid-block, and the conversion of Markham Street into a woonerf. More details of the initial proposal can be found in a previous article by UrbanToronto, as well as a follow-up story written after a community meeting in March.
Since then, some minor alterations have been made to the proposal. A newer set of renderings shows some added stepbacks and recesses in the towers to give further variation and to decrease the streetwall height in some areas. As well, the more recent renderings show a slight increase in the height of the towers by as much as six storeys. Some massing and volumetric adjustments are also visible in the mid-rise buildings at the south edge of the site, which have been reduced in size, and in the shorter tower at the centre of the block. The new views have also removed the eclectic and colourful signage first envisioned in the project, opting for a more refined, toned-down aesthetic.
The Mirvish Village development was presented to the Design Review Panel at their July 7 meeting. Not surprisingly, the response from the Panel was overwhelmingly positive and fully supportive of the proposal. Panelists praised the presentation as "the most comprehensive...and provocative application [they] have ever received", and expressed appreciation for the social aspects and public realm design of the development. However, a few key issues were pointed out that needed work, prompting the Panel to vote unanimously for refinement of the proposal and a second review at some point in the future.
A prominent criticism of the Panel was their concern for sunlight and shadow-casting of the towers over the predominantly low-rise neighbourhood. Suggestions were made to decrease the height of the buildings, or to relocate the towers in such a way that would create less of an impact on the surroundings. Furthermore, the massing of the proposal came into question, with the jump in scale and the imposing streetwall height of concern to the Panelists. It was recommended that a rethinking of the massing, more in line with the Mid-Rise and Tall Building Design Guidelines, and further consideration of the development's relationship with the existing context might help to integrate the project into its environment.
The heritage impact of the buildings was also brought to attention by the Panel members, who questioned the integrity of many of the historic buildings included, as well as the demolition of others. Panelists also suggested including more open spaces, perhaps even a privately-owned public space, to further improve the public realm, as the majority of the open space will be occupied by the market. Overall, the Panel was delighted at the proposal and offered words of encouragement, but noted that Mirvish Village would set a significant precedent for future developments in the city and stressed the importance of getting the design right the first time.
Recent developments from the City may signal further changes to come for the proposal. At a Toronto Preservation Board meeting in September, a recommendation was put forward to add 35 properties in the Bloor-Bathurst area to the Toronto Heritage Roster as listed heritage buildings - some of which are located on the site but not currently included in the new development. This request is currently under review by the City, and it is not yet known what impact this will have moving forward with the proposal.
With the zoning application submitted in August, the Mirvish Village development has entered the next phase of the process, and Westbank has several initiatives planned to foster community involvement.
Back in September, the City Lab and site office opened to the public at 610 Markham Street, offering insight into the project as well as ideas on the future of city building. Furthermore, a Mirvish Village Walkshop is scheduled for this Saturday, November 7, where the public can join for a walk through the Mirvish Village to engage in a discussion of heritage in Toronto and how it can be incorporated into modern developments. The walk will be led by Jane Farrow, former Executive Director of Jane’s Walks, Alexis Cohen of ERA Architects, and a representative from Westbank. The walk will begin at 11:00 AM at 610 Markham Street.
Public engagement will continue throughout the fall and winter, with a public consultation coming in the near future.
Stay tuned for a follow-up story on UrbanToronto, as we delve more into the details of this exciting proposal. In the meantime, you can find more info and renderings of Westbank's Bloor and Bathurst proposal in our dataBase file for the project, linked below. If you would like to talk about the plans, you can get in on the conversation in our associated Forum thread, or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.
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