Last night, the first public meeting regarding CentreCourt Development's recent proposal for a 45-storey condo tower at 411 Church Street was held, giving neighbouring residents in this central Toronto community an opportunity to provide input regarding the plan. The ambitious tower was met with a mixed reception by attendees, many of whom felt that the height would be inappropriate for the neighbourhood. Among the most frequently cited concerns was the impact of shadows that would be cast over the neighbouring Church Street Jr. Public School, located across the street immediately north of the site.

A rendering of the project, image courtesy of CentreCourt

When details of the proposal—configured in a 38-storey tower rising above a 7-storey base—at the southeast corner of Church and Wood first emerged in August of this year, it was predicted that the tower's shadows would prove contentious. Indeed, as renderings for the Page + Steele / IBI Group-designed project revealed a modern tower characterized by a distinctive honeycomb pattern exterior aesthetic, the shadow study also showed that—during some parts of the year—the neighbouring school would receive noticeably less direct sunlight.

According to the City of Toronto's North Downtown Yonge Planning Framework—frequently cited during the meeting—a maximum height of 25 storeys is prescribed for new developments in the 'College-Carlton special character' area (with height guidelines of 15 to 25 storeys). However, given the scattershot and sometimes almost random nature of high-rise development throughout Toronto, building beyond the City's guidelines is not without precedent. A few attendees even argued that the benefits of going to school in a potentially more vibrant community would outweigh the harms of increased shadows.

The wind study, with the purple areas showing the shadows cast by the tower as currently proposed, image courtesy of CentreCourt

On the map above, three sets of shadows are represented from the site, which is marked in red. The dark grey tone represents the new shadow that will be cast by Tribute's approved Stanley tower (immediately to the south of 411 Church), and the yellow represents the shadow that would be cast if a 25 storey tower—the maximum allowed by the North Downtown Yonge Urban Design Guidelines—were to be built on the site. Finally, the purple colour represents the shadow that would be cast by the 45-storey tower currently proposed.

While many residents expressed concern regarding the 45-storey shadows that would be cast over the school, several attendees also praised the project, calling the design "beautiful," and expressing optimism that more urban density would make the city "a better place." By contrast, some residents espoused fears about construction noise, "too many people," lack of parking, and sidewalks becoming "too crowded to walk."

Designed to replace a surface parking lot that currently occupies the site, the proposed tower would become the tallest presence in the immediate area, rising above the 37-storey Stanley tower soon to be built directly to the south. While the Stanley proposal also initially called for 45 storeys, the height was eventually scaled down due in part to the shadows cast over the school, leaving attendees wondering why the tower at 411 Church—located closer to the school—is proposing the same impacts. 

The site as it appears now, image retrieved from Google Maps

Yet, as the meeting went on, a number of attendees expressing reservations about the project's scale also acknowledged that some degree of new density would improve the area. With CentreCourt's proposal—which we also learned would feature landscaping by Strybos Barron King—still in its early, largely exploratory stages, some area residents expressed a desire to reach a middle ground between the developer's ambitions and the community's concerns. 

Looking south, with the outline of the 37-storey Stanley visible behind the tower, image courtesy of CentreCourt

While some residents worried that the condominium would impact the economic character—and affordability—of the neighbouring Church-Wellesley Village, a taller tower's sizeable Section 37 contribution could provide significant benefits to the community, which includes a wide range of possibilities, including potential funds or improvements directed towards the school itself.

Concerns regarding the corporate ground-level retail that tends to dominate Toronto's large condo projects ("not another bank") were also voiced, though CentreCourt has recently showed a willingness to include more diverse retailers at the base of its projects, with Toronto-based independent cafe-bar Boxcar Social recently announced as an anchor tenant at the base of its 54-storey INDX development in the Financial District.

A closer look at the podium levels, looking east along Wood, image courtesy of CentreCourt

Queries about the number of family friendly units in the building were answered directly, with 84 three-bedroom and 92 two-bedroom suites planned for the 583-unit tower, with the remaining suites left over to one-bedrooms, as well as a limited number of studios.

Broadly speaking, three schools of thought emerged from the meeting. A desire for compromise and finding a way to deliver new density while benefiting and respecting the community characterized many residents' perspectives, who expressed concerns about elements of the project without opposing new development entirely. While a small number of commenters also supported the project wholeheartedly in its current 45-storey iteration, others espoused a sort of formless NIMBYist angst that can arguably be reduced to an instinctive and reactionary dislike of change.

A look at the site plan, which sees the tower set back from the streetscape, image courtesy of CentreCourt

We will continue to follow the proposal closely as new details continue to unfold, with an additional public meeting planned for sometime in January. In the meantime, check out our associated dataBase file for more information. Want to share your thoughts regarding the proposal? Leave a comment below this page, or join in the discussion on our Forum.

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