As development intensifies in the height ridge around Toronto’s Yonge and Bloor streets, the debate over the relative importance of aesthetic quality and density requirements came to a head at the community consultation for Cityzen’s proposed development at 1 Scollard Street on Monday night.

The KPMB Architects-designed condominium tower would be situated at the nexus of Yonge, Davenport, and Scollard streets and reach 59 storeys (229 metres) high. The narrow, exoskeleton-clad residential tower would rise straight up without any setbacks on its north and south faces. A series of Jenga-like realignments would punctuate its east and west faces to correspond with the architectural features of neighbouring buildings. At present, the site is home to three shops and zoned for a mixed-use development that would reach a height of 18 metres.

Aerial view of the tower, image via submission to the City of Toronto

“This site is located on a high street and on these sites we’d expect the heights to decline the further north you’d go,” City of Toronto Senior Planner Oren Tamir told the approximately 80 attendees at the consultation, which also included representatives from the developers and Ward 27 councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. “What the applicant is asking for,” he added, “is an increase in density from 3 times coverage to 37.5.” Tamir could not name a building under consideration in the area that would have equivalent density coverage; the proposed Norman Foster-designed tower on the height peak at Yonge and Bloor was the closest parallel and its density is only 28 times coverage.

The development team, however, suggested that this density calculation did not accurately reflect the building’s impact and value. “It’s a very tall dense project,” conceded architect Bruce Kuwabara, “but there’s under 200 units and 200 cars.” The inhabitants would live in units with an average size approaching 1,500 square feet and the vehicles would reach the underground parking levels via two elevators. The larger size of these units, Kuwabara said, was ignored in the density calculation: “it’s dense at the level of 37x coverage but not in the number of units, it’s how you understand the density.”

The site as it appears now (left), image via Google Maps

Kuwabara added that the site at 1 Scollard Street was not just any building on a high street, but a crucial intersection that called for an important piece of architecture. “This project is really about trying to make a building that performs urbanistically at several scales,” he said. “Our idea of the building is that it’d be very, very elegant, very clear, and it’d establish the corner of this special intersection where three streets converge.”

The developers’ landscape plan, which would transpose a bit of Canadian forest into a Martha Schwartz-designed stainless steel bowl in the neighbouring Frank Stollery Parkette, also sought to emphasize the unique character of the corner. “We think one of the great opportunities of this site is to really rethink Frank Stollery Parkette and think of the kind of park it could be,” landscape architect David Leinster of The Planning Partnership said. “It’s also an important park as a gateway for entering Yorkville and downtown… we want to set this new park within the context of this place that people are passing through very quickly.” The proposed refurbishment of Frank Stollery Parkette, while not an integral part of the zoning amendment, is part of the developer’s larger plan to reframe the intersection.

A view of the tower's Yonge Street frontage alongside the improved parkette, looking northwest, image via submission to the City

“Beauty is never part of the [planning] equation, but believe me it counts more than anything else,” Kuwabara said. “That’s never discussed; I think it’s important.” His presentation cited a series of examples—all of them American—to demonstrate the aesthetic value of the sort of proposed building. He compared the slim tower to Rafael Viñoly’s skyscraper at 432 Park Avenue in New York City and the intersection to “places in New York where you get Davenport, like Broadway, cutting through the grid. Leinster, meanwhile, compared the five-metre-high stainless steel bowl to Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago.

Many members of the community present at the consultation did not share this assessment. One repeatedly compared the proposed installation in Frank Stollery Parkette to a “salad bowl.” Others pointed out that the lack of setbacks from the bowl would mean the forest it contained would only be visible to those living above it.

Setbacks were also a major source of concern to residents of neighbouring buildings. In spite of articulations on its north and south faces, the building would cover the entirety of its site with the only separation from other buildings coming in the form of a laneway off Scollard Street that would be used to access services and parking. “One of the concerns is that the fourth floor, the way it juts out, the question is why wouldn’t you put that higher,” a representative of the residents of 21 Scollard Street said. “Anyone on the east side of the building from the fourth floor up won’t be able to see the park.”

The height parameters as per Area-Specific Policy 211, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

Other participants in the consultation suggested that the plan’s architectural merit justified the significant increase in height and density. “The real blasphemy here is the undersized 18 Yorkville,” one man told the architect. He argued it had set an unfair precedent for declining heights in the area’s ridge. 1 Scollard Street, he added, “breaks the mold in an appropriate place and a place that is visible.”

Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, however, voiced her support for the City of Toronto’s staff recommendation that the zoning amendment proposal be refused. “Very seldom do we get to have a staff report that has such strong refusal language that comes out before a community meeting,” she said, and later added that this was a first in her six years in office. “I haven’t heard anything tonight that will lead me to do anything different than what I did at Community Council which is to support the staff report and I will be doing the same thing at City Council.”

Looking southeast over Frank Stollery Parkette to 1 Scollard, image by KPMB Architects

The councillor’s criticism centred on the architects’ proposals for Frank Stollery Parkette, the current iteration of which is less than a decade old and the product of “the collaborative design process.” The Parkette, she added, is also home to a series of plaques recognizing the area’s Indigenous history. “I would hate to think that in a very short time we would take away those plaques for something we didn’t ask for,” she said. “Whatever happens in the next reiteration of this application the one thing I would ask is don’t arbitrarily redesign public space without public consultation because it’s disrespectful.”

“I recognize the ambition,” she concluded, “but there’s a very specific vocabulary that has been established with respect to Frank Stollery Parkette.”

The proposed development at 1 Scollard Street is still subject to a City Council vote and, potentially, an appeal before the Ontario Municipal Board. To learn more about the 1 Scollard project, additional information is also available in our dataBase file, linked below. Want to share your thoughts about the planning process? Leave a comment in the space provided on this page, or join the conversation in our associated Forum thread.

Related Companies:  Cityzen Development Group, Dominus Construction Group, Entuitive, KPMB Architects, Martha Schwartz Partners, The Planning Partnership, WND Associates Ltd