Bookended by a pair of parks, the stretch of Wellington Street between Spadina and Portland has suddenly become one of Downtown Toronto's most frenetically active development hubs. Still characterized by pockets of surface parking and vestiges of industry, the 400-odd metres of Wellington between Clarence Square and Victoria Memorial Square Park are already dotted with a variety of recent buildings, with more dramatic changes in the pipeline. On Wednesday, May 3rd, three neighbouring office projects were evaluated at a public consultation, shedding light on the local community's feelings about the changes to come.
Located at 474, 488, and 504 Wellington Street, the three proposals—all submitted to the City in December—would re-make the north side of Wellington east of Portland. At 474 Wellington, Hullmark's proposal calls for a 15-storey office complex fronted by a 318 m² retail space. Designed by architectsAlliance, the building would replace the vacant low-rise structure sandwiched between a pair of five- and six-storey heritage buildings.
The project takes on a long, narrow site characteristic of the north side of Wellington—exemplified by the narrow, elongated form of its much older red brick neighbours. Meeting the scale of the surrounding warehouse typologies, the project would front Wellington with a five-storey base building, characterized by vertical accents that reference the brick tones to the east and west. Filling in the streetwall, the modernist structure would be topped by a glassy 10-story tower volume, with a total of 11,311 m² of office space planned above the street-level retail.
Immediately to the west, the conjoined properties at 482-488 Wellington—including the red brick building that neighbours the 474 site—are subject to a slightly more intense development application. Rising to a height of 16-stories, the RAW-designed tower would rise between the site's retained brick façades, replacing the 20th-century addition that currently joins the two structures.
Featuring 18,226 m² of office space, the project would see both of the site's historic brick buildings demolished, with 10 metres of original building depth preserved to lend the heritage façades an appearance of depth. At the east end of the site, the existing retail space occupied by the Marben restaurant would be retained, while the neighbouring 488 Wellington frontage would serve as the office lobby.
Finally, the site at 504 Wellington (seen above) is also subject to a 15-storey office proposal, which calls for 310 m² of street-level retail space alongside 7,552 m² of commercial office space above. The smallest of the three projects in terms of GFA, the proposed tower—also designed by RAW—would replace a low-rise office building tucked between two relatively new condos. Compared to the sites to the east, this lot is a relatively shallow one.
Flanking the site to the east and west respectively, Freed's 500 Wellington and Parallax's Downtown Condos at Wellington rise to heights of 10 and 11 storeys. For comparison the approximately 120-foot heights of the residential projects is significantly lower than that of the proposed 15- and 16-storey office buildings, which range in height from 226 to 238 feet. Adding to the increased floor count is the fact that office floorplates are generally taller than residential ones, accentuating the disparity in scale. The discussion of context was an overture to Wednesday's meeting, held in a packed little room at Metro Hall.
"They're too tall," Councillor Joe Cressy told the assembly of developers, architects, and area residents seated—and stood—before him, to open the meeting. However, while the Councillor's diagnosis of excess height was fairly definitive, Cressy did not see the projects as non-starters. The Ward 20 Councillor admonished the developers revise their applications and work with the City, while praising the infusion of new office space as a positive for the condo-dominated area.
Cressy's introduction was followed by a presentation from City Planning, which outlined the policies and context that will inform the City's analysis of these three projects. Here, things got complicated. Contextually, the three projects are part of a much larger wave of development that's poised to transform this stretch of Wellington and its immediate surroundings.
On the south side of Wellington—and to the east of these projects—the northern portion of The Well site will introduce a trio of 15, 15, and 13-storey buildings. While RioCan, Allied REIT, Diamond Corp and Tridel's buildings are similar in height to the proposed office projects, City Planning staff indicated that the heights on the south side of the street are meant as transitional element between the The Well's Front Street high-rises and Wellington's more modestly scaled built form to the north. As such, Planning does not regard The Well's Wellington Street buildings as a precedent for new density across the street. However, City Planning indicated that some leeway can be made to accommodate the taller floorplates of office buildings.
Immediately north of the sites in question, the plot thickens again. Sharing the block between Wellington and King, Allied and Westbank's Bjarke Ingels-designed 'mountain' at 489-539 King Street West would, as currently proposed, reach a height peak of 189 feet. The much-publicized proposal would rise well above the existing buildings to the south, complicating the priority—if, indeed, it should be a priority—of a consistent height transition from The Well to the north side of Wellington. Should these projects move forward together with the Habitat '67-inspired community, the integration of mid-block connections between King and Wellington will also be a priority.
Almost directly south of the three sites, meanwhile, Lifetime's Wallman-designed 485 Wellington condominium will also be 15 storeys tall. As a residential project, however, the shorter floorplates mean that the 131-unit tower will reach a height of 181 feet. Initially submitted as a 16-storey building in February of 2016, the proposal was slightly reduced in scale in advance of a re-submission in December.
Then there's Brad Lamb. While the three projects all attracted their fair share of criticism, the name "Brad Lamb" was uttered far more frequently than that of any developer or design firm involved in the three projects being discussed. East of the three office projects, Lamb's 19-storey 'Wellington House' proposal at 422-424 Wellington calls for a condominium tower on the north side of the street. Wellington House was appealed to the OMB following its mid-2016 submission, where it is now being strongly opposed by the City.
Indeed, the strongest criticism of the three office proposals one community member offered was a comparison to the "Brad Lamb obscenity" down the street. Before the meeting began, hushed (and not so hushed) utterances of "Brad Lamb" were sometimes accompanied by obscenities of their own. On Wednesday night, the brashly outspoken Lamb—who was not in attendance—was less a real developer than a totemic emblem of all the industry's real and perceived excesses.
In a more practical sense, the Wellington House comparisons provided were mostly focused on the relatively similar—albeit slightly shorter—height of the three proposed office projects. "They're way, way too tall," one community member emphasized, going on to lambast architectsAlliance's modernist street-level approach as contextually inappropriate. For the RAW-designed project at 488 Wellington, meanwhile, the demolition of heritage buildings was a particular locus of criticism.
Worries about height were accompanied by concerns about shadowing, while the loading and servicing required by the increased density were another point of contention. "There'll be trucks backing down into the street," one community member warned. For the developers and the City, the meeting added another layer of complexity to a planning context that already bears all the intricacy—but, for better or worse, not all the precision—of a Swiss watch.
We will keep you updated as the planning process for each of these projects—which, despite their similarities, will be assessed on their individual merits—continues. In the meantime, more information on all of the above-mentioned projects is available in our dataBase files, linked below. Want to share your thoughts? Leave a comment on this page, or join one of the ongoing conversations in our Forum threads.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was amended to reflect the fact that the Wellington House project is now planned at 19 storeys, as opposed to the 23 storeys originally proposed, and previously published.