Dotted throughout Toronto's older neighbourhoods lie hundreds of historic churches, standing tall amid the low-rise houses clad in characteristic brick or limestone. But look closer, and many of these churches may not be what they appear to be. More and more, underused church properties are being converted into residential units or redeveloped into mid-rise or high-rise condo towers, each keeping some remnant of the building and its use that once occupied that site.
One such redevelopment is currently in the works at 300 Bloor West on the northwest corner of Bloor and Huron Streets: the Bloor Street United Church (BSUC), first constructed in 1886 with several later additions, is now the subject of a high-rise development proposal. This situation is unique, however, as the BSUC is retaining ownership of the property and will continue to operate on the site while allowing the construction of a 28-storey condo tower above. The BSUC has partnered with developers Collecdev and Northrop Developments to bring the high-rise density, and have enlisted KPMB Architects as their lead designers.
300 Bloor West was originally proposed back in 2017 as a 38-storey 259-unit tower that retained the majority of the church building in situ, but following a series of community working groups and meetings with City planners, the plan was scaled back to a 27-storey 254-unit tower, which was presented to the Toronto Design Review Panel (DRP) in Fall 2018.
The biggest adjustment was the shifting of the tower southward, which meant the demolition of the church in its entirety save for two facades to facilitate the relocation of the parking garage from above grade to underground. A new worship space will be built in the same location and in the same likeness as the original, and the church's original entrance will be restored onto Bloor Street, albeit sporting a flashy contemporary design from KPMB. The tower's massing also bulked up with larger floor plates due to its reduction in height. These adjustments were a response to height and shadowing concerns from local residents, and heritage concerns from the City, as the tower intruded into the protected view corridor looking north along Spadina to the University of Toronto Daniels Faculty building (the former Knox College).
When the DRP reviewed the development last year, they expressed concerns over the bulkier massing of the tower and the demolition of the church building, saying that they actually preferred the earlier iteration of a thinner, taller tower pushed further north. They also criticized the Huron Street elevation as being too imposing, and suggested that the designers modify the facade with less glazing.
Earlier this month, the development team submitted updated documents to the City for 300 Bloor West, which now sports a slightly modified appearance but similar massing to its previous version.
The height has been increased slightly to 28 storeys, but its floor plates—which exceed the City's recommended 750 square metres—have not been modified. Contrary to the DRP's recommendations, the location of the tower is still at the centre of the site and has not been pushed back north, meaning that the church will still be demolished and only the south and east facades will be retained. The residential unit count has been reduced to 249, with office spaces occupying the podium levels.
What has changed though is the architectural expression of the building, particularly along Huron Street. The height of the Huron podium has been reduced to be less imposing, and grey-brown brick has been introduced to better match the material palette of the adjacent historic buildings.
As well, the exterior cladding of the tower has been modified, and now features thicker, more pronounced mullions and vertical fins, some of which have a distinctive angled profile. The depth and profile of the mullions and fins differs between the different volumes of the building, helping to break up the massing. The renderings still indicate a bronze-coloured finish on the accentuated mullions, helping the building to fit in with its historic context.
The development is currently seeking rezoning at the City, so it is still some ways off from seeing shovels in the ground. We will continue to provide updates on 300 Bloor West as the design evolves, but in the meantime, additional information and images can be found in our database file for the project, linked below. You can tell us what you think by checking out the associated Forum thread or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.
* * *
UrbanToronto has a new way you can track projects through the planning process on a daily basis. Sign up for a free trial of our New Development Insider here.