Community members filled an auditorium at the Grosvernor St YMCA Nov 9 to hear details about a proposed condo development that would tower 58 storeys above Yonge St, running the length of the block from Alexander to Maitland, and contain 960 residential units.
The project, proposed by Lanterra Developments, would loom much higher than any building currently on the stretch of Yonge St from College to Bloor, causing many in attendance to be concerned about shadows, traffic impacts, construction nuisances, and the impact on the pedestrian environment of Yonge St.
The proposal is currently on hold pending the completion of the city’s North Downtown Yonge Street Planning Framework, due in early 2012. But city staff will reconsider the proposal in the new year. Peter Clewes, the architect on the project, told the community members in attendance that he was taking their suggestions and concerns to heart and would address them in revising his plan.
Clewes attempted to mitigate concerns by painting the project as one that will maintain the varied retail atmosphere of Yonge St while adding trees, sidewalk space and public art.
The proposal is for more than 20 times the density and 10 times the height allowed under current zoning rules. It would also have more than 200 fewer parking spaces than is required by law for the number of residents proposed.
Because the building would sit directly on top of the Yonge subway, there’s no room for underground parking, so Clewes proposes seven levels of above-ground parking, forming the podium upon which two towers would sit. He suggested that the parking could be hidden from view by vertical gardens, creating a green wall, which was laughed off by one participant who noted that the greenery would disappear in the winter.
Alternate suggestions from the architect included public art or glass installations along the front of the garage, or extending retail signage over the seven storeys of parking, essentially creating billboards that are taller than most buildings along that stretch of Yonge St.
The proposal shows two loading docks and an entrance to the garage from the rear of the building, along Maitland Terrace, which left many to question the feasibility of such heavy traffic in the small laneway, and whether deliver trucks for the retail outlets would even be able to enter and exit loading bays in such a confined space.
Bruce McKay, who lives in the condo tower next door to the proposed building, says the plan is “a fantasy of how much traffic that lane can handle.”
“Two truck bays and 58 visitor parking spots for all that retail and 960 people moving in and out?” McKay asked.
Other community members raised concerns about how close the proposed building would be to the pedestrian environment of Yonge St. The two towers would be only eight metres and 10 metres back from Yonge, while other towers have been given a wider berth. Members proposed a minimum setback of 15-30 metres, which would effectively push the building off the property.
The complaint was more than aesthetic. Some worried that debris, ice or breaking glass falling from balconies could harm pedestrians. Several new towers in the downtown core have experienced problems with falling glass this year.
Several community members complained about the impact of the building on their views and said the building proposal was simply “ugly,” “an eyesore,” “a brutal modernist abomination” and “a civic gesture of appalling negativity.”
“The back of the building is just metal and concrete,” one community member said.
Because of the building’s height and its relatively lower-rise neighbours on Maitland and Alexander streets the back of the towers and podium will be highly visible from the west.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says she’s establishing a working group of architects and city staff to review the proposal.
“I would like this project to go through peer design review because of the historical context of Yonge St,” she says.
Wong-Tam says her office has been flooded with applications for new developments since she was elected last year.
“There will probably be eight more towers along the spine of Yonge St from College to Bloor,” she says.