“A daunting presence on Yonge Street” is how an area resident describes a twin-tower condominium complex slated for development at Yonge and Alexander streets, a stone’s throw from Buddies in Bad Times theatre.
Two 58-storey glass towers containing 960 residential condominium units on a shared seven-storey podium/parking garage plus retail space has been proposed to stretch across a city block at 501 Yonge Street. The development proposal notice has been posted on the perimeter of the site.
“That area is dense with people. This is too much for that site. It overloads it,” says Robert Fabian, who owns a condo at 25 Maitland, home to about 162 units. His building, and its rooftop pool, will be in shadow for most of the day if he towers are built. Fabian says his condo board has lawyered up and is preparing for a fight.
“This is an oppressive, Soviet-style design,” he says. Fabian recently launched a website to gather feedback from neighbourhood residents and share information on the proposal. “It’s going to be an overpowering, ungrateful and ugly structure.”
Lanterra Developments did not return Xtra’s interview requests. An application to develop the strip of restaurants and retail shops from Maitland to Alexander streets is moving through city hall, ward 27 councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says.
If the “aggressive” project goes through as planned, Wong-Tam says she fears Yonge St will start to look similar to Bay St. “Right now this looks very much like a Bay St tower, which means in its current form it doesn’t quite fit on Yonge St, yet. It needs work.”
Both Wong-Tam and Fabian identified several concerns that could affect development as the process unfolds, including major traffic tie-ups, a less attractive and less inviting pedestrian walkway, increased congestion and pollution during construction and a transit infrastructure that is already at capacity.
“There’s going to be serious issues while they construct it because they are going to have to close lanes,” Fabian says. “It’s gonna be a nightmare during construction.”
Wong-Tam says an influx of that many people will weigh heavily on services. An improved transit strategy will need to be included in the plans. “The amount of people who take the Yonge Street subway at rush hour is already at capacity. It’s crowded. It’s unsafe.”
Construction will have major impacts on the Church and Wellesley Village. “It’s gonna get crowded. Keep in mind, our sidewalks aren’t getting any wider and we haven’t received new money for infrastructure or transit. There’s going to be shadow impacts and we have to take that into consideration,” Wong-Tam says.
Brendan Healy, artistic director at Buddies in Bad Times, says he’s been to city hall to see the plans and is watching the development closely. “It’s massive, so we are going to want to work with the developer to minimize the impact on us, especially during construction. But, I feel development is inevitable, especially on Yonge… This will certainly change the character of the neighbourhood.”
Wong-Tam says she will ensure traffic and environmental impact studies are done. “This is an opportunity to really enhance the streetscape or to be another missed opportunity if we don’t carefully manage the application.”
Still, area residents are asking questions. “What’s going to happen to World Pride in 2014?” Fabian reminds. “That’s about the time they’ll be closing off Maitland and lanes on Alexander and Yonge.”
It’s too early in the process to know, Wong-Tam says. Right now, various city departments are reviewing and responding to the proposal. “We have to look at the application in its entirety, and that includes the public realm experience, how the development will impact pedestrians.”
City planner Sarah Henstock says no date has been set for the community consultation meeting yet. Wong-Tam expects the meeting to be lively and well attended. “I hope that residents, business owners and property owners bring some ideas, not what they don’t want to see, but come to the table with what they do think is appropriate.”
The application won’t see approval for about a year, she says. In the meantime, Wong-Tam is setting up a working group with interested stakeholders. “We’re very far away from an approved application.”
“We have to ensure developments are appropriate, sustainable and responsible in the long run. And, ultimately, beautiful. People want to see beauty out their window… We can do better in Ward 27.”