Goodbye, MOCCA, Clint Roenisch Gallery, Edward Day Gallery, Mutt Animation—hello, 9-storey 151 unit mid-rise

I (Jessica Wilson, representing the OCA) went to a pre-application meeting hosted by Layton at City Hall yesterday in re the development of the lands currently housing MOCCA (the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art), the Edward Day Gallery, Mutt Animation Studio, as well as the character building to the east currently housing the Clint Roesnisch Gallery.

Alan Saskin, President of UrbanCorp, and Prishram Jain from TACT Architecture presented their current proposal. Saskin is the developer behind Westside Lofts and several other large developments in the Queen W. Triangle, Liberty Village, and elsewhere across the city; Jain has worked with UrbanCorp and other companies on these sorts of buildings, and in particular is the designer of 2 Gladstone, going up across the street from the Gladstone Hotel.

Anyway, to the proposal.  Where there is presently a primary art and culture node in the West End, a beckoning opening into a museum of contemporary art abutted by two of Toronto’s best art galleries, a stage for Nuit Blanche and other events, framed by sky and a huge ever-changing mural—is now envisioned a 9-storey, 26.9m (really, 31.9m, with mechanical penthouse), 151-unit mid-rise condominium building, currently designed with only a single large retail space, spanning more than 1/3 of the block between Shaw and Givins (width of 9 average storefronts) and going twice as deep, involving a gesture at brick vernacular for the first couple of stories before rising up in typical glass box fashion.

The height and density limits—not just the existing height limit of 18m, but the performance standards of the Avenues and Mid-rise Building Study (AMRBS), are grossly violated, left and right.  So, for example, the AMRBS is adamant that the height of a mid-rise on an Avenue (which Queen is) cannot exceed the width of the street right-of-way (ROW).  Queen’s ROW is 20m; the proposed building is 26.9m/31.9m, going beyond the AMRBS guidelines by two additional storeys (this in an area where the average building is 2 storeys).  The building crashes through the back and especially the front angular planes.  There is no side-wise stepping back to adjacent residences on Shaw, who will be looking at the side of a building 5 storeys high.  There are no family-sized units (115 units are 1BR of around 700sqft, around 29 are 2BR of around 820sqft).  No ground level green space, no courtyard.  No cross-ventilation in the majority of the tiny single-window units.  (As Ken Greenberg said, “These are essentially extended-stay hotels”.)  Due to laneway constraints, there will be a driveway for the hundred or so cars and service vehicles with entry and exit onto Queen.  Both the built form and the inevitable chain retail will be grossly out of keeping with the distinctive independent retail old-school character of W Queen W business district (recently deemed the 18th most “stylish” business district in the world).  Etc., etc.

Moreover, some of the most serious potential impacts were not even mentioned or discussed.  At the meeting, the architect’s drawings just showed affected properties to the east and west of the property.  I was concerned about the impact on the residential properties in these locations, but I just looked at the location on Google Maps and see that the primary residential impact concerns properties to the North.  Nearly every house on the east side of Givins and the west side of Shaw, South of Givins-Shaw school, will be affected by way of shadow, blocking of sky, and/or loss of privacy by (I estimate) close to 100 balconies overlooking their backyards.  The shadow impact will be especially bad since the proposed building is directly to the South of these properties.

The architect’s response to height and density overage concerns was to highlight the depth and large size of the lot (though why a large lot should be allowed to have a larger building that will then even more intrude on the surrounding low-rise landscape is unclear to me) and to say that the 1-1 height-ROW mid-rise guidelines reflect the supposition that there are buildings on both sides of the street (in the present case a CAMH park is across the street).  In response to concerns about affecting character his response was to note that W. Queen W. is not an officially designated “character area”.  As noted, the primary impact on residents on Givins and Shaw was not even mentioned.  The developer’s typical response to requests to make changes in some way responding to the various concerns was to say “No, we’re not going to do that”.  And though Saskin didn’t make the sort of overt threats that Shelley Fenton of Reserve Properties did at our first meeting with him, Saskin did make sure to say that even though he (admittedly) had been saying ‘No’ to everything, he might be able to adjust here and there (e.g., with respect to the retail space—an easy “compromise”); but if he ran into too much opposition, he would find it more convenient to just go to the OMB and “take his chances” on the design as it stands.

So, here we go again.  A building in blatant non-conformity to both existing and planned context, completely alien to the character of the area, that will clearly negatively impact dozens of residents, a developer and architect who are quite used to getting their way, and City officials that, if past and recent history is any indication, are completely ineffective at maintaining the integrity of our long-standing cultural, residential and business district communities.  “Art and Design District”?  Not for long.

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