BWVRA letter to the City Planning Department

(See our Development page for more background on local development issues)

September 17/12

To: Philip Carvalino – City of Toronto Planning
Councillor Sarah Doucette – Ward 13
CC: North Drive Investments

Re: 1990/2114 Bloor West applications by North Drive Investments

I am writing on behalf of the Bloor West Village Residents Association with regard to the above applications by North Drive Investments. Several members of our Executive attended one or both of the public consultation meetings held on the applications, and we have discussed the proposed buildings and the comments that accompanied the application.

The mandate of the BWVRA is to assess what we see as the wider impact on the residents of Bloor West Village, their use and enjoyment of the heart of their neighborhood. We recognize that intensification is an important goal and that re-development in a desirable area is inevitable and potentially positive.

Our concerns with these applications are as follows:

We feel there has been a clear message expressed by the public in support of maintaining the existing character of the Bloor West Village. That message has been consistent every time the City and developers have collaborated with its residents; during work-shopping of the Bloor West Urban Design Study; the Humber Odeon proposal; deputations on 20 Gothic and 1844 Bloor West; and, the Tridel/Old Mill charrette process. As participants in these meetings, we heard almost no arguments against development. But, we heard a lot about managing growth in a way that enhances and preserves the Village’s major asset, its character.

The BWVRA identifies the following elements as forming that character:

  • A consistent street scape with buildings of a standard setback, heights, massing, materials and style.
  • An overall style that reflects the era from roughly 1900 to 1930, when the area was developed.
  • A commercial core along Bloor Street West with a five storey maximum, with a mix of building facades and street amenities.
  • A street pattern that deviates from the grid layout to respect the original undulating topography of the area.
  • The opportunity for small open green spaces to be enjoyed by the general public.
  • A canopy of mature trees that not only provide aesthetic appeal but also provide a cooling effect in the summer and define the street scape.

One does not need to walk far from either the 1990 or the 2114 Bloor West sites to observe that character. It is reflected in the entire block on both sides of 1990 and all around 2114 Bloor. Even taller/newer buildings such as the Grenadier Retirement Centre pick up on bricked, tiered and varied elements seen throughout the Village. Some similar elements were attempted at Bloor and Ellis Park Road, though with rather limited success. Nonetheless, both developments are a number of storeys lower than what is currently being proposed for smaller sites.

It is our view that, as proposed, the North Drive applications are not in tune with the local consensus or the physical reality of Bloor West Village.

The two buildings are of commendable design and material quality. But, their designs, tall, generic and modernist, neither reflect nor contribute to the character of Bloor West Village. We feel they actually risk intruding on that character. In our view, two buildings very similar in design and style, would undermine the existing character by introducing incompatible elements and heights in separate locations. This is of great concern as we look to applications in the future for other sites within the Village.

It also appears that the projects have not been designed for these specific sites. We see poor integration of the proposed buildings with their surroundings. The building at 2114 does not relate to the neighbourhood onto which it backs, nor does it relate directly to the small park it would overlook. Development of this site provides the opportunity for the creation of an appealing entrance to a quiet residential area, rather than a corridor leading to a utilitarian service bay backside.

Similarly, the massing of the building at 1990 Bloor ignores that it is on a corner, and would create something of an industrial dead end, with parking bay doors on both sides. It could instead open possibility of an appealing off-Bloor plaza, usable by pedestrians and High Park patrons.

It’s clear to us that these weaknesses stem from North Drive’s desire to maximize the number of units on each site. In the case of 1990 this would produce a narrow sidewalk, the crowding of the adjacent low rise and overshadowing of the homes across the TTC tracks. The impact of overloading of the site 2114 Bloor is similar.

It’s the opinion of the BWVRA Executive that these concerns would be mitigated with adherence to the Mid-Rise building guidelines. We feel strongly that these are important; developed specifically to deal with proposals on the Bloor West, and other city Avenues. It would be a dangerous precedent for Bloor West Village for those guidelines to be compromised at this early stage, and in two locations. The result would almost certainly be an irresistible precedent for future developers, planners and Councils.

We foresee that kind of precedent having a serious impact on the quality of life in the Village area. In our view, it can’t be taken for granted that thousands of new users can be added to the TTC services in this one stretch. Peak service is almost inadequate at present, even by the low standard of simply having a place to stand on the subway. The TTC has not secured stable funding to expand its services and it faces serious challenges in trying to add capacity to existing lines. A ten year horizon would be short in terms of meaningful upgrades, if and when they are focused on this part of the system. However, that is a relatively short span of time for the development and construction of new condos.

In the public meetings, North Drive was asked more than once to state its case for two exceptions to the Mid-Rise performance standards. None was given, leaving us to conclude that it is bidding high and hoping to get most of what it seeks, either from the City or later from the OMB.

In our view the City’s approach at this crucial time for the BWV must be to put the onus on the applicant to make a convincing case. And that case must rest on more than the general goal of intensification and the proximity of public transit. We, like the City, believe in sound planning. And so we would not support an exception based on the pledge of Section 37 funds. We would much rather see a good building for each location.

While it is clear that we feel that North Drive needs to address these issues, we also feel that the City needs to be flexible in order to achieve important goals.

One is protecting the rental status of the 24 replacements units. They must not be left vulnerable to downstream conversion to condos.

Another important goal, in our view, is setting a positive precedent for new mid-rise buildings in Bloor West Village. A “success” would involve setting a positive solution-oriented precedent – not one based on exceptions to Mid-rise rules, or by imposition by a higher authority.

To achieve that the City may need to consider some creative thinking. For example, perhaps it can it give some way on residential parking space standards, shared amenities, and/or service bay standards to help yield more units in a smaller building. Perhaps not all of the rental units have to be at the 1990 Bloor location.

These are not formal proposals from the BWVRA. They are ideas aimed at re-enforcing the concept that creative thinking needs to be brought to bear on finding a Mid-rise solution to these unique sites.

We look forward to participating in the Working Groups with yourself, with Councillor Doucette and with representatives of North Drive to achieve a solution that works for all interested parties.

Steve McNally
BWVRA Communications

CC: Councillor Ward 13 Sarah Doucette
North Drive Investments

1 thought on “BWVRA letter to the City Planning Department

  1. This development will destroy the neighbourhood feel of the area. Please re-consider and build the low rise

Comments are closed.