On Tuesday evening a most strange and wonderful event occurred on the west side. A developer called a meeting of neighbours and area residents, and then listened. And listened hard.
Mizrahi Developments builds luxury custom homes in Toronto. Some of these homes are in a mid-rise condo format. They have bought the Joe’s Audio and Bella Restaurant site on Richmond Road at Island Park Drive.
The site is zoned for six stories, with planning direction to go up to 9 at the corner to make a gateway statement. The planning therefore envisions a nine storey building right at the corner, with a six storey portion further to the east, closer to the new Thiberge Homes condo (designed by Hobin) opposite the Metro grocery store.
A flaw in the CDP plans is the extensive site contamination, which is estimated to cost $1 million up to $2 million to remediate. Thus Mizrahi suggests something in the 12 and 9 will be required to get enough sellable space to cover the remediation cost. Mizrahi “guarantees” that they won’t be asking for further upzoning as the project progresses. They claimed to be laying their cards on the table.
After that, they are listening. Have they met the Councillor? No, just a meeting to introduce themselves, barely two hours before the public meeting. But the public is getting the first say.
How about the planning department? Haven’t looked them up, yet. Will mosey over on Friday, maybe.
The Community Association? Nope, not yet.
The builder introduced the sort of projects they build in Toronto. Which is custom homes. Some of which are custom homes in a condo format, eg Hazelton Avenue project pictured. Their projects employ “timeless, classic” architecture, like limestone exteriors, house-like windows (NOT curtain walls), moldings, panelling, etc.
No, they don’t have any proposal for the site, yet. They just figured out how much sellable space they need to make the project work, and what do the neighbours want or what are they concerned about?
How many units? Dunno. Depends on what people want. We don’t provide pre-made boxes, and certainly not small units appealing to investors. Somebody comes and wants 3600 sq ft on the third floor, we design that. Or 2400, or 1600 ft. Any of their provided layouts are starting points to spark conversation, but homes are custom built.
Will they be affordable to young buyers wanting to move into the west end but unable to afford a traditional house? After a bit of polite waffling, they reiterated they build large, finely finished custom homes. So, no.
How much parking? Dunno for sure, but certainly more than one space per unit, probably two. All indoors. As will be the guest parking, the commercial parking, the garbage areas, and the loading dock [compare that to Claridge's new condo tower on Preston with no indoor loading dock or indoor garbage loading area].
Where will the exit be? - we hope not onto the quieter residential streets behind. Agree, it won’t be there, that would be unpopular. We’ll put it on West Wellie directly.
What about construction noise and dirt? Mizrahi promised the site will be so clean you can walk by it with a baby stroller and not get the wheels or your shoes dirty or even damp. The construction hoarding will be generous and attractive [compare that to the pathetic stuff Ottawa allows elsewhere on Richmond and the city, as featured in a previous posts,http://www.westsideaction.com/hoarding-sidewalk-space/; and http://www.westsideaction.com/pedestrian-safety-sheds/ ].
What about over-viewing adjacent homes? They will work with each and every homeowner to address their concerns, and the developer claims a great track record in ensuring privacy and quality outdoor space for both the condo and neighbours. Better by design.
You’ll block sunlight! Where? – we’ll work with you to prevent shadows. (I must confess I was getting somewhat sceptical at this point, but the audience was lapping it up, although most of the public grossly overestimates shadow effects).
What sort of retail? And will the sidewalks be wide enough, ie wider than at the adjacent condos along Richmond? (this last comment was interesting, given they are employing the same architect as those condos further along Richmond and at Our Lady of the Condos site). You want wide sidewalks – we like them too. We’ll make wide sidewalks (no word on yet on whether the city planning dept agrees to bigger setbacks). Main tenant will be Bellas.
What about the parkette at the very corner? Will it be saved? Yup, saved. And improved. You tell us what you want to see there, we’ll put it there. [I'd suggest a restaurant patio at the corner on the building site, a glass fence, and a fountain in the park to mask car noise].
By this point, the audience was running out of steam. Questions increasingly became prefaced with “gee you’re great why don’t [other developers , insert name here] do what you do?”
Off on the side, someone was busy taking notes of all the concerns and objections. Once the project comes forward, there will have been some compromises, but because they will have been discussed first (after all, there are bound to be conflicting positions among the neighbours, depending on which side they are on, the city planners, the community assoc, etc) the major objectors will be defanged and the project will be introduced with considerable goodwill.
It was a beautiful sight to see the consultative approach at the early stages of a project. Objecting once the developer has spent hundreds of thousands on a first set of plans is not a good strategy. And its a set up to fail to object at Planning Committee. And it is good strategy for a developer to get out of the starting gate with a proposal that is geared to meeting community goals and avoiding objections. It might even generate pre-sales. It seems to be a consistent approach that the firm takes, witness its web site video: http://mizrahidevelopments.com/#/intro and their other web content.
It’s a good strategy. It would be even nicer if more developers and communities tried it. Because it takes at least two to tango, and the new and old make up the community.
The main quibble I could have with their presentation were the inevitable objections that it will generate too much traffic on already busy (failing, in neighbour-speak) streets. It’s not obviously a fallacy that building the condo a few blocks further away will somehow mean no traffic on the street in front of this site, and the building can’t educate everyone about the difference between their site which originates the traffic and the streets that carry all the traffic, but I’d like to hear one try.