Yorkville Condo Development Raises Familiar Concerns For Residents, Councillors
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Yorkville Condo Development Raises Familiar Concerns For Residents, Councillors

With a lack of heritage preservation and poor walkability, the first plans for 8 Cumberland meet typical shortcomings.

Proposed plans for 8 Cumberland, in Yorkville  Photo via the City of Toronto

Proposed plans for 8 Cumberland, in Yorkville. Photo via the City of Toronto.

Another condo development, another headache.

It’s no surprise that Toronto residents and their councillors are on the defensive when it comes to construction that threatens the character of their diverse neighbourhoods. And with a growing number of condo developments cropping up each month, reminding developers to be mindful of a neighbourhood’s history and walkability can feel like déjà vu.

Case in point: the City is asking developers at 8 Cumberland Street in east Yorkville—one of Toronto’s most expensive neighbourhoods bubbling with historical culture—to revamp an application for a new condo tower. The plans in question, by developers Great Gulf, exceed height and density regulations and neglect the heritage buildings surrounding the proposed tower.

“I had said to them—which is the most important thing—how are they going to treat the heritage that’s facing Yonge Street?” Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) says. “How are they going to treat the public realm?”

The project was first proposed in February 2015 by Phantom Developments Ltd., with designs by Paige and Steele / IBI Architects. Great Gulf officially joined the development team on January 20th, 2016 along with The Kadima Group and MM Realty Ventures Inc., with interior designs by Thomas Pearce and landscape architecture by NAK Design.

Great Gulf must now ascertain how they will incorporate a block of heritage buildings on the property in the design. With developments in Yorkville dating back to the 1800s, these buildings offer a visual history of how the neighbourhood has transformed over the years.

For one, developers could follow the lead of their neighbours at 1 Yorkville, where a condo development is set back from a block of buildings in the midst of restoration; at 8 Cumberland, similar efforts could preserve most of the street’s revitalized heritage buildings.

“We want to continue that conservation effort where we keep those heritage buildings,” says City senior planner Oren Tamir. “Not just the façade, but a number of metres of depth—ranging from five to 10 metres throughout the whole block, where we’ll be conserving the whole building without excavating.”

But preservation of heritage isn’t the only issue with the building’s current plans. In the initial application, the proposed 64-storey would measure in at about 185 metres high, including a nine-metre mechanical penthouse. Slated as a mixed-use building, it would allocate its first to third floors for retail use, leaving the remainder of tower for residential units. The addition of these units increases the building’s density to 26.5 times the area lot. Current zoning by-laws, however, permit only an 18-metre-high building with a maximum density of 3.0 times the area lot.

Wong-Tam adds that there is a lot of work to be done to make the area publicly accessible. A 2014 Yorkville—East of Bay Planning Framework Report outlines the desire to create an “Open Space Walkway System.” The report identifies the need for two key mid-block pedestrian connections, using a series of open spaces, linear parks, and walkways, which could help accommodate the number of residents who would be living in the small neighbourhood.

“That’s what Yorkville’s all about,” says Christopher Wein, President of Great Gulf. “I live in the area, and it’s really about pedestrianism and beautiful little alleyways and corridors.”

Wein said the upcoming plans could include a connection to a park Great Gulf built in another one of their projects, 18 Yorkville. He compares the rich pedestrian experience he wants to create to Queen Street, with the lines of small retailers, grocers, and restaurants incorporated the design. According to Walk Score, Yorkville is part of the most walkable area of the city, scoring between 97 and 100 out of 100.

In order to maintain such high standards, developers and locals must learn the dance of compromise, bridging the old with the new in a way that alleviates headaches for all involved. And if it works out, residents of Yorkville will have another reason to keep their Advil handy: condo construction in this city can get loud.