Neighbourhood Responds to Lanterra Condo and Park Proposal

“We want a public park” reads the hoarding that currently stretches across 11 Wellesley Street West. Answering this cry, ower Lanterra Developments unveiled their vision for the site yesterday to a crowd of over 100 people at the nearby YMCA on Grosvenor, to… applause?! Not a standing ovation, but any applause at all for a developer at a public consultation is a rare event and a positive sign that the 54 storey building and 1.6 acre public park that Lanterra is proposing for the site may just have hit that rare sweet spot between giving the local community something they have been demanding for some time, and the bottom-line needs of the developer.

The history of the site so far has been anything but typical. Municipally known as 5 to 25 Wellesley Street West, the land was assembled by the provincial government inthe 1980s as a site for the opera house. After that plan was cancelled, the province sold the land for development. The first developer built some apartments on Bay Street, but sat on the rest of the land for almost two decades before the Ontario Government took the developer to court to get the land back. In its hands again, the government put it up for sale in 2012. Ward 27 Councillor Wong-Tam lobbied vigorously to turn the land into a public park, but the City of Toronto was unable to meet the province’s price. The land was sold to Lanterra for a reported $65 million, and there were fears that the dream of a public park might be lost.

Lanterra soon made a zoning amendment application to redevelop the land (two images from the application follow), but it was made known by Councillor Wong-Tam shortly thereafter that Lanterra would pursue a much revised plan for the site.

Sarah Henstock, the city planner for this project, opened the meeting by introducing the site application and explaining the planning process to the community. She was joined by colleagues from Urban Design, Transportation, and the City’s Parks and Forestry Departments, there to answer any questions put to the City.

Mark Mandelbaum, Chairman of Lanterra, opened the developer’s presentation by outlining how the company was approaching the site. “There is a very serious concern about the amount of parkland in the area. To reach a ‘win-win’, we had to propose a vision for the site.” Thus, Lanterra came in hand with two proposals.

'Concept A': a pair of 54 and 45 storey towers that cover most of the site. Image from Lanterra Development.

‘Concept A’: a pair of 54 and 45 storey towers that cover most of the site. Image from Lanterra Development.

‘Concept A’, presented by Vlad Losner of Page + Steele / IBI Group Architects, was the one that was initially submitted to the city: a nine-storey, L-shaped podium atop of which two towers of 54 and 45 stories in height respectively would sit, with a small addition to the existing park that lies next to the south-west corner of the site. The proposal under ‘Concept A’ would ultimately end up with about a half-acre of park in total, when combined with the existing piece from the adjacent existing buildings on Bay.

This first stab is a more typical development proposal that may have been pursued further under normal circumstances, and one that almost assuredly would have been met with scorn from the community. Mandelbaum likened the challenge to a jigsaw puzzle, where several pieces would need to fall into place to come closer to the community’s vision.

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“In order to transform from ‘Concept A’ to ‘Concept B’, we need to agree on major piece of that puzzle. In order to get to that part, we must demonstrate what ‘Concept A’ would look like, and what ‘Concept B’ would look like.”

Mandelbaum made it clear that ‘Concept A’ is not what they want to pitch.

“The real vision is ‘Concept B’. This concept focuses on less density, and more park. We are able to get to that because of our other developments in the area.”

Lanterra's 'Concept B', where the majority of the site is used for a public park. Image from Lanterra Developments.

Lanterra’s ‘Concept B’, where the majority of the site is used for a public park. Image from Lanterra Developments.

“Concept B” presents one tower at 54 storeys, and proposes to funnel some of the building’s community benefits towards the creation of a public park that would stretch over the remainder of the site. The size of the park is made possible thanks to Lanterra’s others developments in the neighbourhood; the company is also currently redeveloping a property directly across the street at 955 Bay Street—The Britt—as well as a nearby project at 501 Yonge St. This concentration of development offers the opportunity to combine the individual community benefits of each project to assemble a larger public park in the area. Transfering land to the City for a public park is a requirement of every development application, although a cash payment to the City in lieu of parkland is normally paid instead, given the more usual lack of appropriate space for a park next to what are usually tall buildings. Alone, the three developments would have been more likely to give cash instead of land, but taken together, the vision of a public park seems likely to arrive.

Design inspiration for 54 storey building on 'Concept B''. Design by KPMB Architects.

Design inspiration for 54 storey building on ‘Concept B”. Design by KPMB Architects.

The details of ‘Concept B’ are still at a somewhat rough stage and have not been formally submitted to the City yet, so are bound to change to a degree. The building’s podium as proposed currently would have a ground level made up of retail (likely restaurant space) with two levels of office above, and then roughly 630 residential units above and amenity space above that. The podium and tower are located in the north-east corner of the site to maximize the amount of sunlight the park gets, joining the existing “patch of grass” (quipped one resident) that currently exists to the immediate south-west corner of the site, and offering a connection to the park beside the YMCA across the street.

Rendering of 'Concept B' building, looking south. Design by KPMB Architects.

Rendering of ‘Concept B’ building, looking south. Design by KPMB Architects.

Shirley Blumberg of KPMB Architects presented the design concept for the building, stressing her desire to create something unique both the area and Toronto. The “fluid” design of the building takes inspiration from a variety of existing buildings internationally, but is particularly inspired by the design of an Alvar Aalto vase. The current proposal sees the building’s ‘layers’ narrow as it reaches the tower, and will be designed to limit the impacts of wind on pedestrians below. The tower itself is playfully kinked in the middle to break it up for the eye, and is capped by an attractive illuminated top.

This Alvar Aalto vase helped inspired the design.

This Alvar Aalto vase helped inspired the design.

The devil is still in the details about what the park could ultimately look like, and Robert Ng of NAK Design Strategies offered a few ideas for site:

Offering multiple connections, entrances, and exits: “We want to make sure the site is very permeable. We want to make sure people are able to get into and through the park, and to give a sense of security.”
A flower field next to what would ideally be restaurants on the east side of the building, so parents could relax and keep an eye on their children: “This is where you see the children running around catching the butterflies.”
A series of small hills, “to create a series of ‘sand dunes’, with children climbing through”.
Ng also said that it was extremely likely that the west half of the park could be completed and opened while the building next door is under construction, since it won’t be involved with any of the construction. Another possibility that was suggested was in creating a pavilion at the north-west corner of the site that could be used for public amenities. The pavilion would be used to screen the blank wall of the building to the west, and also cover the entrance to the parking garage below. These and other details will need to be worked out in the months ahead, and Ng said he was looking forward to working closely with the community to deliver something that they would want.

An Example of what a public park could look like at 11 Wellesley, by Nak Design

An Example of what a public park could look like at 11 Wellesley, by Nak Design

City staff and the development team took questions afterwards, which identified other issues that will need to be resolved as the process continues:

  • Several residents voiced some concerns about the additional traffic burden placed on the narrow St. Luke’s Lane to the east of the development, especially on the businesses which are accessed off the lane. The lane will be widened.
  • Several residents questioned the effect a thousand new people in the area would have on services, such as the YMCA and the TTC. These effects will be explored by the City.
  • There was some concern about the City being ultimately responsible for the park that is built, given the spotty upkeep that many public parks in the city are saddled with.
  • Despite the applause the developer’s presentation received, applause also followed one resident who declared the 54 storey building “too large and too tall”. It seems not everyone is thrilled with getting a large park if it means allowing a large building.

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Councillor Wong-Tam ended the evening by assuring residents that the City was not going to “roll over” during negotiations, that no matter how great the public park sounded, the City would secure the best deal for residents. “Because we want more park, do we break the [tall buildings] guidelines? We are very mindful that this is one of the most complicated dealings we’ve been involved in.”

Wong-Tam did admit that one part of the presentation charmed her however: “I love the dream of kids chasing butterflies! Maybe we should start buying the trees now.”

Inspiration for a meadow for children to catch butterflies in, by Nak Design

Inspiration for a meadow for children to catch butterflies in, by Nak Design

What do you think of Lanterra’s new proposal? We have many more renderings for you to view in our dataBase entry for the project, linked below. Leave a comment in the space provided, or choose one of the associated Forum thread links to get in on the conversation.

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