A place to live downtown — with the kids

April 27, 2010

Natalie Alcoba
City councillors today approved new condo towers that include 94 units big enough to house families, as the city hunts for ways to make downtown more child-friendly.

Rising out of what is now a parking lot at Richmond and Simcoe streets, the complex also includes retail, restaurants, and an 8,000-square-foot gallery for the Ontario College of Art and Design. The two glass towers, 31 and 41-storeys, look like boxes stacked on top of one another, said Les Klein, lead architect from Quadrangle Architects.

“The rest of the city has got this notion of segregated land use planning and what we’re trying to do here is integrate all the forms: institutional, cultural, commercial, retail, and residential all on the same sites and create vertical neighbourhood so that they become more sustainable,” said Councillor Adam Vaughan, who has been pushing more eclectic developments in his half of Trinity Spadina ward.

Mr. Vaughan is hoping to activate sidewalks with a vibrant commercial district, and by encouraging couples to raise their children downtown.

Mr. Vaughan is a loud proponent of family housing and has insisted that new developments in his ward design 10% of units as three bedrooms, or large enough that they could be easily converted into them. A proposed policy to require that same quota in all new downtown buildings with more than 100 units is being reviewed by planning staff, after developers voiced concerns they would be forced to build units they couldn’t sell. It is set to be discussed at the public works and infrastructure committee meeting in June.

“The industry as a whole believes the city shouldn’t be dictating product that we believe there isn’t a demand for,” said Leona Savoie, chair of the Toronto chapter of BILD, the Building, Industry Land Development Association. “It could pretty much be documented all across the board from our membership that typically the larger suites are a very tough sell, especially in certain parts of the city,” she said, since three bedrooms go for around $600,000 and that’s too expensive for many young families.

Mr. Vaughan acknowledged the challenges, and said the city is looking at ways to help keep the costs of building bigger units down, like exempting builders from development charges on common space for kids, or using some of the development fees to offset the cost.

The Richmond and Simcoe development, built by Aspen Ridge Homes, has managed to offer a range of suite prices by playing with the size of three bedroom units, from 890 square feet to 1,200, said Mr. Klein, of Quadrangle.

“Toronto’s view of family housing is pretty conservative and we think there’s a segment of our community that wants to live downtown, is prepared to raise families there,” said Mr. Klein. “We think it’s important in terms of providing an economic basis for a broader range of services.”

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