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FOCUS: Community concerned over 225 Brunswick Ave. plan (Mar. 2021)

March 26th, 2021 · No Comments

Former synagogue may turn residential

The one-time synagogue located on Brunswick has been offices since 1972. A developer proposes adding a floor and building seven residential units. Not all neighbours are thrilled with either the density or the change in built-form on the low-rise streetscape. LUCA TATULLI/GLEANER NEWS

By Luca Tatulli 

A unique character building with an interesting history graces the corner of Brunswick  and Sussex avenues in Harbord Village. In the 1930s, 225 Brunswick was a synagogue for one of Toronto’s oldest Jewish Orthodox congregations, Shomrai Shabbos Congregation. In 1972, the building came to host the Toronto School of Art. Currently, it houses four different tenants including the Annex Designers and Writers Co-op, The Childcare Resource and Research Unit, and a policy research institute. 

If Kopas Developments has its way, the two and a half story building will house seven residential apartments and include an additional floor.

The building’s neighbours have voiced differing opinions, including some strong opposition to the plan.

Jeff Kopas, president of Kopas Developments, says his company has been working on the proposed development for the past three years.

“225 Brunswick is a beautiful and unique character building in our community,” his company wrote in a letter to residents dated February 21. “But it is in disrepair and having been built as a synagogue that has always been used as a commercial building it no longer has a legal usage. It makes sense to adapt it for residential usage.” 

A number of residents in the community have cited issues with the development’s re-design, size, and number of units. Some residents also see the upgrades as disrespectful to the historical significance of the building and have taken issue with the proposed redesign not fitting into the existing built form of homes on Brunswick Avenue.

“I have no problem with the number of apartments specified in the proposal. I’m not concerned about parking. We need more density in the downtown area. I take issue with the postmodern eruption along the south facing roofline,” said resident Paul Aitken. “It’s in very high contrast with the style of the existing building, an aesthetic that appeals to architects and hipster wannabes but no one else. If the developer were to offer a design more respectful of the existing building and neighbourhood I would be fully supportive, but I hate it.” 

Aitken has been a resident of Brunswick Avenue for 25 years and warns about the reaction many long-term residents of the area will have towards this building’s proposed change.

“People distrust change of any kind and will react badly to change that adversely affects them directly,” said Aitken further describing his and the community’s concerns. 

Four residential units would be located in the basement and on the first floor while an additional three units would be located on the second and third floors. The upgrades would also see a new metal roofing and siding installed on both left and right sides of the building while retaining the same roofline. The newer roof design stands to be one of the most unique features of the building with its right angle design. The upgrades would incorporate additional balconies connected into the residential units. The proposed development’s height would increase to 12 metres from the current height of 10 metres. The total gross floor area of all additional floors covers 826.46 square metres. 

The number of units and size of the proposed development has also caused concerns about waste management.

“If there are seven units in there, you’re going to face challenges with garbage and other household waste. Each household has one green bin, one blue bin, and one grey bin,” says nearby resident Katrina McHugh. “If you multiply that by seven, you’re looking at 21 disposal bins, that’s the size of a single family unit or even two units. That’s a hell of a lot of garbage that’s going to be sitting on the property.” 

McHugh has been a resident of the community for 40 years and says that she believes that Kopas Developments did not properly consult her community. 

“We’re not renters, we’ve all been here for over 20 years,” says McHugh of the core group opposing this development. “This is our home. The developer says, ‘our community,’ but he doesn’t live here.” 

Despite the opposition from some long-term residents, the proposed development has gained some support in the community. Andrea Kristof is an architect and property owner and landlord of 155 Brunswick Ave. In her view the proposed development is a unique fit into the community that respects the historical significance of the building.

She also supports the proposed development due to being significantly smaller than other large scale developments in the Annex. 

“This type of adaptive reuse is appropriate. It is a residential neighbourhood and it’s being returned to a residential usage from a commercial usage,” she says. “We need more housing units in the city of Toronto. I’m not sure we need more condos.”

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