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Residence casts long shadow

February 15th, 2015 · No Comments

University still to deliver updated proposal for Spadina-Sussex development following neighbourhood outcry

The northwest corner of Sussex and Spadina avenues is the site of a pending development of a student residence. Brian Burchell – Gleaner News

By Annemarie Brissenden

A private developer’s plans to build a 25-storey, 829-bed university residence on College Street between Huron Street and Spadina Avenue is casting a dark spectre on plans to develop another residence at the corner of Spadina and Sussex avenues.

“We don’t want a tall tower like the one on College Street,” said Julia Marsh, a local resident who has lived on Robert Street near the corner of Sussex Avenue for about five years. “We don’t want that cookie-cutter kind of approach.”

Kingstone Capital Management purchased the College Street site, only to sell it to the University of Toronto, and then lease it back with the intent of building and operating the residence. The university is following a different model for developing the proposed Spadina-Sussex residence, and is working with the Daniels Corporation, a company known for critically-lauded projects like Regent Park and 1 Spadina Crescent, the university’s future home for its architecture and design school.

Community members, however, remain unconvinced that the university is committed to working with them to develop a housing alternative that is palatable for everyone.

“The problem is the university at this point still has to demonstrate that it understands the broader community,” said Sue Dexter of the Harbord Village Residents’ Association (HVRA). “It responds to its own demands and needs as if they’re handed down from the mountain.”

Little progress has been made in recent months. University representatives admitted at a November 10 community liaison committee meeting that they hadn’t moved the file forward since an October 20 meeting in the office of Ceta Ramkhalawansingh, the interim councillor for Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina. At that October meeting between city planners, Robert Street residents, HVRA members, as well as representatives from the university and the Daniels Corporation, residents expressed their main concerns.

“The message is to dramatically lower the height of the project,” said Marsh. Under the current proposal, the building’s height stands at 22 to 25 storeys, which, said Marsh, “is still massive when it sits on the perimeter of a community like ours.”

Marsh acknowledged that there is an existing tall building in the area at 666 Spadina Avenue, but “just because we’ve had bad design in the past, doesn’t mean we need to go forward with that in the future.”

She added that the neighbours also want to retain some access to the tennis and ball hockey courts, are opposed to having a cafeteria in the building as it would result in “trucks driving up and down the streets in the wee hours,” and are “vehemently against locating the building’s entrance on Sussex Avenue, as it would bring too many students into the neighbourhood.”

Finally, Marsh and Dexter are also unequivocal about preventing what they term a “monoculture” of first year students.

“Does it need to be that all the first year students end up at Sussex and Spadina?” asked Dexter. “[The university] has the Mississauga and the Scarborough campuses. It has lots of options.”

“Do you really want 550 first years running around the neighbourhood?” added Marsh.

Dexter would like the university to develop a different kind of residence, one that mixes first years with graduate students and students with families, which she believes would integrate better in the broader Annex community.

In her view, it’s still an open question, as there isn’t really a clear proposal on the table just yet.

“We’re neutral at this point rather than optimistic,” said Dexter. “There’s a possibility that we could do something inventive and neat. Daniels has a track record of doing neat things, but it’s too early to tell.”

Marsh, noting that “the university does tend to build beautiful buildings on campus” and that “it’s great to see what’s happened with Regent Park,” said she is heartened by the school’s association with the Daniels Corporation.

“We know [this residence] is going to happen,” said Marsh, “but can we find something that respects the tone of the neighbourhood more?”

In an e-mail to the Gleaner, Scott Mabury, vice-president, University Operations, for the University of Toronto, declined to comment on the project, saying only that he had no updates and that community consultation continues. Martin Blake, vice-president of the Daniels Corporation, refused to answer the Gleaner’s request for an interview.

Tags: Annex