Of all the condo battles raging across Toronto, the one over 109OZ may be the oddest.
The building proposed for 109 Ossington Ave. is not one of those soaring glass towers that threaten to clog the neighbourhood with traffic or burden the hydro grid.
It is a six-storey, 85-unit structure with a cool, urban feel.
As such, it would seem to fit perfectly into the evolving area between Dundas and Queen streets known as the Ossington Strip.
Only a decade ago, Ossington was a grim stretch of car washes, auto-body shops and karaoke bars.
Restaurants, coffee shops, galleries and yoga studios have since moved in, transforming it into one of the city’s hippest streets. 109OZ seeks to take advantage of that evolution. It invites buyers to “discover inspired loft living amid the vibrant spirit of Ossington.”
To a group of residents fighting the building, that is all just happy talk. The way they see it, 109 is an outsized “behemoth” that could ruin the quirky nature of the street, overshadow neighbouring houses, populate the strip with transient partygoers and force schoolchildren to dodge passing cars. They quickly got 2,000 signatures on a petition vowing to keep Ossington low-rise.
The residents insist they’re not NIMBYs. In fact, the label makes them hopping mad.
They say they understand the need for urban intensification. They just think this particular building is the wrong size in the wrong place.
But if a busy street with a bus line in a changing neighbourhood in the heart of the city isn’t the place for a little more density, where is?
The city’s official plan aims to avoid urban sprawl and build a more sustainable city by encouraging high-rise development at key hubs and mid-rise development along main streets. The high-rise part is working fine, as the thickets of condo towers rising around the city attest. The mid-rise idea has taken longer, in part because it is hard to assemble chunks of property along crowded downtown thoroughfares.
But, thanks to the condo boom, it has finally begun to happen. Mid-rise buildings like 109OZ are popping up on streets such as St. Clair, College, Dundas and Queen, replacing lumber yards, parking lots, gas stations and other spaces. The effect is to fill in the gap teeth in the urban streetscape.
109OZ is replacing a parking lot, auto mechanic and distribution business. Unlike the ugly block of stacked townhouses up the road that turn their back on Ossington, it will have space for ground-floor retail stores that should bring vitality to the street, which is lively at night but slow during the day.
The varying look of the glass, brick and metal façade is designed to mirror the eclectic nature of Ossington, which is a mixed bag of building types. The upper floors are stepped back to make the structure less imposing.
The neighbours’ concerns about traffic seem overblown. The building will have 70 parking spaces and cars will exit onto a back lane.
The developer, Shane Fenton of Reserve Properties, argues that, with condos starting at $280,000, 109OZ is attracting people who want to live in the community but can’t afford to pay $800,000 for a single-family home. The building is 70 per cent sold, he says, and has attracted buyers in ages from the 20s to 60s. Far from being a disruptive influence, they will have a stake in keeping the late-night scene on the street under control. They will live there, after all.
“The buyers of these projects are people who want to put down roots in these neighbourhoods,” he says. “We’re bringing residents to the forefront of Ossington, which helps support the existing businesses in the community.”
His company has eight mid-rise projects under way around town. Another of them, a six-storey condo on the site of Lick’s burgers on Queen East, has drawn at least as much heat as 109OZ. There, as on Ossington, residents say it will ruin the character of the street, opening the door to a raft of condos and chain stories.
Those concerns are understandable. I happen to live in the neighbourhood near Ossington and know some of the opponents (as well as the architect, who also lives nearby). They are fond of their unique street and don’t want it to lose its charm and diversity.
But reasonably scaled, visually interesting projects like 109OZ aren’t the beginning of the end for vibrant strips like Ossington. They’re a promising step in the city’s urban evolution.
Editor's note: The building in question is a mid-rise. The headline on an earlier version of this story has been corrected.