Putting down roots in or near Toronto’s Bloor West Village has become desirable, even fashionable, and for excellent reasons.
Situated close to downtown, but deep in the urban forest and modestly scaled, the district is well-served by public transit and arterial streets, which makes getting to the inner city a snap. The pleasant two-storey strip of clothing stores, delis, offices and such along Bloor Street, between High Park and Jane subway stations, invites leisurely strolling and browsing. High Park, the city’s oldest green space, is steps away. When I lived in the area, 30 years ago, it was just coming of age as a thriving urban neighbourhood of families and empty-nesters. Now it’s flourishing, and there’s no mystery about why.
As you might expect, demand for places to live along this stretch of Bloor Street West has attracted the attention of several residential developers. The politicians at city hall have encouraged these entrepreneurs to make proposals by calling for the intensification of Toronto’s principal thoroughfares. Long-time readers of this column know that I generally support the city’s initiative. Many citizens do not. Residents in the affected spots frequently object to what they consider intolerable disruption of small-scaled streetscapes. Condo developers must tread carefully in Hogtown neighbourhoods such as the Beaches, the Annex and Bloor west of High Park, if they dare tread there at all.
Despite this deep-dyed (and in many ways understandable) conservatism, some developers seem to relish the challenge of building in protective districts. Take, for example, Jordan Morassutti, Taylor Morassutti and Robert Fidani, partners in the young, west-end firm North Drive.
This ambitious group already has one high-density project under construction in the vicinity of Bloor West Village. (It’s called the High Park, and is rising at 1990 Bloor St. W.) And they are coming back for more. Picnic, as their second condo block in the neighbourhood will be known, is slated to go up at 2114 Bloor St. W, the site of a completely forgettable storefront structure that nobody will miss.
“We know Bloor West, having spent our whole lives here,” Jordan Morassutti said in a statement, “and we believe that if we build thoughtful, impeccably-crafted buildings that cater to end-users, the market will respond.”
The end-users Mr. Morassutti especially has in mind, he said in an interview, are people who have lived out their family years in the area, but now require less floor-space, and who want to stay in the place where they’ve spent many good years.
For the Picnic, most, but not all, of the nine-storey building’s 68 units are two-bedroom suites. They range from 660 to 1,250 square feet, Mr. Morassutti said, and from $430,000 to about $1-million. At those compact square-footages and middling prices, the apartments probably will be attractive to local down-sizers – although they could also serve as convenient starter-homes for couples in the early stages of rearing a family. (In terms of what’s available, Picnic will be more narrowly focused than the High Park, where sizes vary from 428 square feet to 2,000 square feet. Initial asking prices there ran from the $300,000s to $1.5-million and beyond.)
Designed for North Drive by Quadrangle Architects (which also did The High Park), Picnic promises to be a well-made, unspectacular instance of neighbourly respect for the low-rise fabric round about. It won’t cause passersby to stop in wonder. The grid that frames the glass walls, for example, will be clad by that old Toronto standby, red brick. Like your basic Bay Street business suit, the building is respectable, responsible – and rather like every other outfit in the office.
But it has been carefully tailored for its site. The principal façade, with 4,500 square feet of retail at the base, fronts on to Bloor Street. But instead of putting all the design energy into the most public face, and leaving the hindquarters undressed, the architects have kitted out the rear façade as fully as the streetside one. (Renderings suggest the back of Picnic may be a dash more interesting than the front.)
By making the rear the object of art and thought, and not letting it be a mere afterthought, Quadrangle causes its building to give a polite nod to the elderly single-family homes behind Picnic that might otherwise think themselves ignored by this citified youngster.