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Toronto Loft Conversions

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Unique Toronto Homes

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Condos in Toronto

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Toronto Real Estate

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Where to work when condos target industrial sites?

In tower-crazy Toronto, the pressure is fierce on planners to allow employment land to be turned over to “mixed-use” development. (Read: more condos.)

Tim Alamenciak – Toronto Star

The struggle for land in Toronto is pitting residential developers against industry in attempts to build condos on lands traditionally dedicated to jobs.

Chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat and her planning department are in the middle, fighting to keep Toronto a city that provides places for people to both live and work.

“There’s a real risk that the city faces at this moment,” Keesmaat said. “We are struggling with — and we need to struggle with — it, because … we could see a wholesale transition and loss of our employment lands.”

A rare window has opened in the form of a five-year plan review, allowing developers with sky-high dreams to push for rezoning lands currently dedicated to employment like factories and offices.

Those areas are, she said, “a really crucial asset to ensuring we have communities where people can live near where they work.”

The city has received more than 90 proposals to convert employment lands to other uses. Most are vying to have them designated as mixed-use areas, which would allow for condo development.

New requests are arriving at the planning office daily.

Documents obtained by the Star show a planning staff fighting hard against the rising tide of development, rejecting about half of the requests for changes to mixed-use developments, including large-scale areas such as the Sterling Rd. project.

Nestle recently waged a campaign against the proposed development.

More recently, the Mr. Christie’s plant at Lake Shore Blvd. and Park Lawn Rd. announced it would close, costing 550 workers their jobs. The company who owns the plant cited pressure from nearby residential developments, and has submitted an application that includes a concept for 27 condo towers.

The planning department has processed 65 applications so far and prepared a report to be considered at Thursday’s meeting of the planning and growth management committee.

“We need to wrap our hands pretty tightly around these employment lands and say, ‘Whoah, hold on a minute, this can’t just be a city where people live; people need to work here, too,'” Keesmaat said.

Employment lands and condos can co-exist, but the arrangement places stress on industrial businesses.

This stress is something Jonathan Bamberger, president of Redpath Sugar Ltd., knows well. He said the waterfront staple has spent millions of dollars handling negotiations regarding the nearby Corus Entertainment building on the east side and a spate of condos to the west.

“If we’d kept quiet, then all of these developments would have happened in the way that the developers would have chosen, and the placement of windows and balconies and everything — then we’d have faced a problem that we’d be out of compliance,” he said.

The company, with Queen Elizabeth doing the honours, officially opened the waterfront plant in 1959. It supplies sugar for many of Toronto’s industrial food operations, including Christie’s, Nestlé and Cadbury.

“We’re still navigating, but we are determined to stay. It’s not easy. As land uses change, you get pressure,” he said. “We had to work out those arrangements at great expense between every single developer on the waterfront here.”

While Redpath is determined to stay, Bamberger admits he’s concerned about what happens when people move into the waterfront condos next door, which are still under construction.

Across the city, Nestlé fired the opening salvos against a proposed development close to its Sterling Rd. factory.

The development, which was rejected by planning staff though seen as acceptable by most area residents, would include 700 residential units and enough office space to facilitate 2,500 jobs. Nestlé fears the nearby residential use would put pressure on its round-the-clock manufacturing operation, but the developer sees his company’s project as essential to the life of the area.

“What it requires is a rethinking which would rejuvenate the entire area and make it attractive to a new economy to move in there,” said Alfredo Romano, president of Castlepoint, the company who made the proposal.

Romano plans to appeal the decision to the Ontario Municipal Board, a provincial oversight body that deals mainly with land designation.

“I fear that not proceeding with this type of plan, the land will lie fallow for a long time to come, which is against everybody’s interest,” he said.

Experts and officials both agree high residential development values are driving the industrial lands towards condos and away from typical manufacturing. Industry simply can’t put up the kind of cash that deep-pocketed developers have.

“It’s quite a challenge in a booming metropolitan area with high land values. The key is, in virtually every case, residential uses can outbid industrial uses,” said Larry Bourne, a planning professor at the University of Toronto.

Bourne said there has to be an ironclad plan to maintain these lands as industrial; otherwise they’ll be kept empty in hopes of being granted residential zoning.

The Toronto Official Plan and Municipal Comprehensive Review process will take years. But the committee is capable of implementing changes along the way that could affect the shape of Toronto today, rather than years down the road.

Keesmaat said that as part of the review they’re looking towards policies that will help industry stay in Toronto.

“The problem is is that if we were to loosen our hold on our employment lands, they’ll all disappear — because that’s what the market will dictate,” she said.

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto Realtor with Century 21 Regal Realty. He did not
write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who are
interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.