The Wild Queen West

For a while now I’ve been trying to wrap my head around exactly what the plans are for the Queen West Triangle. While the slew of developments slotted for the area have been on my radar, it’s been such a flurry I’ve been having a hard time both keeping them straight and understanding how they relate to one another. In order to aid the public understanding of this contentious group of developments, I have thrown together the following image. While based on material obtained from the City, it is entirely my own interpretation. It is a key — more detailed information follows, below.

Queen West Triangle

Running briefly through the developments…


1171 Queen Street West:

Developed by Baywood Homes, this is the Bohemian Embassy. The images here are sourced directly from the BE website. The settlement with the City allows for two buildings, one on Queen Street which will be eight storeys, and a tower to the Southwest which will be 19 storeys. The lower building will sport a tower element immediately opposite Northcote Avenue with an archway to allow pedestrian traffic through to the “mews” behind. Baywood is offering half a million dollars towards community and arts facilities located in the Triangle.

1181 Queen Street West:

This project is also by Baywood Homes and will be related in form to the Bohemian Embassy. The zoning approval application was only submitted on July 26th of this year. Retail at the base and residential above, it will be eight storeys tall and feature some sort of tower element at the corner of Queen and the proposed Sudbury Street extension.

1155 Queen Street West:

Another project by Baywood Homes, also only recently applied for (August 1st). This will be a nine-storey building with retail at grade and residential above.


48 Abell

The famous 48 Abell loft, long a vibrant community hub for artists, is being developed by Veridoc. The new project will consist of a terraced eight-storey building along the “mews,” anchored by a 14-storey tower to the east, and a 18-storey tower to the west. The buildings will be mixed-use, with retail and workshops at grade and residential above. Of the residential units, 190 will be designated as affordable housing. The west building will be largely affordable and will feature a shared workshop on the ground floor.

photo, taken behind 48 Abell, is by Kevin Steele



150 Sudbury Street

This empty lot will soon be the “Westside Lofts,” developed by Urbancorp. Following Urbancorp’s victory at the OMB, the City was going to take the decision before the Divisional Court. The deal they reached with the developer in October, however, includes dropping the appeal. Although a revised site plan has not yet been approved, the project shall broadly consist of two buildings, one to the west which shall be seven storeys in total, and one to the east which shall be 18 storeys at its highest. The deal secured the land for the Sudbury and Abell Street extensions as well as space for a generous shared courtyard between the 150 Sudbury and 48 Abell developments. In addition, Urbancorp is putting a total of $1.25 million towards moving the Toronto Public Health offices into a new space and the conversion of the grand old Carnegie library on Queen into a “performing arts hub.” Urbancorp will also sell 56,000 square feet of rental units to Artscape, the not-for-profit landlord for artists, at the cost of construction. This will provide over 52 affordable artist live/work studios.

photo by Kevin Steele

45 Lisgar Street

The final settlement between the developer, Medallion Corp, and the City, designates this proposed building as mixed-use, intended for rental. The site shall pretty much be covered with a four-storey base, which will step up to seven storeys to the north, and 14 storeys to the south. The boon of the agreement is that Medallion shall provide free space for a period of 50 years for the Public Health offices soon to be displaced from the Carnegie Library.

2 Gladstone

Here you can expect another mixed-use building with four-storey facades on both Queen and Gladstone, but stepping up to a total of eught seven storeys at the rear of the property. City Council approved zoning bylaw bills to this effect in October.

1093 Queen Street West

Also mixed-use, this building will have a “horseshoe” configuration, stepping back from both Queen and Dovercourt. At its highest, it will the developer would like it to be nine storeys tall, although the city intends to limit the height to 8 storeys.

What I think

First of all, I think the City should be proud of itself for sticking with this and fighting every step of the way to create an excellent neighbourhood. Toronto is so shy of excellence in its urbanism, and often the blame for this lies with the City. In cities there is a constant discussion going on about place, and for most of the history of this city the government has only been a faint whisper in this discussion. The time has come for the City to decisively step up its contribution to placemaking; their contribution to this neighbourhood, especially the deal reached with 150 Sudbury, indicates to me that they are taking an earnest and active interest, something we should be really happy about.

Of course, there are problems to be faced here as well. The design for the Westside Lofts may be okay, but the designs presented for the Bohemian Embassy are an utter embarrassment, and they are going to be right up front-and-centre on Queen. Further, the same developer owns the lands immediately to the east and west of the BE, which does not bode well. The idea of one developer being responsible for three buildings in a row always makes me feel a bit queasy, but if all three are going to be in the vein of the BE, which judging from their initial drawings they are, then this is a seriously bad idea. It seems that steps should be taken to shake this developer out of its apparent thirst for mediocrity. I’m not sure how this is done, but maybe take them to a few art galleries?

Despite the best intentions of the City, I’m afraid I have a feeling of impending doom about all of this. The attempts to retain spaces for artists and affordable housing are honest and well-intentioned. The result, however, will necessarily be the replacement of a vibrant, incidental place which harboured a vibrant culture, with a designed, manufactured place which will be home to a designed, manufactured culture. I wish this was not true, and maybe it isn’t. Hopefully, time will prove me wrong and the Disneyfication that I fear will not come to fruition.

31 comments

  1. Thanks for this summary–I’ve found it a bit bewildering to keep track of the various developments in this fast-changing corner of town. I have to admit not being too fussed about the Bohemian Embarrassment–brick and glass are fine materials, and 8-ish story buildings are exactly the scale of structure Toronto needs more of. And it sounds like on the other planned developments the City did an uncharacteristically decent job of getting out in front on the planning process. This area is going to be vastly different 5 years from now, and for all the bumps I think the change will on the whole be for the better.

    And while some component of the local artistic community is going to be displaced over time we have to accept that that’s sort of natural in a large city, and can be mitigated through initiatives like Artscape. Meanwhile there’s no shortage of other parts of town to pioneer. Bloor and Lansdowne, anyone?

  2. Sorry Matt, but the City planning department is already screwing up the Bloor Lansdowne area and oddly the best thing to happen in the area, the Lansdowne narrowing is still being fought by a bunch of nutbars.

  3. “No shortage of other parts of town to pioneer. Bloor and Lansdowne, anyone?”

    Sorry, but what are you talking about? I agree that Toronto needs more medium density buildings but your breezy reference to “pioneering” Bloor and Lansdowne really makes me feel uncomfortable.

    It’s not totally clear to me where you stand regarding gentrification, the public’s frequent apathy towards unchecked development, or the displacement of the poor in favour of that ‘Richard Florida bohemian’ BS, but I hope you are not suggesting that the “cure” for Bloor and Lansdowne is Artscape projects.

  4. Duncan, this is a nice summary – kudos.

    @scott – read Joe Fiorito’s article (title: “They paved paradise and put up a no-parking sign”) about how a disabled guy on Lansdowne has been entirely screwed by the narrowing.

    Here’s a sample: Americo said that he tried to get the city to build a place for the WheelTrans bus to pull in. He had no luck. But he is getting a nice little oak tree planted in front of his house.

    He just got a letter from the city; it reads, in part, “We need your help with watering the tree.”

    He smiled ruefully. “I asked them to help me, for my brother. They didn’t help, but now they want my help.”

  5. So Lansdowne is basically like pretty much every street in the City, and the situation with Wheel Trans user is not unlike the experience for many other users. Lansdowne is safer (slower) and more inviting than ever and has lots of parking day and night on the west side. I know, I live near it and use it at least 3 times every day.

    It’s called the greater good. Most win, a few don’t.

    Getting rid of the House of Lancaster and Club Paradise would do a lot of good for the area (instead of holding Nuit Blanche in the Lancaster as if that makes the club and the crap attracts OK). But I certainly don’t want the Drake 2 moving in, that would ruin the area.

  6. Hi,

    I have a few questions that I hope somebody might answer.

    Any idea how many people will be living on the Queen West Triangle? The reason I ask is that with the continuing development of Liberty Village and the CAMH redevelopment, Queen West population seems to be exploding, yet transit is still a joke. Both Queen and King streetcars are packed and with the extra people also certainly bringing extra cars, the street cars will probably slow down to a crawl even more. Does the city have plans to improve transit in the area? Why isn’t a Subway even being considered? The need is much higher than extending the Spadina line to suburbia (Vaughn). Don’t tell me there isn’t demand for an East-West line at least from Roncesvalles to Broadview…

    I’m all for higher density but I’m also all for mixed use. Will the area have any offices/manufacturing?

    Thanks for any replies.

  7. Hi Duncan,

    Thanks for the informative article. I do appreciate it.

    A couple of quick corrections…

    In the map, you have identified the Canada Post building at 1117 as the future Performing Arts Hub. It’s actually going to be in 1115, on the east side of Lisgar, and the post office will remain the post office.

    Also, for 2 Gladstone, the owner requested 8 storeys, but the City approved 7. That is now under appeal by both a neighbour and by the owner.

    For 1093 QUeen (the ex-TFI building), the owner is requesting 9 storeys, and the City’s position is no more than 7.

    E.

  8. Thank you so much for your corrections Elise! I really appreciate your interest in getting the correct information out there.

    I will correct the map pronto. You can tell that I am still having trouble untangling this web of development . . .

  9. Thomas – based on information from the city, I think we can expect to see around 2000 extra people living in this immediate vicinity. A preliminary count had it at around 2200 people in 1600 dwelling units, but that was a year ago and a lot of the projects have changed.

    Mixed use in this neighbourhood is largely going to mean retail and some offices at grade and occasionally the floors immediately above grade. Residential will fill up the rest of the buildings. There will be no manufacturing, although there will be workshops and artists studios.

    Although realistically the uses for these buildings will mainly be residential, on the positive side is the mix of types of residential, including condos as well as affordable housing, live-work spaces, and rental apartments.

  10. >Thomas >Please contact your City Councillor regarding the laughable transit we are expected to rely on.
    councillor_giambrone@toronto.ca (also TTC Chair!!)
    councillor_perks@toronto.ca
    councillor_vaughan@toronto.ca
    councillor_pantalone@toronto.ca
    councillor_rae@toronto.ca
    councillor_mcconnell@toronto.ca

    (Okay, I had little comments about each councillor beside their emails but decided to remove them.)

    We need a transit ROW on Queen NOW! It is also completely unsafe cycling in and out of Parkdale. A queen st transit/bike ROW (even if it were only during rush hours) would solve the problem.

    It is an absolute joke getting in and out of Parkdale. If I drove, I’d be set though. What kind of City are we building?

  11. Oh, and, great post Duncan. thanks for the summary and good pics too.

  12. I am all for density, but how can they increase the number of people living there without the proper infrastructure in place, i.e. transit? When are they going to build a subway to serve the King/Queen corridor? This is simply nuts and unsustainable. The least they could do is what tt suggested above with a ROW. Let the store owners complain all they want, they are not smart enough to realize that they get more business from cyclist, transit users and pedestrians than they do from drivers…

  13. Other Matt:
    What I meant is this: the source of much of the acrimony surrounding development in the QW triangle has been over the potential to displace an artistic community that’s developed in the area over the years in favour of folks living in condos. That’s lamentable, but an entirely natural part of the evolution of any big city, one that’s been repeated over and over again in Toronto and that will continue to be. Some of the arts community in QW will stay, and some will move on to another part of town. Circle of life. That’s a completely different issue from affordable housing for non-artist low-income people in Toronto, who as you note certainly don’t benefit from things like Artscape.

    As far as where I stand on gentrification, would I rather that Bloor and Landsdowne, or Cabbagetown in the 60s, or West Queen West in the 80s/90s, have remained as they were/are? No, I wouldn’t. Then again, I don’t want to see the working poor displaced from the central city. But there’s not much to be done about that other than measures like more and better affordable housing via TCHC, since we can’t stop the basic land economics of a large and successful metropolis, and nor should we try.

    Incidentally there’s a growing body of academic research suggesting that gentrification does not necessarily mean displacement, based on the (rather sound) notion that when a neighborhood gets things like better schools, supermarkets, cleaned-up parks etc. as a result of new, wealthier residents the original inhabitants aren’t terribly keen to leave, and in fact don’t at any rate higher than the background frequency of moves. A series of studies have been conducted at Columbia of both New York and other American cities on this: http://www.iserp.columbia.edu/publications/press_releases/gentrification.html

    Anyway, hope that clarifies things.

  14. Great summary! Kudoes to the author. I had no idea so much was going in.

    Carlos, a subway would be nice but the city is lacking the billions of dollars it would cost to put one in. Probably the city is hoping the streetcar priority zone test run on King goes well next year. Then they can implement something similar on the stretches of Queen that give streetcars the most trouble.

    The only alternative I can think of to improve street car service is a ROW, which means restricting cars even further, and I can’t see anyone doing that over a long stretch of Queen.

  15. The Queen subway idea died out sometime around 1960. Let’s move on to 2007, a time when 25 US cities are building or have built new light rail systems while Toronto neglects the system it already has. Streetcars need to be treated like proper light rail vehicles and not like local buses. More doors, off-vehicle fare collection, private right-of-way and fewer stops are all easy fixes. The bones of a solution are right there in the ground in the form of the rails – we just need to think better about how to use them. For a start, how about putting the Queen and others lines on the rail transit map displayed in the subway cars? You have to get people city-wide into thinking about the streetcar lines as real transit lines in order to get the public to press for upgrades. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with your electric buses while Joe Sixpack says “ok, I guess extending the subway to Vaughan makes sense since that’s the only rapid transit we have”.

  16. Original Matt >
    I am quite concerned about your use of the word “natural” in relation to the style of development we have become accustomed to in Toronto

    The “basic land economics” you speak of are very much influenced by city and province land-use and affordable-housing guidelines.

    While Toronto affordable housing does have the best of intentions, it is toothless in that it is forced to bargain with developers for something all developments should contain: affordable housing.

    If we had an affordable-housing requirement for all developments then our shared concerns about displacement of the working poor (whether they be artists or not) would be addressed much more effectively.

    As it is, private developers beat out affordable housing proposals for many sites because the affordable housing developers can’t secure as much funding up front: I heard that the 2 Gladstone site had originally seen over about a dozen unapproved affordable housing proposals before it went to private development.

  17. The intersection of Queen and Dufferin was once served by the Parkdale train station. GO trains continue to rumble along the rail corridor during rush hours, but the station and platforms are long gone.

    Given the higher densities that these developments will bring to the area, it makes sense to resurrect the train station for GO Transit, providing quick access to the Central Business District, subway, and regional connections. If the airport link is ever implemented, it could also serve this station.

    Building a station would be a lot cheaper than tunnelling a subway under Queen. Besides, surface transit is a crucial contributor to the urbane vibrance and diversity along Queen -a subway would kill that.

  18. The subway doesn’t seem to harm West Bloor Village, the Annex or west Danforth…

  19. I think where the map says 1151 QW is actually 1153, our building.

    But wow, it’s gonna be wild to look out the window in a few months and see nothing but rubble on the entire block.

  20. on subways.. there is no way the current administration in this city would even consider a subway idea on Queen with the budget shortfalls, as uSkyscraper wrote, the idea for a Queen subway has been dead since 1960. Even if the city did have the money, Eglinton would probably take priority over any other because of the ridership numbers that justify it.

    Now, the streetcars/LRT or some combination of the two is probably the more realistic option. What I cant understand is, no matter what sort of right-of-ways we build, it just wont be an efficient system, if the streetcars/LRT have to wait for traffic lights to change along with the other commuter vehicles. We have such an arcane system, that runs the rails through the center of the street, the current trains that we have need the turning radius and the infrastructure has been left the same way as it was first envisioned during the early 20th century.

    If we are to create proper, efficient ROWs that actually increase efficieny and ridership, we definitely have to separate the trains from traffic, its a an exercise in futility if we just put medians on either side of the tracks and call it a ROW only to shave a few seconds.

    There are also other alternatives, as Mark C indicated, the transit reversal that occurred in Parkdale by the removal of the Parkdale station has been happening in other parts of Toronto as well during the past 50 years and all along that railway corridor. The C.P.R station at Junction, a major hub at one point was also demolished in the 1980s.

    We have 2 railway corridors, the Georgetown corridor that crosses Queen at Dufferin which runs north south and the east-west corridor that runs parralel to Dupont St and cuts across the city in the middle, better planning has to be done to utilize these and other railway corridors to solve the transit problems.

  21. What Queen needs in terms of transit is simple: more frequent streetcars. Unfortunately we will be waiting a while for the next order to come in.

  22. When the Lakefront West LRT, on its own ROW, is built connecting the Queensway and Fleet Street, it would provide an bypass for the southern Etobicoke transit users to go downtown. This would reduce some crowding on Queen and King in the west end.

  23. One more thing on this issue, pursuant to the more recent Spacing post about Streetcars for Toronto: it’s a real testament to how transit debates get framed in Toronto, that the aerial photo above shows a massive railway corridor running straight to Union Station (!) and yet we’re debating either a Queen subway (never gonna happen) or a streetcar ROW (probably impossible). I’m no engineer, but I’d say there be a ‘tird option….

  24. The rail corridor is also impossible to use for one reason only: it belongs to CN, a private company that will never give space in its corridors for transit. The Lakeshore corridor is a testament on how freight has a higher priority over GO’s commuter trains. If they build a transit system along the train corridor it will suffer the same fate as GO trains around the GTA, delays, longer frequencies and a dependency on the goodwill by a private company that doesn’t care about commuters and the city it uses for its business. So forget about the railway corridor, even if they use it, it will have to compete with CN’s (or CP’s) freight trains and the GO train that runs along it. To me a good solution would be to close either King or Queen to traffic and make it a West-East right of way corridor for cyclist and streetcars. But this being Toronto where the car rules above all else that will never happen. So basically we are running around in circles. I find it shocking when people say there is no money to spend on subways or underground ROWs on Queen and Eglinton. We are among the richest places in the globe so there is lots of money, it just never finds its way back to Toronto… Madrid built tons of subways and I can guarantee that the Spanish capital is not as wealthy as our city. To me the solution comes down to proper funding (as everything else). If we kept a fair share of what we pay in taxes to senior levels of government the city could build a subway along Queen no problem (but again, that will never happen).

  25. Anyone else remember the SmartRide LRT proposal? Its (private sector!) proponents certainly didn’t see the ownership of the rail corridors as an impossible obstacle.

  26. I live at bloor & lansdowne within spitting distance of the House of Lancaster, Duffy’s Tavern and various other charming neighbourhood haunts. Gentrification can’t come fast enough! If we can’t get the Drake II, can I at least get a bar that doesn’t have drunks and crack dealers camped outside?

  27. Good summary, and you strike the appropriate note of caution and concern at the end but let’s give credit for pushing the public agenda where credit’s due: you give kudos to the city for their involvement when their engagement was largely spurred by Active 18’s involvement – a community group. Once the city took an active interest, their involvement was marked more by a series of embarrassing procedural gaffes associated with the submission of their too-little-too-late alternative plan than any real positive change. To wit, the BE group submitted and was approved for it’s two other buildings AFTER the city became more involved.

    Active 18 was the forum where concerns were raised and the developers pressed to give back more to the community they’d be building in (and in the case of 48 Abel, on top of).

  28. SMW is right.

    Active 18 was the catalyst and still is and getting everyone to the table. The city was the LAST one onboard with Artscape/Westside settlement.

    Thank you.

    Brad Doner
    Active 18 Steering Committee

  29. As much as we all value the character and aesthetic of the West end, we don’t really have much choice or say in what happens to it. The developers dictate what happens. Local perspectives fall on deaf ears when developers are allowed the right to build for pure profit at the expense of the community and particularly the buyer. City counsil seems more than content to oblige the requests of the developers. Not only is the city not standing up for the integrity of various locations, but, it is also allowing developers like UrbanCorp to build unfit and deplorable townhouses and condos. It is shocking that the city continues to allow a developer to keep building at the expense of so many. If you would like to avoid the cost of extensive water damage, electrical malfunctions, faulty plumbing, zero sound insulation and makeshift aesthetics, I would suggest you avoid purcahsing anything built by UrbanCorp. (They are now in the midst of building 3 new 18 story (how appropriate for the area) condos within the triangle.

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