A new condo proposal for the Sobeys at Dupont and Shaw could set the stage for yet another neighbourhood’s entry into the gentrification debate.
Elissa McBride says she’s not a “big civic-engagement-activist person,” but you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Walking along Dupont Street near Shaw last week, McBride pulled a wad of planning documents and news reports from her bag. “This is what I carry in my purse at all times,” she joked.
Sobeys wants to build a massive condo development at the corner of Dupont and Shaw, and McBride has been reading up. In a series of reports posted on the city’s website, the grocery chain laid out its plan: The gas station and 24-hour supermarket at 840–860 Dupont would be razed and replaced with a two-storey “podium,” housing office space and a new food store. On top of the podium, like a couple of medal-winning athletes, would be two 11-storey towers, totalling 393 units.
The avalanche of reports has kept McBride busy. In one, the development’s hypothetical shadows rotate through her neighbourhood as if the condos were an enormous sundial. Another anticipated the impact on local traffic, cheerfully suggesting that “the intersection [at Dupont and Shaw] is projected to continue to operate acceptably.”
McBride isn’t buying it. “This is not DVP, life-shortening traffic,” she said of the slow-moving stream of cars moving up Christie towards Dupont. “But to me, this is painful.” McBride said that she’s not anti-development, but that a “sane” proposal would be one tower, maybe five storeys tall. As she walked past luxury car dealership Gentry Lane Automobiles, McBride admitted, “I know [the developers are] there to make money.”
She isn’t alone in her opposition to the project. Some anonymous activist, armed with a roll of tape and spare time, has slapped up posters around the neighbourhood. Under the heading “Know What’s Replacing the Sobeys at Dupont/Shaw?” the posters detail the relevant specs, including the number of units and the 734 parking spaces. One is posted outside the Universal Grill, next to a notice advertising a dog walker; another, a half block south, is next to a poster for a lost dog.
And then there’s the area’s councillor, Mike Layton, who argued that injecting hundreds of residents into a neighbourhood that’s poorly served by public transit might not be prudent. As for the size, Layton feels the same as McBride. “It’s sort of stretching the definition of mid-rise,” he said. On that particular strip of Dupont, dominated by two- and three-storey homes on the south and squat buildings on the north, it would be singular in its size.
But the neighbourhood opposition may not matter. The city’s planning department is currently reviewing its official plan, the big-picture document that lays out a comprehensive vision for how Toronto should grow and develop. Wrapped up in this review are several requests from developers looking to convert land designated for employment—like 840–860 Dupont—into residential property. As the province and the city continue to grow, this becomes an important question. While there’s clearly a market for creating more living space, the city’s planning department still has to assure the province that it can accommodate job growth. Whether Sobeys will get to build its development, then, depends on two big questions. Firstly, will the city grant the developers the conversions? And if they do, is the Sobeys proposal appropriate for that site?
At least one resident thinks so. Eya Donald Greenland Kotulsky, who shows her late husband’s artwork in a gallery across from the Sobeys, calls the enormous parking lot currently surrounding the grocery store and gas station “a gigantic waste of space.”
Donald Greenland Kotulsky used to work for the Ontario Municipal Board, the powerful body that can overrule councillors who vote against development proposals. Whether or not the Sobeys proposal is perfect, she believes developers might work with neighbours who ask for improved local infrastructure or units for people with low incomes. In other words, you can watch as developers get rich draping your city in concrete and glass, or you can pressure them to build what your neighbourhood needs. “I don’t just want to make it better for the haves,” said Donald Greenland Kotulsky. “I’d like to make it better for the have-nots as well.”