New condo developments are notorious for inciting hostile community/developer relations. But in the neglected nook of Beach Hill, a new building is being openly embraced by area residents as a catalyst for revitalization.
In Toronto’s Beach Hill, socially conscious developers and condo-friendly neighbourhood associations aren’t urban myths—they’re real entities that are working together to spark growth in the neighbourhood.
Instead of fighting developers, Beach Hill is embracing a “neighbourhood-friendly” condominium concept, in hopes of making the area more attractive for both businesses and residents. The proposed Beach Hill Residences will feature 64 units and sit at the corner of Gerrard Street East and Woodbine Avenue.
The condo will be the latest addition to the intersection’s “main street”-style strip, one that’s declined since manufacturing began to leave the east end in the 1970s. Today, the street is dotted with run-down bars and empty storefronts. “The street is sketchy,” muses a barista at the Bandit Coffee Group Inc., one of the street’s few functioning storefronts. “There are rows of empty stores.”
Naram Mansour is the president of Carlyle Communities, the developer at the helm of the Beach Hill Residences project. When he designed the mid-rise condo, one of his goals was to help create a “more vibrant streetfront” on Gerrard. The building has limited amenities, which Mansour hopes will push residents into the local community. “This wasn’t done by a force of hand, but purposely,” he says. “When we’re designing neighbourhood housing, the intention is to force people to use the amenities in the neighbourhood. We want them to use the local coffee shop, go to the yoga studio down the street, work out at a community centre.”
One of the condo’s fiercest cheerleaders is Kate Tennier, a founding member of the Beach Hill Neighbourhood Association. She’s excited about the project’s potential. “The condo fits in perfectly with the neighbourhood,” she says. “People want the condo because the more people, the more businesses will be successful, and more people can make an area safer. It’s a step in the right direction for establishing a more lively street life on Gerrard.”
Tennier and the BHNA see the condos as a great way not only to boost business, but also to create neighbourhood diversity. “We’ll get a more mixed neighbourhood, which always makes things more fun,” she says. “Diversity is what drives little neighbourhoods in Toronto.”
Tennier knows there may be downsides to the project. “[The condo] may overshadow some backyards, and that might not be ideal but, overall, we realize we need intensification in the area.” She believes this accepted need sends a strong message to developers. “There are neighbourhoods in Toronto that want and would support new condos. [Developers] just have to take a chance on up-and-coming areas,” she says.
Local business owner and BHNA member Brian Chapman says the condo complements BHNA efforts to improve Gerrard’s commercial strip. “It’s good that these people are getting into the neighbourhood because they’ll make it look better,” he says. He adds that the condo will likely have a positive impact on his investments in both his home in the area and his storefront.
City councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon echoes the BHNA’s optimism. “Businesses are supportive [of the condo] because they want foot traffic,” she says, adding that future condo development would likely be welcome “as long as developers respect the character of the neighbourhood.”
A few residents, however, aren’t as doe-eyed about the impact of the condo development. Reed Russell owns the flower shop East of Eliza, on the corner of Woodbine and Gerrard. “While extra bodies in the neighbourhood can always add to your client base, construction will be deadly for my business, taking away already limited parking in the area,” she says. Russell doubts the Residences will bring significant density. “I don’t expect an influx of around 120 people to make a significant impact on the neighbourhood,” she says. But she agrees that “change is a part of an urban plan and increasing density is the only thing that makes any sense.”
Mansour knew it would take time to get locals behind the project but, overall, he’s been surprised by the warm reception the condo has received. He attributes the positivity to the neighbourhood being ready for change. “In neighbourhoods like Queen Street East, people are fighting condos because they’re afraid of change,” Mansour says. “They don’t see condos as a part of a neighbourhood. On the other hand, Beach Hill recognizes the need for investment and growth.”
In contrast to the stereotype of hostile resident-developer relationships, Mansour says his experiences with locals have been happy. “I get random letters saying ‘thank you’ for doing this in our neighbourhood.”