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Is 34-storeys too high for Sherbourne and Front?

Posted by Chris Bateman / March 25, 2014

toronto 177 front streetCity of Toronto planning staff are still concerned about the height of a proposed Front Street condo complex despite the design being heavily revised over the last year. Despite being asked to trim the height, the design team behind 177 Front Street East have decided to up the ante and pitch three high-rise towers instead of just two.

As it's currently laid out, the massive development includes retail space on the south side of Front and town homes on Lower Sherbourne, The Esplanade, and Princess Street. Three 34-storey towers rise in close proximity around an open-air courtyard off Princess.

toronto 177 front streetIn October 2012, the Pemberton Group released its initial concept for the entire city block between Front, Lower Sherbourne, Princess, and the Esplanade that included two 30-storey residential towers and a 13 to 17-storey podium. City staff expressed concern about the height of the towers and the surrounding block, which would have dwarfed practically all the nearby buildings.

The area is currently home to an Acura dealer and a Sobeys supermarket. Historically, the block was used for industrial purposes. In 1880, companies making machine oil, industrial chemicals, and soap had buildings there alongside a coal merchant and a coffee and spice import business.

The new proposal, which also reduces the height of the podium, was the subject of a design review panel discussion last month. The group agreed that, although the lower floors of the proposal looked promising, the height and placement of the high-rise residential components were unacceptable.

toronto 177 front streetThe panel said the proximity of the towers, which currently breach the city's tall building guidelines and are at least two times taller than nearby approved projects, would appear as a single mass and shadow source. For comparison, the Globe and Mail building currently under construction at King and Berkeley is set to top out at 17 storeys.

As such, the design is "wholly incompatible with historic and approved built form," they said. A vote of 5-0 invited the developer and architects to completely overhaul the proposal.

Did the DRP make the right decision? Is this development too big for the neighbourhood? What would you change?


TYPE: Condo
MAX HEIGHT: Three 114.22-metre (34-storey) towers
UNITS: 1,349 (1-bedroom: 927, 2-bedroom: 405, 3-bedroom: 17)
TOTAL RESIDENTIAL SPACE: 116,732 square metres
TOTAL RETAIL SPACE: 9,523 sq. m.


toronto 177 front streetNortheast from the corner of Lower Sherbourne and The Esplanade.

toronto 177 front streetNorthwest from Princess and The Esplanade.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Images: Hariri Pontarini Architects



iSkyscraper / March 25, 2014 at 02:13 pm
I worked not too far from this intersection for a few years in the 90s. Made me ashamed to live in Toronto. Sherbourne needs development, badly, and this is a good spot for it. Would you rather have lively urban streets and some shadows at 8 am or full sunshine with this lovely environs:

I'm all for having a DRP to nail developers on things like how buildings meet the ground and the quality of the streetscape, but attacking density should not be their focus.

Build it.
Aaron / March 25, 2014 at 02:37 pm
Make it even taller. Add another 50 stories to it and other developers will follow. Separate retail from the condos. Have an enclosed walkway/garden thing. It will be great.
Bay St. Guy replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / March 25, 2014 at 02:59 pm
I agree with your points except the comment about density. Density SHOULD be their focus but it's not. The only thing they care about is relative height which makes no sense. I live near Queens Quay and York and they have no problem putting up 3 very tall towers on one intersection that's absolutely not big enough to accommodate it but put up one tower amongst lower ones (ie. Lower density) and they reject the project.
TorontoDude / March 25, 2014 at 03:01 pm
It's not the height that's the problem so much as the design. What a massive Soviet-style apartment block this appears to be. THAT's the problem
steve replying to a comment from TorontoDude / March 25, 2014 at 03:33 pm
Don't you make that comment abut every proposed project in Toronto?
East Berlin replying to a comment from TorontoDude / March 25, 2014 at 04:03 pm
You're right! I didn't notice. I hope they make different plans...
lister / March 25, 2014 at 04:05 pm

Next problem!
Mike / March 25, 2014 at 04:33 pm
Build it. Sherbourne and Front is a fucking mess right now. Might as well put something there that is worth living at or visiting to shop.
seanm replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / March 25, 2014 at 04:35 pm
I would rather have sunshine as well as buildings that are appropriately designed for the site. Why is it always black and white? Toronto needs to get over its proclivity to defend any building because, hey, it's better than a parking lot.

I'd rather wait a little longer for the right design than rush to get something built for the sake of redeveloping an underutilized lot.
woodside replying to a comment from steve / March 25, 2014 at 04:40 pm
It's the mega block nature of the project that is the problem. Forget height and keep lot sizes smaller.
herb the planner / March 25, 2014 at 05:18 pm
I lika beeg phallic buildings! Beeger is better! Ladies like!
Monty Barr / March 25, 2014 at 06:25 pm
Well... I agree in absolute with iSkyscraper comment. Sherbourne needs something like this development. It]s about time to change the overall deplorable look into a more modern and desirable buildings. Toronto is badly in need of more developments particularly in several downtown areas. We also need a different breed of architects because in many cases they are absolutely outdated and without design.
David C / March 25, 2014 at 07:23 pm
This looks like a vestige of soviet architecture and is REALLY not appropriate for this site. It has a "courtyard" as its sole green space but it is really the garage and loading dock entrance and is totally enclosed. Reminds me of the Vu courtyard and we all know how THAT turned out. (Apart from the courtyard and 'pedestrian rat hole entrance' from Jarvis the VU, by same architects, is quite nice.) Go and stand on The Esplanade and see how it forms a fairly cohesive group of mid-rise buildings and then try to imagine how it will look if this ever gets built as now proposed. I hope they take the DRP comments seriously and go back to Square 1. It needs a redesign and the architects need to look at the neighbourhood where it will be situated.
Pat / March 25, 2014 at 07:34 pm
This proposal never made sense in the context of the neighbourhood. The podium would've been bigger than most of the surrounding buildings - and thats before the 3 towers.

Besides, they aren't cancelling the project but asking for an overhaul to so the project fits it's surroundings. The parking lot will eventually be developed and the result will be better. There should probably be even more pushback on builders around the city.
infernalmachine / March 25, 2014 at 07:49 pm
i really don't understand why everything needs to be either 2 stories (single family increasingly unaffordable homes) or 52 stories.

overall, the building's podium is really tall and isn't really set back enough. as for the giant 3 towers - pretty awful. and you know they'll be full of "investor" units, i.e. 450 sq ft "1 bed plus den / hallway" units. being anti-awful buildings does not equate to being anti-development (though i can share folks' gripes about the stupid community councils that are basically NIMBY-pandering refuseniks).

you know what? it might be relatively expensive to develop in this city, but it doesn't cost as much as developers and realtors charge. what's wrong with family sized units in mid-rise buildings? options for homes and co-ops manage to do it.

there are times i really think it's time to give up on toronto.

iSkyscraper replying to a comment from Bay St. Guy / March 25, 2014 at 08:00 pm
Point taken. You're right, the "no's" in Toronto are obsessed about height specifically. I'll never forgive them for the debacle at Minto near Yonge and Eglinton. Lopping stories off those buildings made them squat and ugly, yet they were in the exact spot (over the junction of two transit lines, next to shopping and offices) where you would EXPECT supertall buildings. Ridiculous.

And seanm, I understand your idealism but in the world we're stuck with, if a site sits underutilized as a parking lot for forty years there tends to be a reason for it. Sometimes it really is a black and white choice, and a building like this compared to a sketchy parking lot is definitely the lesser of two evils. Like an entirely underground LRT or free subway funding you're pining for a false option that does not exist.
Disgusted replying to a comment from infernalmachine / March 25, 2014 at 08:21 pm
Infernal, you got it.

It's beyond me why this city is allowing the construction of an excess of shoebox "homes" which in fact are generally smaller in size than a decent hotel room!

Shame on developers for screwing us over for their profit, and even more shame on our city's development office for letting them get away with it.
gary / March 25, 2014 at 10:12 pm
The design of this is so dull. Well, actually, it looks rather ugly. Surely, at this point in our development, shouldn't we be demanding better looking buildings? This is a huge area and I think it should be broken down to 4 separate buildings. It is in Old-town, so I think that height should be of some concern. I'd say, keep it under 25 stories.

It also needs some retail or community use spaces along The Esplanade, as well as Sherbourne. These streets, along with Front Street, already have retail on them and this would only help to make them more pedestrian friendly, as well as add businesses to the neighbourhood. (and add eyes on the street) I would like to see some public space included in this development, like a small public square. (or intimate walkway with retail possibly)

This development takes but gives nothing back to the city or the neighbourhood. We need architecture that reflects the character of the neighbourhood and I don't see that in this development, other than the switch to red brick, which is a plus. This development seems to have no style at all.
piero / March 25, 2014 at 10:59 pm
I think the city is wrong in this circumstance. That area is devoid of any substantial residential presence and any shadowing would be of car dealerships, a gas station and a few grocery stores. The area is a wasteland and is still within the realm of the downtown core. I think it should be approved unless the city can make a case that it would detract from future development rather than affect the "crap" that's currently in that area.
Steve N. / March 26, 2014 at 04:01 am
Despite the fact that the building looks Stalin-esque in design, the need to regulate height doesn't come from the urge to maintain a certain design standpoint, but to allow for optimum wave efficiency off of the satellites and rods off of FCP and the CN Tower. At the core of the city, the waves jut out, bouncing off certain points and other lower satellites, therefore keeping the signal going. If a building stands in the way of these transmissions, it can pose a huge problem for the telecommunication companies, and can cost the city ridiculous amounts of money to cater to their needs and demands. And since we all know how much stake Rogers and Shaw media have in the landscape and development of Toronto as a whole, it's to be expected that city planners will do anything to keep getting their business.
Trina the Fool / March 26, 2014 at 04:07 am
Trina the Fool / March 26, 2014 at 04:08 am
Me Like Big Buildings! 100 Storey Minimum from now on! We liksa da big!
Mayor McCokehoover replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / March 26, 2014 at 07:24 am
I'm in with iSky...for the astounding amount of change the east side has seen since the 90s, it still feels very quiet, underpopulated with pedestrian traffic and mostly devoid of life or energy. You need something of this scale to anchor the area. You need three or four of these, actually. Look at what happened in the entertainment district when Chapters/Paramount went in, the entire zone changed with five years, eventually attracting even wider retail, entertainment and housing options.

Build this. Get the street-level details right. Attract the right tenants on the ground floor, and then get to work knitting the success of Front Street at Jarvis through to Sherbourne and then onto the Distillery District.

Mayor McCokehoover replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / March 26, 2014 at 07:26 am
I can't tell you how many times about 6-10 years ago I would see buildings going up and wonder what the hell they were thinking because they'd be far too short for the site before long. And now the city is littered with them. Height, done properly, is really our only option.
Sean / March 26, 2014 at 08:56 am
100,000 people are moving into Toronto each year. In 10 years, that's ONE MILLION extra people. Buils high and proud!
Susan / March 26, 2014 at 12:10 pm
Firstly, shame on the developers for their blatant ignorance of height restrictions. The city and the community poured in many hours to develop the guidelines, only to be ignored for profit?!

Secondly, many people choose the King East area precisely for its quietness. Making it another Entertainment District-style will take away its distinct appeal and make it just another downtown neighbourhood that's too noisy and too crowded.

Another thing that sets King East apart are the low and mid-rise buildings. Having a block of condensed high rises is jarring and out of place.
Bridget / March 26, 2014 at 12:56 pm
This height of this development is not appropriate for the neighbourhood.
David C / March 26, 2014 at 12:58 pm
Piero said: "I think the city is wrong in this circumstance. That area is devoid of any substantial residential presence and any shadowing would be of car dealerships, a gas station and a few grocery stores. The area is a wasteland and is still within the realm of the downtown core. I think it should be approved unless the city can make a case that it would detract from future development rather than affect the "crap" that's currently in that area."

Clearly you have never visited the neighbourhood. Almost all the buildings south of Front Street between Church and parliament are 8-10 floors and were all built in the 1980s. Most of those north of Front are a bit taller (up to 17); only the OMB approval for 154 Front (former Greyhound) will be taller, at 26 floors. For this area, this one is HUGE at 34 floors! Despite your assertion that the area is a 'wasteland" there are LOTS of people living in the immediate area of this monstrosity - in fact on all 4 sides of it - and the site is where the only car dealership in that area is so it will not be there to be shadowed. The only 'wasteland' is the block where this or, one hopes, something more appropriate will go.
Noah / March 26, 2014 at 01:40 pm
Do it.
I grew up on the esplanade. Build this and demolish the co-ops.

Trevor Jones / March 26, 2014 at 01:52 pm
As a person involved in the marketing of retail space to exciting new retail & hospitality concepts and having been involved in almost every type of commercial development over the past 22 years I can only say that the developers proposing these new buildings are presenting exciting designs with lots of windows, roof top gardens, and retail space that caters to the buyers of the condos. 15-25 years ago the condominium towers were ugly boxes with no appeal and they sold only cause of their location not their looks. We should approve these projects and get rid of the old, dirty, buildings that are currently in these downtown markets unless they are heritage buildings. These projects create construction employment, realty tax dollars, and enhance our City for tourism.
Bob replying to a comment from Trevor Jones / March 26, 2014 at 02:52 pm
There's no need to destroy any older condos or co-ops, they're thriving in this area, and there's still plenty of surface parking lots to develop. This is a vibrant neighbourhood, not some wasteland as some try to portray it as.
Jen / March 26, 2014 at 06:50 pm
I think it's a vast improvement design-wise over the previous scheme but yet appears to propose even more that the original 1663 units - the biggest problem. Nothing "boutique" or "quieter than King/queen west" or "fitting into the neighbourhood" about an influx of 3000-4000 residents in one shot... Would much rather see the property developed in parcels. More variety in the architecture, lower heights, and a more gradual increase in neighbourhood population.
CityPainter replying to a comment from piero / March 26, 2014 at 07:58 pm
"That area is devoid of any substantial residential presence" is absolutely untrue. Directly across Sherbourne to the west is a very large co-op building, the first one built in the St. Lawrence Market district. Directly across Sherbourne to the east is a large co-op building, abutting against a large condo building (which happens to be mine) adjoined to a public school. And to the south, the development fronts David Crombie park, which is lined with co-ops and condos on the south side. Together there are likely many thousands of residents, many who have lived here for decades, all in buildings that until know were strictly limited to 12 stories an under.

As an immediate neighbour I am not opposed to this land being developed per se, but I'm concerned about the enormous bulk of the proposal and the height of both the podium (which will be taller than any neighbouring buildings alone) and the towers. Together these will dramatically change what is in fact a very nice and livable neighbourhood, the ugliness of that one immediate intersection and parking lot aside, -- it should not be used to judge the entire area.
Bobby / March 26, 2014 at 10:43 pm
I see the has-been planners of the 80s, Trina, Bridget and Susan, have joined the discussion and are spewing their disdain for height and density because it doesn't follow their zoning bylaws from the same era. Always in a reactive mode, planning for yesterday, never for the future of Toronto.

The podium of the redesign buildings look fantastic and will be an excellent addition to the area in need of an infusion of new urban vibrancy. In 20-years, this place will be a destination for people as it will probably anchor important retail outlets for the community. The neighborhood will change, as a healthy community should, for the better. No one will give a second thought if the towers are built at 34 storeys, 12 storeys or 60 storeys, should the podium be done right. A buildings interaction with the street - the pedestrian level - is what's key and should be one of the most important factors during review. This development meets the street well with its strong retail base and setback at 8 and 10-storeys. As an early poster said, it will look exciting to potential retailers, as well as residents of this development and the surrounding community. Alas, the planners dislike because it exceeds the height and density allowed for this surface parking lot, as if the ideal would be to have every tall building in an area, look the same as other buildings in the area, and all be capped at the same height.

The has-been planner's adherence to the process and conformance with zoning limitations, based on conventional wisdom of the 1970s and 80s, such as density being inherently bad, is their ideal outcome. They point to their secondary plan for good ol' Scarborough Centre as a central business district in the east end. The has-beens have been successfully fending off the evil condo developers, that have ruined their professional plans in many other neighborhoods in the city. They await their vision of a dozen post-modern office buildings, of no more than 100-metres, with plenty of parking for commuters and "open space," Le Corbusier-style, so the 8am sunlight may reach the wide streets.
Bobby / March 26, 2014 at 10:54 pm
And how could I forget you, Herb. The has-been planners of the 80s: Trina, Bridget, Susan and Herb. The only ones with an obsession over height are the has-been planners in Toronto's Planning Department. Please, please spends a fraction of your energy fighting density on improving the design and integrating of tall buildings into the city. The bottom storeys are what matters most. Learn to embrace development and work with developers instead of saying no and be overruled by the OMB for being unreasonable and violating provincial planning law.
T / March 27, 2014 at 09:22 am
Yes it is too high and hideous. King east is a great area to live and we do not to make every neighbourhood in Toronto look the same with generic condos.
Transportfan replying to a comment from Pat / March 27, 2014 at 03:05 pm
The first highrise built in any area overshadow the surrounding buildings; it doesn't mean you don't build them.
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