Proposed multi-use building 770 Somerset St W.

There is a development application for the vacant lot / parking lot at the corner of Somerset (in Chinatown) and LeBreton Street, opposite the Dalhousie Community Centre and beside St Luke’s Church and its associated social housing building:

birds eye view of site

On initial inspection, I think there’s a lot to like about it.

The proponent, DCR Phoenix, who also built the mixed use building at Rochester and Somerset, and who are proposing the twin tower office building at Bayview Station, are asking for the usual reduced setbacks and increased height to build a nine storey building (nine when viewed from Somerset; it will be ten floors when viewed from LeBreton, due to the lower elevation on LeBreton). The lot size here is 138′ on Somerset, 115′ on LeBreton. The lot slopes down 9′ from east to west, allowing them to put a street-level space on the LeBreton Street side which is one storey below the Somerset storefronts. The current height limit is 5 floors or 16m (traditional mainstreets are normally six floors, like the Clarke building next door) ; they are asking for rezoning to permit 32m, as measured from Somerset Street.

They are proposing a ground floor grocery store (Asian) of about 12,000 sq ft (a typical Farm Boy might be 20,000 sq ft), and on the LeBreton side, one storey lower, a restaurant. The grocery store frontage can also be redivided into 3 separate smaller stores facing Somerset. Beside the existing Searson Clarke social housing will be the entrance to eight floors of rental apartments above. It has been many years since anyone in the private sector has proposed a rental apartment building. They are proposing 75 apartments, with 35 parking spaces. There would also be 52 commercial parking spaces. All parking is on three underground levels, accessed off LeBreton. The commercial parking garage would be valet operated, which should increase safety and allows the developer to use tandem parking spaces.

The building exterior is brick on the lower half, and an unspecified but different material for the upper floors. Visually, we are supposed to see and be aware of the lower brick structure with the upper floors receeding out of awareness. The building will have rounded corners on the LeBreton intersection corner.

ground floor plan
ground floor plan
Somerset elevation in the top illustration; the LeBreton side in the lower sketch
Somerset elevation in the top illustration; the LeBreton side in the lower sketch


The use of different materials on the various parts of the building are designed to minimize the height of the building visually. The developer suggests pedestrians and neighbours will see  the streetscape in this way:

streetscape elevations

In addition to using different exterior cladding and design elements to emphasize the lower floors and make the upper ones recede  the whole structure has a series of set backs on all four sides.

I am particularly interested in the four-side setback, because it is so different from the (often fake) podium-with-(supposedly)-slim-tower-on-top preferred by so many developers. Frankly, I love the New York style of skyscrapers and zoning that was in place from the early 1900’s to the mid-century. That planning model gave us ‘wedding cake’ buildings, with a series of step backs that let light and air to the street level, separated the upper floors of buildings from each other, preserved views, and made towers thin and elegant, pointing to the sky. Alas, it was amended to permit those blocky glass towers that rise straight up from the street, often placed on windswept “pedestrian plazas” which, over time, tend to get built-into the building as they are so useless as outdoor spaces (in Ottawa, think of Place de Ville).

Now this building is no NYC wedding cake. But there are several setbacks, on all four sides, which will allow the west-facing apartments at Searson Clarke to breathe. The setbacks vary from 3 feet to 14 feet. It’s a good first step to reintroducing mid-rise building shapes that aren’t just a big block.

roof setbacks as you go up

The apartments will be rentals. And they are not the micro-units so beloved of some condo developers. Looking at the floor plan, I see one and two bedroom apartments with over a thousand square feet of space:

2nd floor plan
2nd floor plan

The proposal calls for green roof planters along the second floor façade  with plants draping down over the front of the building. They don’t propose irrigating these planters, though, which doesn’t bode well if I judge by the care and attention other Asian property owners extend to plant material (yes, a generalization and not a rule… but I would prefer if these planters had a simple watering system.)

The building also proposes “reflective windows” at ground floor. If they are anything like the ones we see at the CBC building on Sparks, or the new condos on Richmond Road … no thanks. Particularly the Barry Hobin condo on Richmond by Thiberge Homes has windows so dark they look back-painted in black paint, and it is impossible to see into the cafe behind it to even see if it is open. Street levels should be transparent, not reflective.

More positively, the propose some streetside seating (hopefully Chinatown-style benches) and a bus shelter integrated into the building facade!  Their bike parking is proposed to be outdoors, with numerous windows from the lobby suggesting it will be in view and thus safe. However, the outdoor space is immediately adjacent the problem-plagued public garage under the Clarke building, which everyone except the most unwary avoids like the plague due to crime, vandalism, drug dealing, defecation,  etc. I think this outdoor bike parking, however convenient to the residents’ main entrance, needs a plexiglass roof and full enclosure on the sides.

The complete proposal can be read at, this link may work:







16 thoughts on “Proposed multi-use building 770 Somerset St W.

  1. This is going to be one huge building and I fear it will overpower Somerset. It will tower above the low-rise apartment building beside it. Indeed, it will overpower the entire street. What makes me laugh (or cry) is the 3 floors of underground parking. Do they really think people coming to the neighbourhood will actually use it? The existing parking lot there is never full. People who come to this ‘hood do not like paying for parking. The name of the developer rings a bell – are they the same ones who wanted to build condos at the corner of Somerset/Booth – nothing ever happened – yet another wasted lot in our ‘hood. I am not looking forward to this going ahead.

    1. the developer is DCR Phoenix, who built the multiuse building at Somerset/Rochester. They have no connection to the proposed condo at Somerset/Booth; that proposal is now dead, and the lot has been sold to someone else … who will likely propose a taller building. Thank you for reading (and commenting) – eric

      1. When I refer to overpowering the street, it’s because there is not a single building of this height along Somerset in Chinatown. I am not opposed to development but reasonable development. The city has planning bylaws around height restriction for a reason – to help keep neighbourhoods liveable.

        1. Grant: but there are numerous buildings of that height within a few feet of Somerset, eg the 1958 apt. at Bronson-Somerset; at Arthur and at Empress a few doors north of Somerset. Another mixed use building is further back in the planning process, for the cambridge-somerset vacant lot/parking lot, of similar 8-10 storey height. And the abandonned 7 storey building proposed for Booth Somerset intersection wouldn’t come back as a seven storey building next time, it will have to be higher still, to account for the cost of acquiring the rezoned lot, holding the site, and developing a new plan. IF the 9 storey plan is rejected, you can count on it coming back later as an even higher building.

          1. Eric, your comment is true. I think what I fear is this will be but the first of many high rises that will eventually spring up along Somerset. I am not sure this is desirable. What’s the point of the city having height restrictions if they are continually set aside?

          2. i note the city’s new OP and TMP emphasize the “certainty” that the zoning along traditional mainstreets will be 4-6 stories. Fine words. We may actually get some low rise buildings. More likely, we will get more parking lots, because a)they are profitable b)low risk ways to hold land for long periods and c)the eventual reward of higher zoning is a reasonable return for the risk of holding the land. Just about every developer, profit or non-profit, sings the same tune: 4-6 stories boutique buildings can’t be built. We shall see.

          3. In reply to your post about more parking lots. Had to laugh. Build them and they won’t be used in our neighbourhood. It’s amazing how folks will drive all around, up and down our dead end street, think oh park there (in front of fire hyrdrant) or park there – in front of someone’s driveway or park there – in a signed tow away/no parking place all the while or oops, I backed into your car, someone else’s car, took off your mirror and then drive away. I do not digress, Chinatown needs development but what is appropriate development is the question?

            P.S. Delivery trucks are some of the worst offenders for parking infractions. Can only imagine what adding another big store at LeBreton/Somerset might due for drivers of delivery trucks.

  2. Looks good except I have to wonder about valet parking. Is that purely for the restaurant? Is there anywhere else that uses valet parking?

  3. I think this is great. Much better than the parking lot there now. I wonder though about the specification for an Asian grocery store- would this cut into the business of the existing grocery stores? Or maybe they are considering relocating one? I would prefer to see an LCBO, post office, pharmacy (local- not Shoppers!), or a grocery store specializing in local organic produce go in that space instead.

    1. i hope to betsy that you are supporting the urban grocery store on somerset at rochester that is trying to market organic goods. If it dies, its another proof that there is no market for a grocery store. As for shoppers, some people might rejoice if it comes since prescription costs and patent medicine costs are often lower than at an indie store, and their grocery selection, often with prices comparable to loblaws, would be a welcome shower in the (so-called) (non-Asian) grocery desert along the street. If I wanna buy a dozen eggs, or 2L of milk, I am price conscious, and if shoppers has it a lot cheaper, I’ll definitely seek them out.

      1. Excellent point Eric. That new store needs all the business they can get. We’re doing our best and our part. I know they sent around a flyer before Christmas announcing their opening and some specials but also noted this was most likely the only flyer they would ever send out (cost conscious and environmental). They deserve our support. I hate going to Hartman’s or further afield for basics like milk, good bread, eggs, etc.

        1. Another note – we already have a fine pharmacy at Somerset/Booth. They are helpful, friendly and nice. Store is going thru a revamp but I strongly support their presence in our ‘hood.

        2. You just have to keep a mental map of where you can get what products. For instance, I know I can get Ontario eggs, bananas, onions, citrus, etc. at Lim Bangkok, dairy, pasta and meat at Luciano’s, bread at Art is in….. I can cobble together enough “white person food” to last for weeks between trips to Hartman’s. I’m glad Urban has opened and I buy a variety of things there, I’m not sure we need another big grocery store. I could get behind an LCBO, though.
          So the question is, why keep “traditional mainstreets” on the planning books if developers are going to push for and get spot re-zoning for 9, 10 14, etc. stories? My objection to the Chi condos was simply that they were leapfrogging from 3 stories to (8?) when there was nothing else nearby anywhere near that high.

  4. It looks like ALL of the resident bicycle parking is of the vertical type, which IMO isn’t conducive to regular bicycle use by residents, especially those who have difficulty with lifting heavy things like their bike.

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