From time to time, development applications appear that raise more questions than they answer. The one at 13 Balsam is for me such an application.
The applicant is an Italian small-business owner, a newbie to development. He owns a single lot, upon which he proposes to build a five storey apartment building. It would have an elevator, and all of 8 apartments (4 two bedroom; 4 one bedroom). The ground level would consist of a building lobby and the rest of the ground level would be at-grade parking, presumably closed in a garage.
The application has only this one elevation, no floor plans, no construction details. The planning application is written by Fotenn; architects are Liff and Tolot.
The zoning for the lot is presently 33′ high, ie 3 stories. The application is for a five storey building, plus elevator penthouse, plus roof decks to provide the site’s “open space”.
The limit for building wood frame construction is four stories. This could conceivably be wood frame on top of a poured concrete podium level encompassing the garage. But hybrid buildings like that are rare, presumably for a reason. The proposed building would be between the Z6 condo (four stories, wood) and an approved-but-not-yet-constructed town-house development on Rochester:
I talked to several people in the know, and some developers, including developers of high rises and low rises, and no one thinks the building is economically feasible. The concrete, the elevator, the small number of units to absorb the costs … the most kind comment I got was that it would be “surprising if it were viable”. The other comments would bruise tender feelings.
It is always possible that the owner is proposing something without knowing his costs. But surely his planners and architect would be alerting him to the risks.
Of course, there may be an entirely different agenda afloat. All that follows is pure speculation, but here goes:
- the site is small and innocuous, unlikely to draw a close look
- the proposed building may strike some as so unlikely to get built, why worry about the rezoning
- but the planners are the big guns, Fotenn, who also represent Fanto, developer of the nearby UNO townhouses
- and the architects are the same ones who designed UNO townhouses, an approved development at the corner of Rochester and Balsam (left, in the streetscape pic above)
- and the Fanto application originally was for a 7 and 9 storey apartment buildings that was turned down by the city amidst much objection that the area was to remain low rise intensification
- the UNO project has, rumour tells me, run into an underground plume of chemical pollution that may necessitate very expensive remediation, including reconstructing part of Rochester Street. I’ve heard the number $1.25 million tossed about
- and said large additional expense may make a town-house development unviable.
So, if a creative and cynical person [who shall remain nameless] strings it all together, this is what I get:
The developers of a town-house project need to increase revenue, which means more units, which means apartments. But having already been turned down for a rezoning to apartments … they need to demonstrate that things have changed and a rezoning is warranted. The site is already in close proximity to two zoning anomalies, the 18 storey senior’s tower at Rochester/Balsam/Gladstone, and a 1950’s 7 storey apartment on the street behind the site. The recently constructed Z6 condo on Balsam/Booth is four stories, but rezoning permitted five (it proved uneconomic to build five, so a floor was lopped out to make it four).
If Council were to approve yet another apartment, say an innocuous little five storey infill at 13 Balsam, then it becomes that much harder to argue that rezoning the UNO site for apartments, say 7 or 9 stories, is not appropriate or compatible, surrounded as it would be by other high buildings or permissions. In this scenario, 13 Balsam doesn’t have to be build-able, just permitted.
Of course, from a community perspective, preserving some low-rise areas within the city is important. A good liveable city has a balance of low, mid, and high rise zones. But from a developers perspective, rezoning can resurrect a project, restoring lost profits, or create larger profits than otherwise permitted.
As if the above conspiracy theory isn’t enough, there are other forces at work nearby.
If I was a land owner on the north side of the Queensway, seeing the Bayview Carling CDP is heading for massive upzoning on the south side, and that said CDP is next going to focus on the neighbourhood on the north side of the Queensway, I would be wondering if it would be prudent to develop my lot for town-houses or hold on for a bit in the hope of getting apartment zoning.
There are other develop-able sites in the immediate area too, on which town-house proposals seem to be going forward very slowly.
Of course, all this might be the product of an over-wrought imagination afflicted with paranoia, and some developer virgin really will shock the established development industry by building an economical five storey micro-boutique building. ‘Tis the Christmas season, after all, banishing the forces of Darkness, and all.