The Future of Eastern Avenue: Development proposals have potential to change the area’s industrial character

Photo above shows the ongoing transformation of the old Weston Bakery at Eastern and Booth avenues into The Wonder Condos. Inset photos show some of the development proposals along Eastern Avenue between Coxwell and Broadview avenues and how the locations look now.

By AMANDA GIBB

Multiple developments have been proposed or approved on Eastern Avenue between Coxwell and Broadview avenues; many of them are mixed-used buildings containing residential and commercial units.

Eastern Avenue’s residential transition may seem odd for a neighbourhood now dubbed as Toronto’s Studio District, but as Toronto runs out of room elsewhere to build new housing many developers are looking to use the large plots of land along the street.

Given its history of industrial buildings, a massive postal sorting facility, a streetcar service yard, city operations properties, the Toronto Fire and EMS Training Centre, a salvage yard, self-storage warehouses, and other similar uses which include film studios, some of the proposed development changes along Eastern Avenue have the potential to change the area’s “blue-collar character” profoundly.

Unlike areas such as Queen Street East in the Beach or along Danforth Avenue, this area has not been studied at length as to its future development potential and there are no area-specific guidelines to be followed for those looking to build.

“Eastern Avenue is employment on one side, casual employment and some residential on the north side. There’s no secondary plan for that,” said Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher of the area at the south end of her ward.

“Lots of things go on on Eastern Avenue, but the city can’t really tell property owners what to do. They have an idea about their property and they can come forward with a rezoning application, and then it gets looked at to see what should fit.”

With much of the land presently zoned industrial, proposals for residential buildings at those locations will require rezoning to be passed by Toronto City Council.

However, Fletcher wants to make sure any residential proposals take in the city’s acute need for affordable housing.

“Major new developments should have affordable housing in them because we need to have affordable rentals for people in the City of Toronto. They’re getting priced out, they’re moving out. It’s not the vision for the city. So that’s my (affordable housing) vision for Eastern Avenue and any avenue or street,” she said.

“It’s critical that we have affordable housing and anybody coming forward with an application that’s more than three storeys, I say that’s what I want there,” said Fletcher. “I’ve added it in the Danforth Planning Study. I’m very clear: ‘Don’t come to me with your great idea unless you have affordable housing in it.’”

She also wants to make sure The Studio District industrial lands along Eastern Avenue and further south in the Port Lands as well will continue to be protected for and used by Toronto’s film industry.

“I like to keep those kinds of jobs in our community,” said Fletcher. “So many people in our community work in the film industry, and it’s one of the goals is to maintain this film node. It is The Studio District…it’s a great industry. It’s well-paying jobs. it’s diversifying, and really helps the economy.”

Yet, development is coming along Eastern Avenue and it will change the area’s look and possibly its perception.

One of the proposals will build on the site just east of Logan Avenue of the once infamous clubhouse of a number of motorcycle gangs, demolished in 2017; and another will transform the old Weston Bakery at Booth Avenue into a condominium equipped with a parking lot.

Here’s a look at some of the proposals for new buildings at some major sites along Eastern Avenue.

Coxwell and Eastern Avenues

Both the northeast and northwest corners of this intersection are slated for large developments that will change the look of the area with higher building that bring in both affordable and market-value condominium and rental apartment units.

The northeast corner of Coxwell and Eastern, all the way north to Queen Street East, is one of the more controversial development plans for the area. It is usually referred to as the 1631 Queen St. E. proposal and it sees an 18-storey mixed-use building proposed by Housing Now, an initiative to use sites owned by the City of Toronto for developing affordable housing within mixed-income, mixed-use, and transit-oriented communities.

While this development will slope or angle back from the Queen Street East side at a lower height, it will be 18-storeys fronting Eastern Avenue.

According to the architectural plans, the first floor will include a lobby and space dedicated to childcare. The mezzanine will also include a large space allotted for childcare and an area for bike parking. There will also be a public space called Kishigo Lane, honouring an Anishinaabe family that lived there in the late 18th century.

Floors two through 18 will contain a total of 279 residential rental units with a mix of studio, one, two, and three-bedroom apartments. Of those units, between 100 and 139 are proposed to be affordable. An indoor and outdoor amenity will be located on the ninth floor.

In a past Beach Metro Community News article, the proposed building’s height was the source of some contention among many residents at an online meeting earlier this year. Uwe Semhrau spoke on behalf of the board of The Beach and East Toronto Historical Society and said that the board was concerned about the precedent the building would set because it’s an exclusion from the Queen Street East Urban Design Guidelines (UDG), which limit building heights to six-storeys along the street east of Coxwell Avenue.

City planners and Beaches East-York Councillor Brad Bradford said taller buildings at this site wouldn’t set a precedent due to its unique nature, and that one can argue the building fronting Eastern Avenue (1080 Eastern Ave.) doesn’t fall within the Queen Street UDG coverage area. Currently, the plans for this site have not yet been finalized.

The proposal for Eastern Avenue northwest of Coxwell Avenue was nowhere near as contentious, and construction is already underway to build on the site of the former Donald Summerville Apartments.

The development will transform the site on Eastern Avenue between Coxwell and Woodward avenues into the Queen Ashdale Development. Like the plan for the northeast side of the intersection, this site also fronts onto both Queen Street East to the north and Eastern Avenue to the south.

The two Toronto Community Housing apartment buildings that were at the site have already been demolished and will be replaced with a 10-storey TCHC residential building and a 17-storey mixed-use building built by Context Development.

A total of 771 units are proposed, including 220 classified as affordable housing units, 100 more than in the original buildings. The development will also include 1,578 square metres of non-residential floor area.

According to the architectural plans, the ground floor of the TCHC building will contain an outdoor amenity, lobby, and bike parking.

The 17-storey building’s ground floor will include residential units facing the west, a retail space fronting Queen Street East, various amenities, bike parking, and an outdoor parking lot.

A public park has also been proposed to be built between the two buildings, close to Queen Street East.

In an earlier Beach Metro News article, Fletcher said that building good-quality affordable and market rental housing is a priority for Toronto.

“This revitalization will benefit tenants by providing quality TCHC housing at a great location integrated into a new, vibrant mixed-income community,” stated TCHC President and CEO Kevin Marshman in the 2019 media release announcing the plans for the area.

914 Eastern Ave. (Knox Avenue)

The construction of a new three-storey apartment building with rooftop terraces was approved for this site.

The building is slated to contain three home occupation units, six two-storey townhouse units on the second and third floors, along with integral garages with a double car lift for a total of 11 parking spaces. The proposal dictates that access to these garages will be from the existing laneway.

At least two letters of rejection from residents living on nearby Minto Street cited privacy concerns, lost green space and therefore potential flooding, along with increased traffic in the laneway. “The lane is currently used by about a dozen homeowners, as well as one commercial business (David Woods Productions). There has at times been congestion in this lane, which is only one vehicle width with no passing possible,” read one of the objection letters.

Despite opposition from some neighbours, the proposal was approved on Oct. 20, 2021.

 880-882 Eastern Ave. (74-80 Knox Avenue)

 A 12-storey mixed-use building has been proposed for this address on the northwest corner of Eastern and Knox Avenues.

The architectural plans show that the ground floor will include more than 3,500 square feet of retail space, long-term bike parking, four live/work units, and six townhouse units located at the rear of the building.

The building is slated to have 157 residential units including one, two, and three-bedroom rental apartments.

There will be an open courtyard in the middle of the development, private terraces on levels three and eight, and rooftop terraces on level four. The construction is proposed to have green roofs at various levels.

The application is still under review.

721 Eastern Ave. (near Leslie Street)

 

General Motors of Canada was approved to start work on this seven-acre site to build the GM Mobility Campus and Innovation Centre.

The proposed development slated to include up to 82,000 square metres “of employment uses across (three) development blocks, including a mix of office, related retail uses and an auto dealership” was approved by the city in August of 2018.

The site runs between Eastern Avenue and Lake Shore Boulevard East, with a major frontage facing south.

In a past Beach Metro article, residents expressed concerns about the development revolving around increased traffic around nearby Bruce Public School, pedestrian safety, retention of heritage buildings, and potential disturbances from light.

However, at the moment all that is on the site is small metal structure assembled by GM.

GM Senior Manager, Corporate and Internal Communications Monte Doran said GM Canada continues to advance plans for this site. “We are currently evaluating the best course of action for the development of the property, but have no news to announce at this time,” he said in a written statement to Beach Metro Community News.

629 – 675 Eastern Ave. (Larchmount Avenue)

This 18.5-acre site is home to the StudioCentre mixed-use redevelopment project to build on current studio facilities, Revival 629 (formerly Toronto Film Studios).

The rezoning of the site was approved in November 2015 but there have been no recent updates on the project’s status.

 

The redevelopment is slated to maintain approximately 16,535 square metres of space for film studio and production purposes and build additional offices, retail spaces within existing and new buildings, and a hotel.

488-498 Eastern Ave. and 153 Logan Avenue

These properties, which once included the clubhouse of the motorcycle gangs, were purchased by Toronto-based development company Percy Ellis a few years ago.

“We don’t have draft plans yet. Our office is currently operating out 494 Eastern Ave., and the site will be redeveloped but we’re looking at probably at least 18 months or more. We’re still in the early stages,” said Katie Schimke, Associate Development Manager for Percy Ellis.

Schimke said Percy Ellis exclusively builds purposeful rentals and that is eventually what will be built at this site. “We have projects all across the city…We have a few mixed-use where a few are commercial on the ground floor and residential above. All of our rentals are missing middle housing rentals, so it’s meant to be affordable for young professionals, young families, those working in the downtown core but want to want to live in some of the rent-section neighbourhoods.”

Schimke said all Percy Ellis projects are informed by community needs, including building height, storeys, and the number of units.  “We take community engagement very seriously…It’s something we’re continuously putting more and more effort and resources into,” she said.

 

Percy Ellis is very active in the east end of Toronto with many projects in the area, she said.

“It makes it attractive to us. It’s within our wheelhouse, we really care about the community and we know the community in this area. A lot of us our east-enders ourselves…I think a lot of us feel it’s a really great area to live in and there’s a real need for missing middle housing.”

462 Eastern Ave. (Booth Avenue)

The Weston Bakery closed its doors for the last time in March 2014, and the property is slated to be redeveloped into the Wonder Condos. This is one of the main examples along Eastern Avenue of the industrial past being transformed into residential use.

Wonder’s website says that “one of the most important aspects of the old Bread Factory re-imagination is the dramatic juxtaposition of the old and new…Along with the stark beauty of its industrial past and the simplicity of modern aesthetic, Wonder Condos will showcase the best of both worlds.”

 

The proposal for a eight-story mixed-use building was originally put forth to the City in 2012, and the plans included a commercial ground floor, 308 residential units, and 315 parking spaces. These units will include studio, one, two, and three-bedroom apartments.

The building will include suites and Wonder Heritage Lofts, which will be created to keep elements of the building’s manufacturing roots such as high ceilings and exposed beams.

According to the Wonder Condos website, the ground floor will house offices, a family room, a dog wash, and a co-working lounge.

 344 Eastern Ave. (Broadview Avenue)

 This site located on the northeast corner of Eastern and Broadview avenues has a proposal by Streetcar Developments for a 12-storey building and townhouses.

Right now, the land contains a car dealership, and 10 derelict semi-detached and row house dwellings on Broadview Avenue.

It is the most recent proposal submitted in this list. The proposal was submitted in September of 2021, and is seeking, asking an official plan and bylaw amendment to allow the new development.

The 12-storey building would be mixed-use with a ground floor used partly for commercial purposes. The architectural plans suggest that there will be a public park and vertical playground. The proposal also includes the addition of 15 three-storey townhouses on the east side of the site.

In total, there are 340 residential units proposed for this development consisting of one, two, and three-bedroom apartments, and almost 800 square metres of retail space at grade.


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