honest eds westbank

All photos by James Bombales

Westbank’s vision for its mega-sized redevelopment at Bloor and Bathurst, which includes the iconic Honest Ed’s discount store, will not involve a single condo tower. More than 500 curious Torontonians packed into the developers’ public open house on Tuesday, March 3rd at the Park Hyatt Hotel to see the early proposals.

Though an official development proposal likely won’t be filed until fall of this year, the early concepts for the site call for 1,000 purpose-built rental units.

When news broke in October 2013 that the Vancouver-based developer had bought the 4.4-acre site, many real estate watchers assumed the Annex intersection would end up having some kind of condo component given Westbank’s history building the Shangri-La Hotel in Toronto and Kensington Gardens and 188 Keefer St. on the west coast.

The residential side of the redevelopment is just one part of what’s shaping up to be an ambitious undertaking with architect Gregory Henriquez designing the multiple buildings and Janet Rosenberg taking care of the landscape architecture.

Here’s what we know now:

The vision is very, very green

Westbank wants to make this a LEED Platinum neighbourhood. Aside from the immediate access to the Bathurst subway station, there will be a focus on sustainable transit with bike valets, car shares and electric charging stations. The proposals also call for community gardens and space for a farmers market and a permanent public market on the north end of the site.

There will be a variety of building heights

The early concepts outlined ideas for a 29-storey tower fronting Bloor and Bathurst, then various building heights, scaling down from the tower with a 6-storey street wall near Bloor and Lennox Street, a 5-storey street wall further west along Bloor, and much of Markham Street maintaining its Victorian-era heights of 2.5-storeys (the early concepts call for 14 of the existing houses to be saved).

The residential component is going to be 100% rental

Hard to see that one coming! Made up of more than 1,000 units, the residential component will be entirely purpose-built rentals. The proposed housing mix is as follows:

  • 1 per cent will be four-bedroom (13 units in total)
  • 16 per cent of the units will be three-bedroom apartments (161 units in total)
  • 27 per cent of the housing units will be have two-bedrooms (272 units in total)
  • 10 per cent will be junior two-bedroom suites (101 units in total)
  • 21 per cent will be one-bedroom suites (211 units in total)
  • 16 per cent will be studios or junior 1-bedroom apartments (16 units in total)
  • 3 per cent will be designated as art studios (35 units in total)
  • 6 per cent will be live/work spaces (6 units in total)

On top of all that, the early proposals called for an on-site daycare as well.

The retail mix will focus on the small stuff

In a neighbourhood known for taking on big box stores such as Wal-Mart, it was interesting to see the developers take note and announce their commitment to micro-retail, pop-ups and food trucks.

This is a project with lot of partnerships

To help bring about the right mix of shops and services, Westbank Properties is partnering up with its Annex neighbour, the Centre for Social Innovation as well as the Next Practice and ThinkFresh to start up a “retail incubator.” It may be a massive site, but the commercial focus looks like it could very well be on small businesses. Hot Docs is also in talks with the project builders with the aim of screening films in the public spaces.

The fate of the famous sign, which dates back to the 1980s, is still up for discussion with some Ryerson planning students even suggesting that it top the Bathurst subway station. There’s still much to decide, but it was clear from the enormous crowd that the corner means a lot to a lot of Torontonians.

Open house attendees ranged from Palmerston Avenue people to Etobicoke residents. During the opening remarks, Ward 20 Councillor Joe Cressy said what may as well be the guiding sentiment behind the project: “We have to get this right.”

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