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Design Review Panel Weighs in on Proposed 861 St. Clair West



Toronto’s Design Review Panel met for their first session of 2019 last week, easing back into things with a short meeting to review only one project, albeit one that elicited many compliments from Panelists. The project in question is 861 St. Clair West, a 9-storey condo building proposed for the southwest corner of St. Clair and Winona Drive that was submitted for Site Plan Application (SPA) last year. Headed by The Benvenuto Group and designed by StudioAC with Ventin Group as project architects, the new mid-rise offers a unique form within a quickly densifying neighbourhood along St. Clair West.

861 St Clair West, StudioAC, Ventin Group, Benvenuto Group, TorontoRendering looking southwest, image courtesy of Benvenuto Group.

The building is notable for its angled facades and material expression, composed of alternating lines of perforated aluminum panels and precast grey brick. The massing follows the zoning almost exactly, adhering to the angular plane and stepback requirements of the City’s Avenue Study. Rather than being seen as a constraint or hindrance in the design process, the zoning criteria became a driving force in the design of the building.

861 St Clair West, StudioAC, Ventin Group, Benvenuto Group, TorontoSchematic section showing zoning envelope, image courtesy of the Benvenuto Group.

In the words of the architect, “the demand for balconies in the city has caused balconies to become the defining architecture of many buildings…we embraced this, and allowed it to determine the massing and architecture of the building.” This is apparent through the expressed metal balcony railings, which continuously wrap around the building with a consistent material of perforated aluminum. The railings are also angled to mimic the zoning envelope, helping to define the overall form of the building.

861 St Clair West, StudioAC, Ventin Group, Benvenuto Group, TorontoRendering of the south elevation, image courtesy of the Benvenuto Group.

The mid-rise will contain 80 condo units, with a mix of 42% one-bedrooms, 57% two-bedrooms, and 1% three-bedrooms. Three retail units will be located on the ground floor facing onto St. Clair, with one wrapping around the east elevation to have a second face onto Winona. A landscaped patio space is envisioned on the east facade along Winona to service the corner retail unit.

861 St Clair West, StudioAC, Ventin Group, Benvenuto Group, TorontoRendering of the east elevation, image courtesy of the Benvenuto Group.

The Panel had some encouraging comments for the design team, but also offered some suggestions and words of caution. Calling it a “courageous and encouraging departure from what we’re used to seeing in these mid-rise forms”, Panel members remarked that it was a “very interesting project” and a “wonderful start”, and “appreciated the approach and enthusiasm with the project”. They did, however, caution that the design was only partway there.

Panelists commented that the building was halfway between a sculptural object and a standard mid-rise, but it was clear that the design team wished to trend more toward an object with its unique handling of the form. They offered suggestions to improve the design, recommending that more attention be paid to the articulation of the east and west facades. They also encouraged the designers to work with the play between “singularity and multiplicity” to add more variance into the currently monolithic design, referencing Kings Landing – Arthur Erickson’s waterfront condo development – as a precedent.

861 St Clair West, StudioAC, Ventin Group, Benvenuto Group, TorontoRendering of the northeast corner, image courtesy of the Benvenuto Group.

The Panel’s main concern with the project regarded the zoning envelope. They pointed to two areas where it potentially infringes on the requirements: at the rear south elevation, where it is unclear if it is a private driveway or a public laneway to the south (which would change the setback requirements), and at the west elevation, where the lack of a stepback at the fifth floor could potentially render the land to the west undevelopable. The City indicated that the wording of the zoning by-laws left much to interpretation and that they were working with the developer to determine the appropriateness of the proposal.

This zoning discrepancy could be a major speed bump for this project: it is currently submitted for SPA because it seemingly fits within the zoning, but if it is determined that it does not adhere to current zoning regulations, it will either need to be redesigned, or it will need to be submitted for rezoning first before being approved for SPA.

861 St Clair West, StudioAC, Ventin Group, Benvenuto Group, TorontoPhotographs of building model, image courtesy of the Benvenuto Group.

Overall, the Panel was pleased and encouraged with the design presented, and voted unanimously in support of the project. They did, however, caution both the design team and the City that the zoning needed to be ironed out before the project proceeded.

861 St. Clair West joins a slew of proposals in the immediate vicinity that will create a node of mid-rise density along St. Clair. To the east, the 10-storey Nest Condos were recently completed, while to the northeast, Eight Forty on St. Clair will rise 8 storeys. To the northwest, two 12-storey condo mid-rises are proposed on either side of Oakwood Avenue at 898-900 St. Clair West and 908 St. Clair West. If all of these are approved, this stretch of St. Clair could be completely transformed in the next five years.

861 St Clair West, StudioAC, Ventin Group, Benvenuto Group, TorontoImages of mid-rise projects in the immediate vicinity, image courtesy of the Benvenuto Group.

We will keep you posted as this development continues working its way through the planning process, but in the meantime, you can tell us what you think by checking out the associated Forum thread or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.

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Real Estate

Do you know what kind of condo you’re buying?




(NC) Condominiums can come in all shapes and sizes. But it’s important to know that not all condos are created equal when it comes to warranty coverage.

Whether you’re buying a condominium townhouse, loft-style two-bedroom or a high-rise studio, they are all classified as condominiums if you own your unit while at the same time share access (and the associated fees) for facilities ranging from pools and parking garages to elevators and driveways, otherwise known as common elements.

The most common types of condos are standard condominiums and common elements condominiums. The determination of how a condominium project is designated happens during the planning stage when the builder proposes the project and the municipality approves it.

When you’re in the market to buy, you need to know how your chosen condo is classified because it affects the warranty coverage under the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act. Standard condominiums have warranty coverage for units and common elements, but common elements condominiums only have unit coverage.

How could this affect you as the owner? If your condo complex has underground parking and, for example, there are problems with leaks or a faulty door, the condo designation will determine whether there’s warranty coverage.

If your unit is a standard condominium development, then the common elements warranty may cover the repairs. If it’s a common element condominium development, then repairs might have to be covered by the condo corporation’s insurance, which could impact your condo fees or require a special assessment on all the owners.

To avoid surprises, you should have a real estate lawyer review the Declaration and Description attached to your purchase agreement to be sure that you know the designation and boundaries of the unit you’re looking to purchase. Find more information on the types of condos and their coverage at

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Real Estate

5 savvy renovations to make your kitchen look like new




(NC) The kitchen is the heart and focal point of any home. But if yours is looking a little tired, a few simple renovations can change the feel of the entire space.

Whether you’ve just moved in, have been meaning to update for years or are experiencing life changes, remember that a kitchen uplift doesn’t have to come with a huge price tag. These small-scale projects could be the change your kitchen needs:

  1. Brighten it up.Adding LED lights below your cabinets will brighten your backsplash and counter and provide a warm glow. Place your favourite containers below to act as focal points – those copper canisters that are hiding under the island and the marble coasters you couldn’t resist can now all be on display.
  2. Swap the old with the new.The backsplash is the first thing you see, so replacing it can be enough to give the space a whole new look. Try a unique shape or colour to change things up, like turquoise or patterned tiles, hexagon-shaped tiles or even a full slab of stainless steel.
  3. Rework what you have.People often think new cabinets are necessary for a kitchen reno, but a lot can be done with what you’ve got. Repainting the cabinets and switching out the knobs to chic new handles will do wonders for a makeover.
  4. Don’t hide away.Try adding some open shelving in an unused spot, such as above the sink or window, or next to the cabinets. Display your most beautiful dishes and add some decorative pieces to give the space a modern, airy feel.
  5. Add new materials into the mix.Changing the island to a butcher-block counter adds warmth and practicality.

Taking on a renovation can often feel overwhelming. But if you talk to your contractor about budgeting and spreading out payments through services like The Home Depot Project Loan, it can be easier than you think. The service allows you to finance any home projects, big or small and is available at locations across Canada.

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Real Estate

How to afford a home renovation that fits your life




(NC) Changing seasons always bring about the desire to update our living spaces. But your life stage and budget can influence what kind of upgrades you can make. Here are some tips to get you started.

Assess the investment. The first step is to gauge how much value your investment will bring, whether you’re looking to sell or grow into a family home. A common misconception among home owners is that all renovations will increase a home’s value; unfortunately, this is not always the case. It’s always a good idea to strategically renovate the space to fit your life plan and goals.

Plan for both long- and short-term value. As a homeowner, it is important to assess what kind of value items can contribute to your life plan. Searching for products that are energy efficient, like an eco-friendly washing machine or water filtration system, can help you save on your monthly bills. A long-term investment, such as hardwood floors or bathroom tiles, can spruce up a living space for years to come. While sometimes this require a larger budget, the project can be both appealing to future buyers and stand the test of time in a family home.

Create a renovation budget. Once you have a clear plan, you’ll need to create a budget to align with your financial goals. Always ensure your budget includes any interest you’ll be paying. Ask multiple sources for competitive quotes.

Use a payment plan. For those high-ticket investment items, consider using a payment plan. Payment solutions such as The Home Depot Project Loan can help with bigger renovations. This allows you to stick to your budgeting goals while using a flexible payment plan to make larger purchases more accessible.

Use DIY to offset costs. In addition to using a payment plan, taking on a few safe and simple renovation projects yourself is an easy way to offset renovation costs. Your local hardware store can help source materials and provide helpful tips to make those do-it-yourself projects, such as refinishing cabinets or sanding old hardwood floors, a breeze.

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