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

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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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Montreal real-estate prices climbing much faster than Toronto or Vancouver: study

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MONTREAL — The cost of housing per square foot has skyrocketed in Montreal while other cities saw little change over the last year, according to a new national survey.

The study found that condominium prices in downtown Montreal are up 13.5 per cent from last year to, on average, $805 per square foot.

That’s not as high as other cities, but it’s catching up — and Montreal’s rate of growth is outpacing other major Canadian cities.

Toronto’s condo prices grew to $1083 per square foot, an increase of just under 10 per cent, according to the study. In Vancouver, where you can find some of Canada’s most expensive condo prices, rates are down 4 per cent to $1192 per square foot.

To make the comparisons, Canadian real estate giant Century 21 collected data from real estate boards across the country to calculate the home costs per square foot.

“It’s important to compare apple to apples,” said Todd Shyiak, the company’s vice president of operations.

Montreal’s rise was even more explosive for detached homes and townhouses.

Detached houses in Montreal’s downtown and southwest rose to $958 per square foot, 40 per cent up from last year.

“It’s wild,” said Century 21 broker Angela Langtry. She says the pandemic raised demand.

“People had a lot of time to figure out they don’t like the home they’re in,” she said. “They all want pools.”

There was a big spike in sales, she noted, following a pause in brokerage during the spring, at the peak of the pandemic.

Experts say the pandemic will push people into the suburbs as they search for affordable housing and home office space.

“A huge portion of our society’s housing needs changed overnight,” said Shyiak. People “no longer need to be 10 minutes from the office.”

He says that could mean less demand for condos in the future. “People want their own front door,” he said.

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Carttera buys prime downtown Montreal development site

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Carttera has acquired a prime downtown Montreal site at 1455 De La Montagne St. which will mark its third development on the thoroughfare.

“We think it’s probably one of the best, if not the best, locations in the whole city,” Carttera founding partner Jim Tadeson told RENX. “We’ve had great success on De La Montagne.”

The two earlier projects are: L’Avenue, a building with 393 residential units, 84,000 square feet of office space and 34,000 square feet of retail that was developed with Broccolini and occupied in 2017; and Arbora Residences, a two-phase development with 434 rental and condominium units in three buildings being built in partnership with Oxford Properties.

Thursday’s latest acquisition, for $48.5 million from 630745 Ontario, is a 31,750-square-foot surface parking lot with flexible mixed-use zoning on the corner of De La Montagne and De Maisonneuve Boulevard West.

The site is near the Vogue Hotel Montreal Downtown, the new Four Seasons Hotel Montreal and high-end retail.

“It’s zoned for up to 203,000 square feet of density, which we’re going to take advantage of,” said Tadeson. “Our vision for the site is a condominium project with some retail.”

Since there is no demolition required and no heritage issues to contend with, Toronto-based Carttera plans to move ahead quickly with the luxury project.

It’s in the concept design phase and Tadeson said it could take six months or more before it’s prepared to make a submission to the city.

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Montreal Has the Hottest Real Estate Market in Canada Right Now

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If you thought Toronto’s real estate market was on fire, it’s time for a second take, because the market in Montreal is the hottest in all of Canada right now.

A newly-released annual report from CENTURY 21 Canada reveals that, following an early-spring decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sales numbers are bouncing back and house prices across the country are maintaining their strength. The study compared the price per square foot of properties sold between January 1 and June 30 of this year, compared to the same period last year.

In Toronto and Vancouver, unsurprisingly, prices remain high. But while regions across the country are seeing varied stories when it comes to their housing market fluctuations, Montreal stands out — there, prices have increased dramatically since 2019. While the numbers remain lower than Toronto and Vancouver, that housing market is proving to be the country’s strongest right now.

In Quebec’s largest city, prices have increased significantly since last year, particularly in the downtown detached house and townhouse markets. For example, the price of a detached house in Montreal’s downtown and southwest rose 42.14% to $958 per square foot, while townhouses went up 44% to $768, and condos, 13.55% to $805. Comparatively, in Toronto and Vancouver, prices saw more modest increases or, in some cases, even declines.

“Even though real estate in Quebec was not considered an essential service, we have seen strong demand and a jump in prices in 2020,” said Mohamad Al-Hajj, owner of CENTURY 21 Immo-Plus in Montreal.

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