New student residence approved by city after years-long negotiations

Compromises include incorporating existing building, opening Roberts Street Playing Field

New student residence approved by city after years-long negotiations

After years of negotiations, the University of Toronto has reached an agreement with the City of Toronto and local neighbourhood groups to allow the construction of a new student residence at Spadina Avenue and Sussex Avenue. The building will provide much-needed housing for 511 students and is expected to be completed in 2021.

The student residence will include ground-floor retail spaces, as well as a dining hall, fitness room, and green roofs.

The approval of this building at 698–706 Spadina Avenue and 54 Sussex Avenue  — first proposed in 2013 — comes after a long negotiation process between U of T and the city, as well local neighbourhood associations, including the Harbord Village Residents’ Association (HVRA). The latter two disagreed with the university over certain aspects of the residence, including its height, mix of students, and heritage considerations. The building that currently hosts Ten Editions bookstore, at 698 Spadina Avenue, was designated a heritage site in February 2017.

After the city rejected the building proposal in October 2017, the university was able to appeal and enter into provincial mediation at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) in an effort to keep the project alive.

In an open letter signed by the HVRA and Councillor Joe Cressy, who represents the ward that U of T and the proposed residence are in, they wrote that U of T being able to enter into provincial mediation was “a fundamental flaw in our planning process… which prevented local communities and the City from guiding decisions on development.”

HVRA Board Member Carolee Orme told The Varsity that “although U of T is generally a good neighbour… our residents made clear that they do not want to become part of the campus and want to be able to determine our own future development.”

“U of T appeared to have difficulty understanding the neighbours’ point of view and showed little interest in substantial compromise prior to mediation.”

U of T Vice-President University Operations Scott Mabury said in an interview with The Varsity that “it was the lack of progress and actually getting agreements in place either from the city or the community that caused [U of T] to appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board, which was ultimately the resolution of this [conflict].”

Mabury said that “the most substantive part of the conversation over the five years” was whether U of T needed a student residence, which is necessary, according to Mabury. This is in accordance with a housing report done by the university in 2017 that found that U of T will need 2,300 new beds by 2020 to keep up with housing demand.

He added that students and student leaders who spoke at public meetings in favour of the student residence were “very powerful and frankly influential in moving the conversation to more productive places.”

The final terms of settlement, released on August 8, came five years after the initial proposal for the building. Mabury’s biggest criticism of the process was its length, saying that “it’s not just my view that it took too long… I think everybody agreed and said to me, ‘This took too long.’”

Compromises on the building

As per the terms of settlement, the height of the building has been reduced from 82.7 metres to 75.05 metres and the number of beds has been reduced from 549 to 511. The student residence will also incorporate the existing building at 698 Spadina Avenue, which was at the centre of a heritage designation dispute that was one of the causes of the long negotiations process.

The settlement also states that the university will attempt to limit the number of first-year students allowed in the residence to 60 per cent. The remaining 40 per cent will be upper-year and graduate students.

U of T has also agreed to renovate the Robert Street Playing Field, located directly west of the proposed residence, and open it to the public. The field is listed as an outdoor complex by the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education and includes an ice rink and tennis courts, which have fallen into disrepair in recent years. The Varsity reported in November 2017 that the ice rink was being used as storage for garbage cans.

In addition to the 23-storey student residence, U of T will also add several townhouses surrounding the tower, which the university says are intended for faculty.

The Varsity has reached out to Cressy for comment.

U of T needs 2,300 new beds by 2020 to meet housing demand, says housing report

Housing expansion projects met with opposition by City of Toronto

U of T needs 2,300 new beds by 2020 to meet housing demand, says housing report

Almost 2,300 additional beds will be needed by 2020 to reach the increased demand for student housing at UTSG, according to a housing issues report published in support of an amendment to the St. George Secondary Plan.

A residence demand analysis attached to the report claims 908 new residence spaces will have to be created to meet demand for first-year undergraduate students in three years’ time. 

In addition, over 1,100 new beds are required to meet the university’s goal of having 40 per cent upper-year students living on campus; about 200 spaces will be needed to accommodate graduate and second-entry students. If implemented, these additions would bring the housing capacity to 8,767 beds in 2020 compared to the 6,478 spots currently available. 

In the 2016–2017 academic year, U of T had approximately 66,599 students, 11 per cent of whom were living on campus. 

In order to satisfy the near-term housing demand, the university plans to build new residences around campus, specifically at Spadina Avenue and Sussex Avenue and in the Huron-Sussex neighborhood. 

The proposed Spadina-Sussex building, which is set to provide 547 new beds for both graduate and undergraduate students, will be a 23-storey student residence that will include office and retail spaces. It will also include the development of a three-storey townhouse to accommodate faculty and graduate student families. This project is a partnership between U of T, which owns 54 Sussex Avenue and 702–706 Spadina, and The Daniels Corporation, which owns the land at 698–700 Spadina.

The planned construction projects in the Huron-Sussex neighborhood are aimed mainly at housing graduate students. An eight-storey, 180-bed residence adjacent to the Graduate House is proposed to be built along 44–56 Harbord Street and will include a ground floor retail space and café. Other possible developments include 40–50 new laneway houses to be made available to graduate student families and two mid-rise buildings on Spadina, which will collectively house 520–620 new students. 

The report also states that among the locations currently being scouted for future developments is the corner of Bloor Street and Spadina, which would include housing for students, student families, new faculty, visiting faculty, and senior level staff.   

U of T says ‘yes,’ city says ‘no’

U of T’s new housing plans, especially the Spadina-Sussex residence, have been met with considerable resistance from the City of Toronto and the community. After four years of negotiations, U of T is seeking aid from the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), which will mediate between the university, the city, and community members, including the Harbord Village Residents Association, according to Elizabeth Burke, U of T’s Director of Campus and Facilities Planning. 

“We’re still waiting on the board to review the case to see if it’s eligible for mediation,” Burke told The Varsity. “The city is definitely on board with pursuing that path with us and once such mediation is agreed to then it’s the question of setting a date for the mediation, and this will be between the community members as well as the city and the university.” Burke also stated that the university is not pressing for an OMB hearing but to negotiate a settlement with the board’s help.

In an August 2017 report, city staff states that the proposed development at Spadina and Sussex violates the 2014 Provincial Policy Statement, as “the proposed development is not a level of intensification that is appropriate when taking into account the existing building stock and area.”

The city also claims in the report that the project does not comply with the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, as it does not conserve cultural heritage resources in strategic growth areas. This refers specifically to 698 Spadina, currently the Ten Editions bookstore, which was designated as a heritage site by the Toronto and East York Community City Council (TEYCC) in late February because “the building has design value as an example of a late 19th century corner-store building type designed with a high degree of craftsmanship in the late Victorian style,” according to a report from the Chief Planner and Executive Director’s Office. 

The city staff report concludes that the proposed development is “not appropriate for its context as it is too tall, too bulky, and does not provide appropriate tower setbacks” and “in its current form it is not good planning or in the public interest.”

In addition, the TEYCC sent a series of recommendations to City Council in September regarding the project. These included the suggestion of continuing to negotiate with the university to address issues such as appropriate heights and massing for the development site, as well as to participate in formal mediation with the OMB. The council also recommended that the city hold off on making a decision regarding an application to demolish six existing rental dwelling units at 698 and 700 Spadina until a decision is reached by the OMB. 

Joe Cressy, Councillor for Ward 20, where the proposed residence at Spadina and Sussex would be located, did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.