Condos are transforming seedy strip into lakeside residential neighbourhood
A view from the Humber Bay Arch Bridge, the western edge of the stretch of condo development that runs east to Palace Pier condos.
As the sun shines over Lake Ontario’s Humber Bay on this blue-sky day, a steady stream of cyclists, joggers and people walking dogs flows along the shoreline trail with looming views of the Toronto skyline.
Steps north of the lake, on a swath of land leading west from Park Lawn Ave., and sandwiched between Lake Shore Blvd. and Marine Parade Dr. — formerly the site of the infamous “motel strip” — it’s a considerably less serene scene: bulldozers, cranes, dump trucks and plenty of workers in helmets are working to transform this barren stretch into the newest addition to the Humber Bay Shores neighbourhood.
When the area reaches full build-out over the next decade, it will encompass a wide assortment of new condos, thousands of residents and a variety of shops, services, eateries and community amenities — including the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s Humber Bay Park. “It’s going to be beautiful,” predicts Henry Strasser, a principal with Phantom Developments, which is developing Jade Waterfront Condos, a 41-storey, 381-unit project currently under construction in the area that’s been designed with extra-large balconies to showcase waterfront views. “It’ll end up being a little city all its own. In a few years it will be one of Toronto’s top trendy communities.”
Condos are nothing new along the Etobicoke waterfront. Just east of the construction zone stands the landmark Palace Pier, one of Toronto’s first condo projects. And over the last decade, the area west of Palace Pier and Humber Bay Park has seen the rise of developments Marina Del Rey and Grand Harbour.
But the condos being built — in accordance with the City of Toronto’s Humber Bay Shores master plan — will deliver the population needed to sustain the shops, services and amenities that will accompany the condos. “You need that critical mass to support successful retail development,” notes David George, president of Monarch Communities, which has completed four buildings with another two underway and several more on the horizon.
The new condos being built on the old motel strip will have shops and restaurants facing the lake, along Marine Parade Dr., with commercial and office space along the Lake Shore-facing side. The buildings rise from the old strip of motels that for decades were ground zero for prostitution, drug deals, gambling and hideouts for bank robbers, including the Boyd Gang in the early 1950s. The strip was the perfect seedy backdrop for Hollywood movies True Romance, Blues Brothers 2000 and To Die For.
Westlake, a four-building development by Vancouver-based Onni Group of Companies, will bring a Metro grocery store and Shoppers Drug Mart to the neighbourhood, among other major retailers, to the northwest corner of Lake Shore and Park Lawn Dr.
“This will fill a huge void in such an important part of the Etobicoke waterfront,” says Sue Young, sales manager for Westlake Village, which will have more than 1,800 units. “Right now it’s not very convenient for those living in the area. So when planning this we thought about ways of servicing not just our residents, but the residents that will be living around (Westlake).”
The new developments will also not repeat mistakes made along Humber Bay Shores that saw many of the post-Palace Pier condo projects built short and wide. While not imposing in height, the condo clusters obscured views of the waterfront and prevent pedestrian passage to the waterfront.
“The political thinking back then was to kind of squat things down,” says local councillor Mark Grimes, a champion of the new development in Humber Bay Shores. “But what we started building was a wall . . . and people in the area didn’t like what was happening.”
“It didn’t allow for view corridors from the Gardiner Expressway and from Lake Shore,” adds Gabriel DiMartino, vice-president of development planning for Graywood Developments, which in partnership with Beaverhall Homes is building Ocean Club Waterfront Condos, a two-tower project with more than 500 units.
Following community consultations and design charrettes, Graywood joined with other landowners in the area to craft a new Humber Bay Shores precinct plan. The result was new design guidelines that called for the buildings currently under development to be taller, more slender point towers, with narrower floor plates and better separation between the buildings. “With taller buildings you maximize view corridors to the lake,” says DiMartino.
The updated plan also dictated that the new buildings be positioned in a more staggered fashion, with a mix of different heights and densities to offset one another. This, along with the addition of four new roads that will transect the new neighbourhood, will also help to open view corridors.
“Unfortunately you can’t undo what’s there now,” DiMartino says. “But the new (development) will improve the old. It will help balance it out.”
The new neighbourhood will have improved pedestrian connections, with mid-block corridors and expanded sidewalks. Shops and restaurants located along Marine Parade Dr. will further enhance the public realm.
For its part, Ocean Club will have a two-storey restaurant at the base of its south building, with a 2,500-square-foot patio facing Marine Parade. “It’s right on the lake,” says DiMartino. “We’re so close the waves could hit you in the face.”
So, who’s buying condos at Humber Bay Shores?
At Jade, Strasser says, “we’re seeing more families. It’s a little more affordable here, and because it’s right by the water, people can walk outside and go to the restaurants and shops that will be along Marine Parade Drive.”
The lakefront location is what appealed to Sunny Zhang, who bought an 830-square-foot, two-bedroom unit at Ocean Club where she’ll live with her husband and daughter.
“The key thing was the view,” says Zhang, an equities investor who moved to the city from Vancouver in 2012 and purchased the condo within weeks. “It was a rash decision, but I fell in love with Toronto.”
At Eau Du Soleil, a two-tower project that will include 1,285 units, the end-user group comprises “lots of 20- and 30-somethings,” says Paul Golini, executive vice-president of Empire Communities, the project’s builder.
Empire’s previous development in the area, Beyond the Sea, with its distinctive wedge-shaped tower tops, was among the first of the new wave.
“We’re seeing young professionals who have an appreciation for the outdoor lifestyle,” says Golini. “You can come home from work and go for a jog or a bike ride or to the cafe down the street, and you’re not in the chaos of the city. So it’s a mini oasis in that respect. That’s the big draw.”
Living farther from the core also means buyers can get more space for their home-buying dollar, Golini notes.
Eau Du Soleil, to be built on the site of the Beach Motel — the last on the strip to be demolished — will be the tallest and westernmost project in Humber Bay Shores. As such, Golini says, it’s designed to be especially architecturally intriguing, with floors that terrace down the towers as they approach the podium, creating a dramatic cascading effect, and orange- and white-metallic cladding.
“We wanted to design an iconic building that would become the marker,” says Golini. “And that’s what was asked of us by the city; they said, ‘You guys are the bookend, so it’s got to be the best-looking building.’ ”
Humber Bay Shores is still a neighbourhood in flux. But in only a few years, DiMartino points out, the community will have undergone a metamorphosis from its inglorious past.
“What used to be a strip of seedy motels with barren fields behind will soon be a thriving urban community,” he says, “and with a skyline that we think will compete with downtown Toronto’s.”
New projects at Humber Bay Shores
•Monarch Communities — Built: Voyager 1 and 2, Breeze, Nautilus; Under construction: Waterscapes, Lago; To come: Riva del Lago (Sales centre: 2167 Lake Shore Blvd. W.)
•Empire Communities — Built: Beyond the Sea (15 Legion Rd.). Pre-construction: Eau Du Soleil (2183 Lake Shore Blvd. W.)
•Graywood Developments/Beaverhall Homes: — Under construction: Ocean Club Waterfront Condos (2157 Lake Shore Blvd. W.)
•Phantom Developments — Under construction: Jade Waterfront Condos (2175 Lake Shore Blvd. W.)
•The Conservatory Group — Pre-construction: Cove at Waterways (2169 Lake Shore Blvd. W.)
•Onni Group of Companies — Under construction: Westlake (Lake Shore Blvd. W. and Park Lawn Rd.)
Article By Toronto Star: Ryan Starr Staff Reporter., Published on Thu Apr 17 2014.
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