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Toronto’s surge in condo development is bringing exponential growth to many long-established residential neighbourhoods. In this series, we look at three emerging transit routes, and what’s developing along them. This week: The Eglinton LRT. Part two of three: People on the go
There is, to put it plainly, a lot of cool stuff on offer at the E Condos project, which will reshape the northeast corner of Yonge and Eglinton in the years to come. But convenient transit is the first pitch to buyers — it says “direct access to subway” right on the front page of the website.
You have to dig deeper into the sales materials to learn about the European-style piazza that will be created thanks to the decision of project partners Bazis, RioCan and Metropia to set the ground floor 18 metres from the property line and establish a new public space at the bustling intersection. You’ll have to click further for views of the gorgeous shared spaces, the work of Mike Niven Interior Design. Even a breathtaking indoor pool, with its deck cantilevered over the side of the building at the 31st floor — it will allow swimmers to drink in a view of the city through its transparent glass walls — takes a back seat in the sales pitch to the fact that a direct subway connection will link the TTC station with the two-tower project, expected to be completed in 2017.
Since the subway arrived in 1954, Eglinton has used its status as a major transit hub to bring itself up to the top ranks of Toronto streets. The last quarter-century has been particularly eventful. New retail and entertainment options and thousands of new condominium-dwelling residents add to its bustle and verve year by year. “We believe Yonge and Eglinton is just as good as Yonge and Bloor. It is a major, major intersection and that’s why we wanted to design a spectacular building — and Rosario [Varacalli, architect] did that — that will stand the test of time there,” says Michael Gold, president of Bazis. “It will also elevate the whole area.”
Today, the intersection is poised to join Yonge and Bloor as one of the city’s principal transit and population hubs thanks in part to an $ 8.4-billion light rail transit line under construction now and expected to be completed in 2020 or soon after. Anyone who follows Toronto politics will know very well that City Hall has been divided in two over the issue of whether the Eglinton LRT (officially called the Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown) will be partially or fully buried to separate it from car traffic. In the end, the forces calling for partial burial prevailed, and the LRT will only be tunnelled from around Keele Street in the west to Laird Drive in the east.
Will an LRT help Eglinton become the new Bloor, or will the fact that the street doesn’t have a full-fledged subway forever hold it back? The answer to that is partially in the hands of condominium buyers, whose patterns and preferences will ultimately decide Eglinton’s fate.
Anecdotal evidence so far suggests they will embrace light rail as enthusiastically, or nearly as enthusiastically, as they would a new subway line, says Jim Ritchie, senior vice-president of sales and marketing at Tridel. The developer has already seen buyers’ enthusiasm for light rail while selling units in its Aldo at Atria project on Sheppard Avenue East, near Consumers Road and close to the 404 and 401.
“The current plan is to have an LRT station right there. I know there was some controversy as to whether it was going to be underground or on the ground [on Sheppard], but it would appear now that it’s going to be an LRT and there’s a station virtually at the door of this condo community,” Mr. Ritchie says. So far, the above-ground light rail stop has attracted a comparable number of buyers as would flock to a project next door to a subway station.
“We developed a 40-storey building, with 578 suites, and we’ve managed to sell 75% of that in less than a year. I think from the user’s perspective, the fact is that an LRT is certainly better than a bus stop. It may not be as premium as a subway, but still, it’s viable public transportation,” Mr. Ritchie says.
Tridel is confident, then, that the Crosstown LRT will further encourage transit-riding buyers to move to Yonge and Eglinton, an area that already had plenty of appeal. That’s relevant for the developer’s 101 Erskine project, which consists of a luminous 32-storey tower with 420 units, plus 10 townhomes.
“Our primary pitch is where it is — being in that neighbourhood. It’s not right on Yonge Street, it’s just tucked away a little bit in a very residential environment. From our perspective, that was also appealing.
You’re in close proximity to everything Yonge Street has to offer, including the subway, but you’re not in the middle of the hubbub,” Mr. Ritchie says.
As for the LRT: “I know that that discussion is always there on the sales floor. That’s added flexibility in terms of transit options.”
Mr. Gold says the LRT is “a major selling point” for potential buyers, even if some of them have had (understandable) difficulty keeping up with its status amid all the to-and-fro politicking. “It is a major selling point, and our salespeople explain it to people,” he says.
Will the Crosstown LRT ignite a fever for condominiums along its entire 19-kilometre route? For the moment most of the development energizing Eglinton is being focused on the area immediately surrounding its intersection with Yonge Street. Some areas may develop cachet and attract clusters of development later, however. “Eglinton is very different from one end of the city to the other,” says Victoria Witkowski, a transportation planner for the city of Toronto. She says the city has not seen a spike in development applications along the LRT route yet.
As a clue to future growth potential, Eglinton may become even more important if it acts as the terminus for a future so-called Downtown Relief Line subway expansion, now under discussion at City Hall (but probably decades away). A new subway line might include a major transfer station at Don Mills and Eglinton. An infrastructure investment like that would immediately pique the interest of developers and buyers.
“If you look at our existing subway lines and even where the proposed subways are going, and even the LRTs, you will see a very high concentration of high-density housing there, especially condo communities,” Mr. Ritchie says. “We follow the subway.”