Leaside’s become a demolition derby

Saving old Leaside

The former Sunnybrook Plaza. Photo Geoff Kettel.
The former Sunnybrook Plaza. Photo Geoff Kettel.

Leaside has a growing collection of empty sites waiting for development. Demolish, then construct – right? Well, not necessarily. How about Lake Leaside between Vanderhoof and Wicksteed? And there’s the further demolition of adjacent buildings at Laird and Parkhurst, this winter. And now Sunnybrook Plaza, this spring. Let’s unpack this.

First, the rules. The City allows demolition of commercial buildings without a building permit in place for new construction – so that’s the Lake Leaside and Laird situation.   What about Sunnybrook Plaza?

Now let’s look at Sunnybrook Plaza (660 Eglinton Avenue East) as a prime example of the changes in the development landscape.

Sunnybrook Plaza

This update is based on information provided by Kelly Wilson, senior vice president, development, at a meeting with the Leaside Residents Association (Geoff Kettel and Doug Obright) on April 4, 2024. The LRA appreciates the extraordinary access to development chronology information afforded by Concert Properties.   

Sunnybrook Plaza was the first major development application to be proposed in anticipation of the coming of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. Following mediation, the developer (RioCan), the City, and the then Leaside Property Owners Association (LPOA) reached a settlement agreement in December, 2016 for a two-tower project (11 and 16 storeys). In 2017, Concert Properties purchased a 50% interest in Sunnybrook Plaza and assumed the role of development and construction manager for the project. RioCan and Concert planned to build a mixed-use, purpose-built market rental project, and between 2017 and 2019 further developed the design, focusing on constructability, sustainability, durability, maximizing building efficiency, and functional suite designs.

In March, 2019 Sunnybrook Plaza tenants were given one year’s notice to vacate to allow demolition/construction to commence in 2020. However, in the spring of 2020 the Ontario government entered the pandemic lockdown. Tenants vacated the buildings as planned. Concert continued with its planning, receiving site plan approval in 2021. But the pandemic severely disrupted occupancy levels and rental rates, especially in new purpose-built rental buildings in Toronto. Concert and RioCan were forced to abandon plans to build purpose-built rental at Sunnybrook Plaza due to increased risk and poor financial viability. As a result, the residential buildings were significantly redesigned to meet condominium market rather than rental standards. Sales launch for the Sunnybrook Plaza condo was planned for the spring of 2023.  

What happened?

In 2023 and into 2024 the condominium market has seen severe disruption with interest rate hikes leading to slowing condo sales. Meanwhile costs have risen dramatically in construction materials, financing rate hikes and interest on purchaser deposits. As a result, the project launch was deemed to be not financially viable, and the condo sales campaign has been delayed indefinitely. 

Demolition of Sunnybrook Plaza buildings, to clean up the site, improve safety, and mitigate liability risks occurred this winter and spring. Concert salvaged and donated items deemed as having heritage value (specifically the clock tower and the Sunnybrook sign) to Leaside Heritage Preservation Society.

Changes in the market now lead the developer to believe that the project, as currently designed, may never be financially viable. To mitigate this possibility, they are now forced to explore the redesign and rezoning possibilities for the site.  

Stay tuned. There is sure to be more on this development site to come.

About Geoff Kettel 221 Articles
Geoff Kettel is a community connector and advocate for “making places better”. He is currently Co-President of the Leaside Residents Association, Co-Chair of the Federation of North Toronto Residents‘ Associations (FoNTRA), member of the Toronto Preservation Board and Past Chair of the North York Community Preservation Panel. He writes a monthly column on heritage and planning in Leaside Life.