ONE Properties makes third attempt to build in the Gay Village

By Sophia de Guzman

Following earlier rejection by the city and the Land Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), developer ONE Properties has resubmitted a proposal to build in Toronto’s historic Gay Village. The real estate giant’s third attempt at developing the prime Church and Wellesley location includes a heritage property at 64 Wellesley Street East.

At a virtual consultation in June, the city outlined its “guiding principles” and priorities, for the development. These principles seemed to echo the concerns of small communities across Toronto to preserve cultural and historical spaces.

“The Village is shrinking, and that’s the concern,” said David Kraft, who has been working at popular gay bar Woody’s for 15 years, about changes he’s seen in this historic neighbourhood.

Since the initial bid in 2017, ONE Properties has gone local, switching its architect from Danish firm 3XN to Toronto-based Graziani and Corazza. It has also employed as a consultant one of Toronto’s biggest firms in community planning, Bousfields Inc.

The current proposal for the site consists of a 28-storey apartment building attached to seven primarily commercial storeys (scaling down to six towards the street front). Should the proposal succeed, the development would be the third tallest building in the block, with 35- and 37-storey front-runners a few metres east.

The development’s height, both residential and commercial, played a major role in the proposal’s previous rejections, with a past iteration entailing a 43-storey apartment building. ONE Properties also traded its previous conception of a two-level open-seating amphitheatre for a more under-stated indoor commercial plaza. The space, it explained at the consultation meeting, is intended to serve as a community gathering place, and for exhibits on local queer history or musical performances.

“To envision it, think of a community room,” the developers said at the consultation meeting. The city’s Site Area Specific Policy (SASP) outlines the need to preserve the “Church Street Village Character Area,” criticized as lacking in the previous proposal. The latest version shows the original face of the heritage building at 64 Wellesley incorporated into the new building.

While tenants of the previous residential buildings have been promised replacement units in the new development at the same rent, businesses in the to-be-torn-down commercial spaces, have no place to go should the project break ground. And some don’t mind that at all.

“I believe [the Village is] going to get messier before it gets cleaner, but it does need a revamp. So I’m for the development; I just would [still] love to stay here,” said Stephen Yorke, owner of Dead Dog Records. Dubbed “your friendly neighbourhood record store” on its website, Dead Dog opened the Church Street location as a pop-up shop for Pride festivities nearly four years ago but has stayed in place as progress on the project repeatedly stalled.

Dead Dog’s assistant manager, David Kirk, who has also lived near the Village for around 15 years and frequented it since he was a teenager, said the neighbourhood “doesn’t feel the way it used to. Some of that is not great, but not all of it is terrible.

“Social attitudes have changed and people have become more accepting [so] queer spaces are more spread out. There are a lot of supportive places that are not specifically queer, [though] I do believe that queer-specific places are still really important.”

ONE Properties is currently revising the project, after receiving comments from the public and the city, and hopes to resubmit it this year. Once again, appeals to the LPAT, now Ontario Land Tribunal, are possible.