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225 Brunswick Ave is yet another example of why the missing middle is so damn hard to deliver

Building buildings is really hard.

It’s hard for countless reasons, but one reason in particular is that it can be difficult to please everyone. Take parking, for example. This is often a primary concern when you’re trying to develop something new. Too little parking and people might be concerned that cars will start flooding the surrounding streets in search of a spot. Too much parking and people might be concerned about traffic congestion. So it can often feel like you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

I thought of this as I was reading through Alex Bozikovic’s recent opinion piece in the Globe and Mail called, “Yes, in my backyard: How urban planning must shift to meet our postpandemic challenges.” In it, he mentions a small missing middle-type infill project at 225 Brunswick Avenue here in Toronto. A century-old office building located in a residential neighborhood, a small developer has been working (with Suulin Architects) since 2018 to convert it into seven apartments.

Here are a few photos:

This is the kind of infill housing that planning staff and many councillors are trying to encourage across the city. And yet, the year is 2021. This developer is on year three in a process that will, maybe, deliver a total of seven new rental homes. There are also many other examples that we can point to in the city that have faced similar challenges, like this one here on Gerrard Street East. While not nearly as interesting architecturally speaking, it would have delivered 10 new homes proximate to transit. Maybe that will still happen. I can’t say for sure.

I’m not going to get into the specifics of any one proposal, but two things are clear to me: (1) Our city, and many other cities around the world, have a need for more missing middle-type infill housing and (2) our system is greatly flawed if it takes years and years to ultimately green light the delivery of only a half dozen or so new homes.

Time equals money. And when we make the process this difficult it means that many developers aren’t going to bother (because the math probably doesn’t work) and that the ones who are successful will need to absorb a bunch of unnecessary costs in the end pricing/rents of their homes (i.e. make the homes more expensive than they need to be).

225 Brunswick is exactly the kind of project that I would love to work on: a small-scale adaptive reuse project where design is clearly a priority. But with a 3-4 year entitlement timeline (perhaps longer?), it’s simply not worth it (though I do commend the efforts of the project team). I’m sure many others feel the same way that I do and that’s unfortunate when you’re trying to build a more vibrant, inclusive, and competitive global city.

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