Leaving and staying: Where downsizers can move out of the house but not their beloved neighbourhood


A new breed of condo building helps buyers move, but remain in the neighbourhoods they love.

Driving east on the Gardiner towards downtown, there’s a point where the road rises slightly to the northeast, just where it splits off towards Lakeshore Boulevard. As you crest the hill, a wide phalanx of identical condos rises in front of you, which — for those with an eye to the artistic in everyday life — has a Cubist, futuristic look that’s quite arresting.

Now, it’s true that the thousands of people who live in those condos must have a thriving community based on their shared surroundings and lifestyle, but it’s also true that not everyone wants to live that way. There’s another group of buyers who would prefer to live in the same surroundings where they grew up and raised their families, and to enjoy the practical benefits that condo life offers without giving up what they see as the comforts of home. And that’s translated into a growing demand for buildings in the heart of some of the city’s oldest and most established neighbourhoods.

Usually, these developments are quite different from the high-rise towers that are increasingly populating the core; they’re generally smaller and lower, offer larger units that feature traditional, home-like designs, and incorporate outdoor spaces such as expanded terraces that emulate a garden or deck. But most important, they’re situated in areas that allow residents to enjoy the parks, tree-lined avenues and sidewalks of their own neighbourhoods, a perk that downtown buildings, however attractive, can’t offer.

Wendy Marshall is a perfect example of this kind of buyer. She has lived and raised her family in the same house in Leaside for 45 years, and her kids and grandkids are all within a few blocks. She says she hadn’t really been looking in earnest to buy a condo until she heard about The Upper House, a seven-storey community going up a couple of blocks away near Millwood and Laird. She became one of the first to purchase a unit in the new building.

“It’s even closer to my grandkids than where I’m living now,” she explains. “And I love the location. It’s right next to the Leaside Community Centre, where I skate and take aquafit classes, and I’m a great walker, so I can walk to the stores and restaurants on Laird.”

One of the attractions of the unit she chose was its 300-square foot terrace, accessible from sliding doors off the main living space. “I’m an outdoorsy person, and I’ve always had flowers and plants, so I can build a planter garden out there.” While the main space of her unit is open plan, it features an enclosed entry hall that feels a little like — well, a house. “I really like the way they’ve designed it; it’s not just a plain building, and it has only seven storeys, so I like that there won’t be a huge number of people living there.”

TeaGarden Condos, going up in the Bayview Village area, is a little more conventional in its glasswalled, mid-rise design, but at 11 storeys, it\ has a boutique feeling that appeals to neighbourhood buyers. According to Henry Strasser, the principal of the condo’s builder, Phantom Developments, sales among young people who grew up nearby have been particularly strong. TeaGarden is a sequel of sorts to an earlier Phantom project close by, Jade Condos, which appealed to a similar market and sold quickly.

“There is definitely a growing niche for neighbourhood condos; people who are downsizing from larger houses or people who have grown up here want to stay in the area,” Strasser says. “We purposely made the prices attractive, so that a young couple with a baby, or empty nesters, would be attracted to living here.

Also, Bayview Village has been revamped, and people already know [it has] the best shopping, or want to stay close to their doctors and services such as that. Or they may have parents living nearby and want to be close to them.”

Both The Upper House and TeaGarden are set on the edges of neighbourhoods that themselves are changing and are able to smoothly accommodate new types of both residential and commercial architecture. But what about established neighbourhoods, such as Forest Hill, known for stately 1920s singlefamily homes and fiercely protective residents’ associations?

Code Condos on St. Clair West, just east of Spadina, occupies the site of a former seniors’ building that had run into obstacles during an earlier attempt at redevelopment, and had been standing empty for some time. BLVD Developments took over and created what has proven to be a wellreceived improvement (the site sold out within three months).

Code offers the attractions of both an urban condo and a neighbourhood nesting site: at-door transit, shopping and restaurants within a few blocks, but also a beloved neighbourhood park across the street, and of course, a location in the heart of one of the city’s most desirable neighbourhoods.

“We actually had a broad mix of buyers,” says BLVD principal Brian Brown. “We thought it would be an even balance of owners and investors for rentalunits; but they were asking specific questions that people buying to rent out don’t. It was quite interesting.”

From the start, he says, the building was designed to a boutique model; its nine storeys feature stepped-back terraces, nine-foot ceilings and engineered hardwood flooring. The front entrance is on Parkwood Avenue instead of St. Clair, adding to its leafy demeanour, and the main floor residents’ lounge has a patio. But, Brown points out, one of the greatest attractions of the new building is actually right across the street: Winston Churchill Park, with its connections to walking and jogging trails, lighted tennis courts, playground and wideopen green space.

“Boutique buildings have a different style than downtown high-rises,” Brown says. “There’s more character. They’re a bit more difficult to offer from a developer’s perspective — it’s harder to find the land to build on, for example — but there is certainly a growing demand. It’s also a slightly different buyer than for a downtown high-rise.

A lot of our buyers were people who had lived in their houses for years and were moving into a condo for the first time — they were realizing they could stay in the neighbourhood, but without the headaches of owning a home.”

As Wendy Marshall admits, “Going down from 2,200 to 1,034 square feet will require some adjusting. But as I get older, I don’t want to bother with the upkeep of a house any more. I have the luxury of time, to go through my things and get rid of the clutter while they finish the building. I’m actually looking forward to it.”

The Upper House: theupperhousecondos.com; suites from 435 sq.ft. to 1,389 sq.ft, townhouses from 1,059 sq.ft. to 1,509 sq.ft; $300,000s and up.
TeaGarden Condos: teagardencondos.com; suites from 484 to 1,119 sq.ft., plus eight town lofts; from the mid- $200,000s.
Code Condos are sold out.

Originally published by: National Post