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Toronto needs more 'gentle density,' planner says

The developers behind a new residential unit at 111 Roncesvalles are hoping their 'simple' approach to adding density will catch on in other parts of the city.

Caran Construction is building a storey and a half of residential housing on top of this commercial building on Roncesvalles Avenue. The city’s chief planner says it’s an example of how housing can be added to a neighbourhood without altering the character.

Eduardo Lima/Metro

Caran Construction is building a storey and a half of residential housing on top of this commercial building on Roncesvalles Avenue. The city’s chief planner says it’s an example of how housing can be added to a neighbourhood without altering the character.

A new development on Toronto’s hip Roncesvalles stretch is being hailed as a model for adding “gentle density” to growing neighbourhoods.

Caran Construction is adding a storey and a half of residential units atop of one of the street’s typical brick commercial buildings at 111 Roncesvalles Ave.

It’s a modest development, but one that Toronto’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, says will add much-needed housing stock to the area.

“Getting the density right on Roncesvalles is really important. It’s such a wonderful, walkable main street,” she said. “There’s been an incredible revitalization and there will be more pressure and interest in adding density to the neighbourhood.”

In contrast to the midrise complexes being built north on Roncesvalles, or the giant condos along the lakeshore to the south, Keesmaat called Caran’s project an example of “gentle density.”

“It’s just gently inserting a little more than what exists today,” she said.

Most main streets in Toronto are already zoned for up to five storeys, Keesmaat said, meaning developers could duplicate what’s happening on Roncesvalles without a lot of paperwork.

“It’s just getting a building permit, that’s all,” said Caran co-owner Marco Caravaggio. “I’m kind of surprised this isn’t going on more in other parts of the city.”

Caravaggio lives near Roncesvalles and said proximity was one of the reasons he opted for building something that’s “in keeping with the character” of the area.

“I’ve got neighbours I have to talk to when I take out the trash in the morning,” he joked. “So why bother going the bad developer route and try to push something through the Ontario Municipal Board.”

Caravaggio said Roncesvalles is a neighbourhood where, “if your stroller is too wide, you bump into other strollers on the street,” so each of the three rental units in the building will be large enough for a family.

They should be complete by next fall, he said. 

One of the barriers to smaller-scale intensification in Toronto can be minimum parking rules, which require developers to add a certain amount of parking spaces per unit. However, Keesmaat said that’s not an issue on Roncesvalles, which is home to a streetcar line and a bike lane.

“It’s a corridor where we the complete streets infrastructure in place. The emphasis is already on walking, so we can add more people without adding more cars,” she said. 

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