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Jam-packed Dufferin St. is speeding toward rapid densification




It only takes a few minutes for the TTC stops at Dufferin and Bloor to become jammed with people waiting in line for a bus — so what’s going to happen when thousands of new residents move into the area?

On any given weekday travellers pour up the stairs from the subway stop below. Teenagers from nearby Bloor Collegiate stream to the bus. The students share jokes and listen to music on each other’s headphones, standing at the bus stop alongside people who’ve just wrapped up an afternoon of shopping at the popular Dufferin Mall.

People jam onto a Dufferin St. bus — the fourth busiest bus route in Toronto — at Bloor St. Dufferin St. is set for multiple highrise developments set to bring thousands more people into the area.
People jam onto a Dufferin St. bus — the fourth busiest bus route in Toronto — at Bloor St. Dufferin St. is set for multiple highrise developments set to bring thousands more people into the area.  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)

You’ll find local residents in the line, like Kerry McArthur, a business owner who sometimes uses the Dufferin bus to get around.

“The bus can get pretty packed. I’m not looking forward to getting on,” McArthur says, as she stays warm inside Dufferin station on a frigid afternoon, looking through the glass for the southbound Dufferin 29 bus. It’s the fourth busiest bus route in Toronto with a daily ridership of 39,720 boardings, according to the latest TTC figures.

McArthur and others in her community are anxious because in the coming years the already crowded Dufferin-Bloor area will become home to a major development that will see about 2,100 units of housing, a mix of apartment units and condos that is still being ironed out by the development partnership of Capital Developments and Metropia.

And recently, residents learned that another corporation, Primaris, is interested in developing the north parking lot of the Dufferin Mall, just south of Bloor, and turning it into as many as four apartment towers. A community meeting between residents and the developer is planned for Monday night, although the project is just an idea with no formal drawings.

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Meanwhile another developer received approval last year from the city to construct Reimagine Galleria — six buildings a few blocks north, at Dufferin and Dupont St., the current 8-hectare site of the Galleria Mall shopping centre and a community centre. The 10-year build-out calls for 2,800 residential units, including 150 affordable rental apartments.

And there are other developments planned for Dufferin as far south as Queen St. and as far north as the Yorkdale Mall area.

Taken together, there’s little argument that all of these projects will place heavy demands on Dufferin, a street that a century and a half ago was a muddy, underused roadway, but is now bursting at the seams.

Dufferin and Bloor is ground zero for the development boom, which has the attention of local residents.

The vacant 3-hectare parcel of land that will be the site of a massive condo project. Currently, there are three TDSB buildings on the site.
The vacant 3-hectare parcel of land that will be the site of a massive condo project. Currently, there are three TDSB buildings on the site.  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)

They worry that transit, roads, parks, schools and local infrastructure might not be able to support the planned influx of future residents to the area.

The service on the Dufferin bus is a major sore point.

Locals say sometimes service is sporadic, with 10- or 20-minute waits, followed by two or three buses arriving in a row. And it’s often standing room only once you get on board — both during the week and on weekends.

Members of a newly formed community group say they aren’t out to try to block the new projects slated for their community.

“We’re not against residential development or intensification — you hear about residents’ groups concerned about heights, parking, things like that. Those aren’t the primary concerns for us. We’re concerned about things that have an impact on diversity, affordability and inclusion in our neighbourhood,” says Emily Paradis, co-chair of Build a Better Bloor Dufferin (BBBD), a local community group in the area that is watching the planned development projects closely.

“We recognize that downtown neighbourhoods, especially those close to the subway line, should intensify. It’s where development should be happening. We have a fantastic neighbourhood and we’re proud and happy to accept new folks,” Paradis says.

Emily Paradis is co-chair of Build a Better Bloor Dufferin (BBBD), a community group concerned that massive housing development projects in the area could strain services in the area and displace low-income residents.
Emily Paradis is co-chair of Build a Better Bloor Dufferin (BBBD), a community group concerned that massive housing development projects in the area could strain services in the area and displace low-income residents.  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)

“But what we’re concerned about is that development happen in an intentional way that takes into account the pressures on existing infrastructure especially social infrastructure like schools, arts organizations, non-profits, affordable housing, park space as well as community and recreation spaces,” she adds.

Monday’s meeting between the developer Primaris, BBBD members and other residents was called after the surprise news the company was interested in turning Dufferin Mall’s northern parking lots into towers.

The site in question is across the street from a three-hectare parcel of land the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) sold for redevelopment a few years ago, land that is part of the Bloor-Dufferin project involving Capital and Metropia.

The Bloor-Dufferin project is the subject of a Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, an adjudicative body that hears cases related to municipal planning and land matters. The developer has launched an appeal to the body, arguing the city hasn’t made a decision on the development application within the time prescribed in the Ontario Planning Act.

One sticking point for the city is that the current zoning for the area doesn’t allow for significant heights, a spokesperson in the city’s planning department explained. The project calls for seven new buildings ranging from six to 40 storeys.

So the conversations happening between the city and the developer are about striking the right balance in terms of heights and densities for the project, the planning official says.

But the project will also feature a new park and new streets, which the city sees as “good things” the planning official added.

Danny Roth, a spokesperson for Capital Developments, which is handling marketing and media for the project, said in a statement: “We believe that the ongoing approval process and the contributions of city staff, the local councillor (Ana Bailao) and area residents, together with our distinct vision for the site, will ensure a development influenced by the neighbourhood’s past, invigorated by the current community, and inspired by the future needs of an increasingly dynamic city.”

He declined to comment further because the project is before the appeal tribunal.

Capital Developments, in partnership with Metropia, is working on a large housing development proposal eyed for Dufferin and Bloor Sts.
Capital Developments, in partnership with Metropia, is working on a large housing development proposal eyed for Dufferin and Bloor Sts.  (Capital Developments)

Meanwhile, the new Dufferin Mall parking lot plan — Primaris hopes to present a rezoning application to the city sometime in May or June — has only added to residents’ fears about the cumulative effect all of this development will have in the coming years.

“When this type of redevelopment starts to pick up speed, that puts pressure on land values in the neighbourhood. We see residential rents increasing and lower and moderate tenants getting pushed out as a result,” Paradis, the co-chair of the BBBD groups, says.

“Commercial rents are increasing too. We’ve seen arts organizations and non-profit front-line services having trouble retaining spaces in the neighbourhood. A number have had to move due to increased costs and rents. We want spaces that non-profits can have access to,” she adds.

The Bloor-Dufferin area also has a shortage of purpose-built rental buildings (many area renters live in basement apartments).

Matthew Kingston, vice-president of development for Primaris and a resident who has lived in the Bloor-Dufferin area with his family since 2014, says it’s the company’s “intention today” for all of its residential towers on the site to be purpose-built rental apartments, but that is subject to what happens in the future with government policies.

“For example if rent control was brought back by a new (provincial) government and we were at a stage when we were looking to start leasing, or we hadn’t completed leasing yet, we might need to change the tenure because it may no longer be financially viable for us to stay as rental,” Kingston says.

Primaris, a developer and retail mall owner, owns the 10 hectares the Dufferin Mall sits on.

Regarding the congestion caused by buses and cars on Dufferin and the impact the new developments will have on this, Kingston argues alternative modes of transportation need to be brought into the mix.

“Lyft, Uber, how will they work to alleviate traffic? What about bike sharing? I use a bike share to get to work every day at Yonge and Adelaide. Getting downtown is nice from our neighbourhood. I think we’ve been car-centric as a city. We need to look at alternative modes,” he says.

Deputy Mayor Ana Bailao, the councillor for Davenport, which Dufferin St. runs through, says she has been pushing the TTC since 2016 to look at its transit service on Dufferin in light of the increasing development.

Her push played a role in the TTC introducing an express bus service in October that only stops at major intersections.

“The city has two options. Either we say we’re going to close our doors to new people coming into the city, or we’re going to plan and invest in our services and in growing our city. I think what we have to do — it is not enough now — but we’re continuing to look at the Dufferin route,” she said in an interview.

“For the Galleria development we made sure we accommodated for bus bays, we accommodated for a loop so if in the future we want to cut or change the route, we have the opportunity to use that site as a loop site.

“So these are the things that are important to incorporate as these developments are approved.”

As for Dufferin and Bloor, Bailao says there are discussions going on at the city about whether a tunnel should be built from the north side to the south side of Bloor to lessen the pedestrian activity on the street corners of that intersection.

She says the city has made “mistakes” in planning in other parts of the city — Liberty Village for example where “transit is still not there” to the levels needed to meet the demands of the community.

Bailao says she is “fighting hard” to ensure those mistakes aren’t repeated.

Donovan Vincent is a housing reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @donovanvincent


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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal




MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow




Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise




Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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