LFP Longform: Highrise Building Boom Will Transform London’s Skyline

  • 11/27/18
  • |          London

The highrise building boom in London shows no sign of slowing, city hall building officials say.

The city has seven applications for apartment building permits — and during the last four years, 40 permits have been issued for apartment construction with about half of those being major towers of more than 100 units, said Peter Kokkoros, deputy chief building official with city hall.

“In five years, the skyline of this city will change completely,” Kokkoros said.

There are a healthy number of apartment towers coming in the near future. Based on what is in the system now, and what council has approved, there is a significant amount of towers.”

Although about half of the permits issued during the past four years are for more than 100 units, a bulk of the others are mid-rise, five to eight storeys. Only a few are two to three storeys, he said.

At one recent city council meeting alone, more than 2,000 units were approved, including a massive $500-million, 1,300-unit development at Bostwick and Southdale roads in the city’s southwest.

It seems no matter where you are in the city, a new highrise has been built or is planned. But the greatest concentration is downtown. Now, there are 15 proposed for London’s core. Although it is likely several will not be built, many will and that is when the skyline will change.

“It is not slowing down,” Kokkoros said.

Kokkoros believes the tower boom began in about 2015, because the following year city hall issued permits for seven highrises of more than 100 units.

By comparison, in 2014 three permits were issued.

“I would say in 2015 there was some movement on an increase in building permit applications for highrises,” said Kokkoros.

As for who is building, established, experienced firms appear to be getting the job done, said Michael Tomazincic, an urban planner with city hall.

Tricar is one builder that always seems to seek new development opportunities downtown, other big players are always looking, such as York, Drewlo and Old Oak,” he said.

“The big players are in the highrise development game.”

Old Oak poured the foundation for a 32-storey tower at 515 Richmond St. this week. Another tower by Tricar, with 24 storeys, is under construction at 40 York St.

As for who will live in all these towers, city officials trust builders to know their market.

“The big threshold will be market demand, how many people wish to live in a highrise,” said Tomazincic.

“We rely on the private sector to know their market. I don’t think there is a concern when you look at the apartment vacancy rate (1.8 per cent). Whatever is being built is being scooped up.”

The city and region has seen population growth more than double the recent average. The population rose by 8,600 in 2017 and more than 7,000 the year before, higher than the previous average growth of just more than 4,000 annually, so the need is there.

“There is no shortage of optimism,” Tomazincic said.

Demographics are also a factor. As the population ages, people want to get out of their suburban homes.

In addition, affordability has emerged as a key driver for the growth of highrise development in London, said Andrew Scott, the senior analyst with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. for the London area.

As home prices rise, some are looking for cheaper accommodation.

A few things have happened. Market affordability has deteriorated. It’s an affordability issue,” said Scott.

We have seen prices the last few years growing at double digits and incomes have not kept up. Supply has dropped quite a bit and condos have become affordable options,” he said.

Highrise building also is stressed aspart of an Ontario government push called the Ontario Growth Plan to focus more building in cities, often referred to as “inward and upward” development in order to slow urban sprawl, save municipalities money on land services, and preserve green space and arable farmland, he said.

It is never just one driver, it is several. There is a growing preference for highrise living. It is the convenience factor, peoplwant to live close to amenities,” Scott said.

It also is not just towers. In 2017, the city issued more than 1,000 permits for singly-family homes, the highest total ever in one year.

“We ask ourselves all the time, ‘Who is buying these?’” said Kokkoros.

City hall wants 45 per cent of all new residential building to be infill, meaning in the city and not in green areas, and that favours highrise building as the best way to get a lot of people living in a small area, said Coun. Stephen Turner, chairperson of council’s planning committee.

“There are cost savings” of $40 million a year if 45 per cent of new building is in the city, he said. “Over the next 50 years, that is $2-billion in servicing needs” the city will have saved.

He also credits a hot local economy, with an unemployment rate near a record low at 4.9 per cent, as a reason for the building.

It shows confidencin the city. This is something to be happy about.”

London population growth

  • 8,600, in 2017
  • 7,300, 2016
  • More than 4,000, on average in preceding years.

2017 Growth – Where people came from:

  • 2,461 – Other parts of Ontario
  • 2,346 – Non-permanent residents, students and temporary foreign workers
  • 1,855 – Immigrants, refugees
  • 1,030 – Natural growth, of births minus deaths
  •    922 – Other parts of Canada

Highrise building in London and area

2018:  2,927 units now under construction, may take two to three years to build.

2017: 448 units built

2016: 1,117 units built

2015:  443 units built

2014: 558 units built

2013:  625 units built

Townhouse building in London and area

2018: 713 units under construction

2017: 664 built

2016: 287 built

2015: 371 built

2014: 317 built

2013: 282 built

Downtown highrise towers

Rezoning: It means the city will allow it to be built on that site.

Site Plan: A proposal from the developer on how the development will be built, considered the final major hurdle before construction, necessary to get a building permit.

505 Talbot St.

  • Tricar Group
  • 29-storey, 200-unit luxury condo named Azure
  • Status: Complete

515 Richmond St.

  • Old Oak Properties
  • 32-storeys, 175-units.
  • Status: Under construction.

40 York St.

  • Tricar Group
  • 24 storeys, 212 units
  • Status: Under construction

131 King St.

  • York Developments
  • 30-storeys, 266 units
  • Status: Approved by city council. No site plan.

809 Dundas St.

  • Paramount Inc.
  • Twin, 24-storey towers, 480 units
  • Will offer 25 affordable housing units for 25 years,
  • Status: Approved by city council. No site plan.

147-149 Wellington St.

  • Jam Properties Inc.
  • 18-storey residential building
  • 0.44 hectares
  • Rezoned. No site plan.

195 Dundas St.

  • Danforth London Ltd.
  • Former London Mews at King and Clarence strets
  • $300-million, three-tower development
  • 700 units
  • The first tower: A 25-storey, 140-unit tower at 195 Dundas is the first of the three planned highrises.
  • Status: Rezoned. A site plan application has been submitted.

391 South Street

  • Medallion Corp.
  • 19 and 23 storeys proposed for the SoHo area on the site of the former Victoria Hospital lands
  • The first phase of proposed multi-phase development
  • About 600 units.
  • Status: Zoning approved. No site plan.

479-489 Talbot St.

  • Rygar Properties
  • $300 million, 700-units.
  • A nine-storey building flanked by towers of 38 and 29 stories between Fullarton street and Dufferin avenue.
  • On the site of the former Camden Terrace
  • Status: Rezoned. There is a site plan application.

661 and 667 Talbot St.

  • Drewlo Holdings
  • 16-storeys, 236-units
  • Locust Mount Estate site.
  • Status: Rezoned. No site plan application.

560-562 Wellington Street

  • Auburn Developments
  • 22-storey tower, 151 units
  • Wellington Street at Wolfe Street, across from Victoria Park.
  • Status: City staff recommended denying the application. It has been referred back to staff.

96 Ridout St. S.

  • Tricar Group
  • 22-storey, 191 units.
  • Status: Zoning approved. No site plan application.

455 Clarence St.

  • Land owner George Anastasiadis
  • 32-storey, 182-units.
  • Status: Rezoned. No site plan.

183 King St.

  • Southside Group
  • 25-storey, 200-units.
  • Status: No zoning approved. No site plan. Dispute over building demolition.

50 King St.

  • Middlesex County
  • 30-storey, 200-units.
  • Status: Rezoned. No site plan.

Mid-size in the core

Richmond and York

  • 36 unit apartment, on site of former New Yorker cinema
  • For Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU)
  • Status: Site plan is in, YOU is still fundraising

356 Dundas St.

  • 69 affordable housing units
  • Status: Under construction
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