Mixed-use condos ideal for residents, developers, municipal planners

Canadian cities are seeing a trend toward more mixed-used condominium developments, experts observe, with such structures seemingly serving the interests of many different players.

Greg Rogers, executive vice-president of Minto Group, which has a number of mix-used condo developments either built or planned for Toronto and Ottawa, said there will be more of these types developments in the future. With most cities trying to create more vibrant urban areas and create greater density, he said mixed-use condos are ideal for residents, developers and municipal planners.

“As the urban areas intensify, the urban populations increase and the demand for retail increases of all kinds — restaurants, shops, all sorts of things — and all the retailers want to be in these urban areas where the trade area is effectively growing,” Rogers said.

He said business owners like being close to the homes of their prospective customers, condo residents enjoy the convenience of nearby services, while the developers can get up to twice the return from commercial occupants leasing or buying parts of the ground floor — which aren’t the prime spots for prospective homebuyers — compared the return on residential spaces.

Mixed use buildings introduce new stores

Alain Miguelez, a development review manager with the City of Ottawa’s planning department, said mixed-use condos are seen favourably by a variety of stakeholders including the municipality, developers, residents that will live there and the residents already in the surrounding neighbourhoods.

“A mixed-use building has a way of introducing two things,” he said. “One is new stores for the neighbourhood that everyone can benefit from and new population to make the street livelier.”

Miguelez said if residents have concerns about condominium buildings being built in their neighbourhood, height or traffic implications are some of the typical issues raised. Seldom is the addition of new commercial activity a problem for people, he said.

Phase 1 of a recently completed Ottawa condo 'Central' by developer Urban Capital located at the corner of Bank St. and Gladstone. A Shoppers Drug Mart occupies a retail space at one end of the building at street level and there is a Starbucks on the other end not visible in the picture.

Lessening urban sprawl by intensifying development

It fits the municipality’s goal of lessening urban sprawl by intensifying development in established areas, Miguelez said, adding that developers are usually more than happy to co-operate.

“They see the opportunity,” he said. “They see how it enhances the saleability of a building.”

Miguelez agreed there is a general trend is toward more mixed-use condominium developments in Canada’s bigger cities “where there already are established and healthy urban environments that lend themselves to high volumes of pedestrian traffic and where the housing market shows a measurable inclination toward residential opportunities at locations where one can function on foot.”

He said it marks a return a more “organic way” of city building that was the norm until midway through the 20th century when sprawling suburbs became more common.

Toronto a leader in mixed-use development

Gregg Lintern, acting chief planner for the City of Toronto, said mixed-used development is “nothing new” for his city, which often requires the incorporation of retail and/or office use as a condition for building condos in certain areas. He said more cities now are catching on to the logic behind it.

Conventional wisdom among planners nowadays is to move away from the postwar pattern of separating the areas where people live, work and shop, Lintern said.

“If you put it all in one area and mix it up, it makes a lot more sense and better things happen,” he said, noting in particular how it eases strain on the city’s transportation system.

Hullmark Centre from the Hullmark website.

A project in progress by Tridel Corp. and Hullmark Developments, to be called the Hullmark Centre, in Toronto’s North York sector is an example of how dynamic these projects can get.

With some parts of this project expected to be ready for occupancy this fall, the Hullmark Centre will have about one million square feet of residential, office and retail space. Most of the 68,000 square feet of retail will be taken up by a Whole Foods Market grocery store on the ground floor.

Above that, there will be about 250,000 square feet of office space with the rest taken up by residential units in two towers standing 45 and 37 storeys high.

The Hullmark Centre also features indoor connections to Toronto’s subway line.

“There’s more value added in a multi-use community like this,” said Jim Ritchie, Tridel’s senior vice-president of sales and marketing. “For the residential component, obviously, there’s great convenience to having a Whole Foods grocery store in your same community.”

Foresight in design minimizes impact on community

Mixed-used condos do require some foresight on the part of developers and planners to ensure the residential and commercial functions do not clash with each other.

“It’s complicated because you need to provide for loading and garbage disposal, parking, security and things like that,” Minto’s Rogers said.

Miguelez cited how a condo development in downtown Ottawa by Claridge Homes — called Tribeca — is set include a 25,000-square foot Sobeys grocery store on the ground floor. Such an operation is expected to have deliveries arriving overnight. To mitigate the disturbance for residents, an indoor-loading garage has been incorporated into the plans.

For other projects, Miguelez said, efforts are made to place buffers between the residential areas and commercial operations, such as placing fitness centres or other common areas between restaurants and where people live.

Rogers said one of the most important things to do is making sure such developments are esthetically appealing at the ground level, which will be looked at more than a buildings’ upper levels.

“Focus on the streetscape and how you merge your building with the community,” he said. “That, to me, is the trick of good development. . . . Where you meet the street, where you merge with the community, is critically important.”

Ann launched RENX in 2001 as a part-time venture and has grown the publication to become a primary source of online news for the Canadian real estate industry. Prior to…

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Ann launched RENX in 2001 as a part-time venture and has grown the publication to become a primary source of online news for the Canadian real estate industry. Prior to…

Read more

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