Ask Trolleybus Urban Development founding partner and president Doug Hochglaube what his company does and he likens it to the game of Monopoly.
“You have to assemble all of the groups of colours on the board before you can start putting up houses on them,” Hochglaube told RENX. “Similarly, in the real world, Trolleybus assembles multiple parcels of land and puts them together for development.”
Hochglaube launched Trolleybus in his kitchen in November 2010 after a period as a senior member of the real estate acquisitions team at Intracorp, and working in risk arbitrage in the capital markets before that. Both involved unlocking value and creating something sustainable that people wanted, which laid the groundwork for Trolleybus.
There are now about 15 people — including in-house municipal planners, architects, financial analysts and real estate acquisition managers — working on low-rise, mid-rise and high-rise development projects in the Greater Toronto Area for the self-funded company.
Trolleybus’ acquisition and growth strategy involves knowing a market, understanding zoning currents and the potential for change, and then being able to connect that information to create housing.
“It was always the intention to specialize in land assemblies and go into a niche area within the industry that was very complicated,” said Hochglaube. “Things that are harder help you grow and get stronger.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to creating assemblies. Hochglaube and his team members walk the streets looking at various locations — envisioning where townhomes could become mid-rise buildings and mid-rise buildings could become high-rises.
They’ll also look at a neighbourhood’s infrastructure to see what might be sustainable in terms of growth.
“Trolleybus is certainly positioned to really drive the underlying growth of the city and to work with existing stakeholders in the city and in the community,” said Hochglaube. “We love to engage with them and we love the city that we’re in because it’s organic and evolving and growing.”
Trolleybus looks for properties with these attributes: close proximity to transit or highway access; being close to key consumer amenities; being in communities undergoing rebirth and revitalization; and being able to support intensification while optimizing existing infrastructure.
Hochglaube cites the example of Trolleybus’ Briar Towns project near Bayview Avenue and Sheppard Avenue East in North York, where four semi-detached houses with eight units built in the 1960s were redeveloped into 28 new townhomes.
Behind the scenes of Trolleybus assemblies
Trolleybus follows city council and planning meetings and examines planning documents while looking at five to 10 sites a week where it believes it can unlock more housing.
“We search for sites in the city that can accommodate more housing in various forms,” said Hochglaube. “We believe in bringing more families to neighbourhoods to help city-building.
“It also supports all of the local businesses and ensures a strong business community. We talk to the people who give a neighbourhood its character when we walk the streets. We talk about the area and the community to find out what’s good about it and what could use improvements.”
Trolleybus will layer zoning maps over contour maps and do two-dimensional and three-dimensional visualization assessments, then draw out how a block might develop before deciding on moving forward.
It can take six months to a year, or longer, to do this and meet with key stakeholders and those who live in the area while establishing a rapport and relationships in order to get to know people’s thoughts and explain Trolleybus’ goals.
Trolleybus reinforces its commitment to creating strong and vibrant communities through donations, sponsorships and volunteering to support local health care, social advocacy and education initiatives.
Putting in the work and bringing in partners
Many developers aren’t willing to put the time and effort into creating complicated and drawn-out land assemblies, according to Hochglaube, which creates opportunities for Trolleybus.
“My staff is fantastic,” he said. “We continuously hone our skills and our abilities and we’re very passionate about what we do.”
Depending on the development and its timeline, Trolleybus will look at bringing in an appropriate builder partner. The company has established good relationships and worked with the likes of Capital Developments, Marlin Spring, Block Developments and Rockport Group.
Trolleybus is partnering with Capital on the 32-storey, 358-unit Azura Condos project that’s completely sold and nearing completion at 15 Holmes Ave., near Yonge Street and Finch Avenue in North York.
Assembling the site involved acquiring a townhome complex and two single-family homes, and dealing with three different owners, over a year-long period.
Trolleybus has 12 high-rise and 13 low-rise communities listed on its website and there are more to come.
“By the end of the year there are going to be a few projects that are going to create a buzz in a very positive way,” said Hochglaube. “We’re gearing up for applications.”