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U of T reaches agreement to build 23-storey student residence

The first new residence building to be constructed on the downtown Toronto campus in a decade will house 511 students in a bright, airy structure that mixes modern residence spaces with lively retail storefronts (renderings by Diamond Schmitt Architects)

Development at Spadina and Sussex Avenues is scheduled to be completed in 2021

Facing a housing crunch, the University of Toronto has reached an agreement with the city and local community groups that allows it to build a badly needed new 23-storey student residence at the corner of Spadina and Sussex Avenues.

The slender tower, the first new residence building to be constructed on the downtown Toronto campus in a decade, will house 511 students in a bright, airy structure that mixes modern residence spaces with lively retail storefronts.

It will also incorporate a three-storey heritage building into its façade.

Scott Mabury, U of T’s vice-president of university operations, said the project was first proposed in 2013 and underwent many years of public consultations and workshops resulting in several design changes.

“We wanted to be a good neighbour,” said Mabury. “We wanted to find the place where U of T’s obligation to students overlaps with the broader community’s interests so it’s a successful project in both the university and public realms.

“I’m confident this building will be a positive addition to the fabric of this city.”

The development, scheduled to be completed in 2021, comes as Toronto grapples with soaring prices for apartment and condo rentals as demand far outpaces the supply of new units being built. U of T, meanwhile, is coping with its own accommodation crisis amid estimates it will need an additional 2,300 residence spaces by 2020.

“This is the first of what we hope is a number of residential projects,” Mabury said.

In a bid to keep the Spadina-Sussex project moving forward, U of T last year filed an appeal with the Ontario Municipal Board (now the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal) in the hopes the various parties could reach an agreement with the help of the organization’s mediator.  

As part of the multi-year discussion and the recent mediated agreement, U of T has agreed to reduce the height and footprint of the tower and add several townhouses, which are intended for faculty. It will also try to limit the number of first-year students in the building to 60 per cent of the total occupants, with the remainder being upper-year and graduate students.

U of T has also agreed to devote 1,590 square metres to public green space on the site and permit local residents long-term access to Robert Street Field, an adjacent playing field used by U of T’s Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education.

“We will be rejuvenating and rehabilitating Robert Street Field in a substantial way so it becomes a space not just for the university, but the community,” Mabury said.

He added that U of T is hoping the building, with its inviting appearance at street level, will do the same for a neglected stretch of Spadina, one of the city’s most important thoroughfares.

The new U of T residence will be built in partnership with The Daniels Corp. – the same socially conscious developer that handled the redevelopment of Regent Park in partnership with Toronto Community Housing.

While Mabury said U of T is pleased with the deal struck with the city and local residents, and hopes it will serve as a model for future projects, he nevertheless expressed concern at how long the process took given the pressing need for more on-campus student accommodation.

“Housing is challenging in Toronto and students – particularly first-year students entering the university – benefit immensely from the programming, academic life skills and social opportunities that arise from living in a residence,” he said.

“There’s lots of evidence to suggest student engagement, performance and success is often aligned with on-campus living experiences.”