171 Lowther

Eye-popping 11-storey tower proposed for site of historic Toronto homes

A row of homes dating back almost 125 years could be transformed by an impressive 11-storey tower, if a new development application is approved by the city. Not surprisingly, local residents have questions about the growing intensity in a quiet section of one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods where a number of proposals to increase density are piling up.

The Annex neighbourhood’s historical significance to Toronto’s urban tapestry is undeniable. The “Annex Style” architecture, a unique blend of Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival, is a testament to the Victorian grandeur that once dominated the city’s aesthetic. 

The 171 Lowther Ave. site, erected between 1901 and 1902, showcases an elaborate “heritage wall” that reflects the craftsmanship of its era. The proposed new development includes a total of 64 residential units. The ground floor is designed to accommodate three grade-related three-bedroom units spanning two storeys. In addition, the podium incorporates the adaptive reuse of the existing heritage house at 171 Lowther Ave., transforming it into a residential unit.

The current proposal, with building designed by Gabriel Fain Architects Inc., seeks to enhance the century-old historic structure by constructing an 11-storey residential complex that will rise behind and be complemented by a retained facade.

171 Lowther
171-175 Lowther Ave. (Google Maps)

“We want to usher in a new era of architecturally driven housing. Dense housing that speaks to history, context and people, not an archaic policy with no regard for how we want to live,” Gabriel Fain Architects Inc. announced in a statement.

Positioned just 400 metres away from the lively intersection of Spadina and Bloor, this location benefits from proximity to a well-connected transit network. Within a short 250-meter walk lies the Walmer Road entrance to Spadina subway station, where TTC lines 1 and 2 converge, along with the bustling 510 Spadina streetcar and various local bus routes.

The proposal has raised questions about how to balance the city’s desire for historical preservation with urban development needs.

In addition to this project, the historic Walmer Baptist Church just around the corner is the site of another development application seeking to plop a 20-storey condo into the building constructed in 1889 while demolishing the adjacent historic structures.

If approved, a looming heritage designation for 171 Lowther Ave. under the Ontario Heritage Act would force architects to adhere to stringent guidelines on alterations and demolitions, ensuring any changes respect the property’s historic integrity. The development is proposing to demolish the homes at 173 and 175 Lowther while incorporating the home at 171 Lowther into to the base of the new building. 

Proposal rendering shows heritage wall designed to blend condo with neighbourhood at street level

The Annex Residents’ Association confirmed to Streets of Toronto that the city of Toronto is hosting a virtual community consultation meeting to discuss “not one but two” different developments that would impact the historically significant neighbourhood. However, they refuse to “give any opinions about the project at this stage.”

“If you have questions and concerns about development proposals for either 40 Walmer Road or 171-175 Lowther Avenue, mark your calendars for Monday, Dec. 18, 6 to 8 p.m. The meeting will be held on WebEx,” a representative noted.

The 171-175 Lowther Avenue development has garnered mixed reactions, with some adamant about upholding the Annex’s Victorian charm and others praising the proposal’s innovative design. 

Both projects could set a precedent for how Toronto integrates new developments in heritage-rich areas balancing neighbourhood desires with the greater need for housing. 

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO