By JONATHAN FORANI (Special to the Star)
Sat., Jan. 6, 2018
(Full Article)

New condo coming to award-winning Canary District in West Don Lands’ will offer bigger suites, kids’ playroom.

Much has changed for Hanley Koo since he bought his small, one-bedroom condo in Toronto’s Canary District in early 2016. He was a single bachelor just beginning his career in real estate and preparing to live in the budding West Don Lands neighbourhood that was still very much a vision at the time.

Since then, more than 800 units across four towers, initially used as Pan Am athletes’ dorms, have been converted to residential suites. In total, there will be five condominiums, more than 3,000 units and some 5,000 residents when the Canary District is complete.

“It’s really starting to come alive,” says Koo, 28.

Over the last year, the Canary District has “transformed,” he says, and now includes everything from outdoor Crossfit classes under the bridge at lower Bayview Ave., to residents walking dogs and pushing strollers through Corktown Common Park.

Koo’s personal life has transformed, too. Soon after buying the one-bedroom unit, he started dating Erica Chan, a 27-year-old financial recruiter, and in early 2017, she joined him in the 491-square-foot space.

“We’re thinking about having kids. A lot of our friends are getting married,” says Koo. “We’re talking about it. I’m excited to take it there.”

Their current condo doesn’t match their own upbringings, both having grown up in detached homes. But since acclimatizing to the Canary condo life, the notion of a suburban home has faded. The couple purchased a two-storey townhome of over 1,000 square feet for $799,000 in the incoming Canary Commons condominium block, set to break ground in 2018 and open its doors to residents in early 2021.

“We’re way more comfortable buying into the Canary idea, because we’re starting to see it take shape,” says Koo. “Before we were looking in North York, Markham, Scarborough. Anywhere but downtown seemed like the only place you could get a home in that price point.”

Like a growing subset of condo dwellers, Koo and Chan have come to appreciate the amenities of a downtown development, from where they can walk to work, exercise in the same building and still foster neighbourly relationships. A primary school is in the plans for the West Don Lands community.

“We have a generation of younger people who have been renting condos in the downtown central area and a portion of those have become attuned to the lifestyle that is downtown and want to continue to live there,” says Patricia Arsenault of real estate consulting company Altus Group.

As well, planning futures with kids doesn’t mean a condo is out of the question. It might just mean a bigger condo is the question.

“We have seen a shift in recent years away from bachelors and one-bedrooms,” says Arsenault. Across the GTA in 2017, the about half of new condo projects had two or more bedrooms. In 2011, only a third of projects had two or more bedrooms.

This trend has informed much of the new development at Canary District, specifically the Canary Commons block where Koo and Chan will move in 2021. Family is key for the new project, says Jason Lester, CEO of Dundee Kilmer.

“We always believe in building complete communities that fulfil the full spectrum of needs, not just empty-nesters and singles working downtown,” he says, noting the rise in families adopting condo life. “You’re going to see more and more of that. But you can’t do it just in any building or any neighbourhood. Ideally, you want to do it in a neighbourhood that will provide the best amenities for families.”

And Canary is in good company: the Urban Land Institute honoured the developers of the West Don Lands — including Dundee Kilmer Developments and Canary District — with a Global Award of Excellence this past December.

The new development has designated 19 per cent of units to be two- and three-bedroom suites. That number stands in contrast to the 5 per cent obligation to Waterfront Toronto, says Lester, and the 10 per cent the City of Toronto preferred. “That’s a real distinction, not just within this community of the West Don Lands, but also in all of downtown Toronto,” he says.

Health and wellness, too, have been building blocks at the Canary District since the start, when athletes who came for the 2015 Pan Am Games lived in the same units that were refinished and are the residences of Koo and Chan, and their neighbours.

For Chan, the community theme of health and wellness has been encouraging for her half-marathon training. “I’m a big runner, so the Corktown Common park is a good way for me to get some air and train for my runs,” she says. “I’m definitely going to be using the park outside to train once the weather gets a little warmer.”

She’ll likely be joined by many young families as the Canary District grows.

The new primary school and community centre is planned for the corner of Bayview Ave. and Mill St., and the Cooper Koo Family YMCA is already a successful 82,000-square-foot family hub. At the new Canary Commons condominium development, family-oriented amenities will include a kids’ playroom.

“A year-and-a-half ago, it was kind of like, ‘It’s going to be great,’ ” Koo says of the Canary District.

“But now I’m starting to really believe it and I’m starting to see it, too.”