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Toronto construction eyesore sits idle for 2 years, as housing developers under financial strain

Carol Roup, whose windows face the unfinished building on Russell Hill Road, says she wants to see the structure either completed or demolished. (Richard Davis/CBC - image credit)
Carol Roup, whose windows face the unfinished building on Russell Hill Road, says she wants to see the structure either completed or demolished. (Richard Davis/CBC - image credit)

A luxury Toronto condo project that's been sitting idle for at least two years is irking its Forest Hill neighbours, bringing into focus a problem experts say has been fuelling the city's housing shortage: multi-residential building projects that start—then appear to stall.

The site on Russell Hill Road used to be a single-family home, before it was demolished in 2017. Construction of a four-storey condo project started, then stalled. Frustrated neighbours say the concrete shell draped in blue and green building wrap has sat on a muddy construction site that's seen little activity for at least two years.

"It's pretty awful," resident Carol Roup told CBC Toronto.

"And I know a lot of other residents feel the same way ... I'd like it finished, built and looking like a real house, or demolished."

An artist's rendering of what the finished project could look like, according to documents released while the building was put up for sale late last year.
An artist's rendering of what the finished project could look like, according to documents released while the building was put up for sale late last year.

An artist's rendering of what the finished project could look like, according to documents released when the building was put up for sale late last year. (Property.ca)

Property records show Newpoint Developments bought the property in 2015 for $3.3 million and demolished it two years later. Today, only a concrete shell of the four-storey project has been completed.

The situation at Russell Hill Road isn't uncommon. Across the country, developers who bought land pre-pandemic now find themselves facing a perfect storm of high labour and material costs, and a sagging real estate market.

New condo sales fell by 68 per cent in 2023 compared to 2021, making it the slowest year for new condo sales in 15 years, according to a report last month from Urbanation, an organization that tracks condo market conditions.

And experts say it's not just the smaller developers, like Newpoint, that are hurting. Even the largest players are feeling the pinch, when it comes to moving their projects from the drawing board to completion.

The project, which would see up to eight condos over four floors, has been under construction since 2017, but has seen little regular activity in at least two years, residents say.
The project, which would see up to eight condos over four floors, has been under construction since 2017, but has seen little regular activity in at least two years, residents say.

The project, which would see up to 8 condos over 4 floors, has been under construction since 2017, but has seen little regular activity in at least 2 years, residents say. (Mike Smee/CBC)

Matti Siemiatycki, a professor of geography and planning at the University of Toronto, points to the mega project at the corner of Yonge and Bloor streets as another example of a development on prime land that's fighting the headwinds of sudden market change.

"With prices now softening, with interest rates having risen, with issues with supply chains and labour force, this can pose real challenges," Siemiatycki said.

But he says smaller project developers, like Newpoint, which can play a big a role in solving the city's housing crisis, are also being hit hard.

"We're hearing about mega projects like The One at Yonge and Bloor... but we can also hear it for mini projects... that are critically needed, but can face some of the same challenges," Siemiatycki said. "The prices of (building) those units may have risen, but what they can actually sell for may not have gone up in concert."

City changed the rules

That appears to be the case, to some extent, with the Newpoint development, whose president Stefano Tognarelli told CBC Toronto in a statement that the project remains "important" to Newpoint.

"The project has been affected by unforeseen delays as a result of the COVID crisis, along with continued construction cost escalations and fluctuating market conditions specific to mid-rise projects," Tognarelli wrote.

Newpoint Developments put the property on the market last November at an asking price of $13 million. There have been no takers. The company did not respond to questions about whether the project is still active or is being left dormant until it can be sold.

While the Russell Hill Road build is considered a mid-rise project, the city last year made a change that it hopes will speed along the smallest-scale condo developments: Those that involve transforming single-family dwellings in residential neighbourhoods into duplexes, triplexes or fourplexes.

Josh Matlow is a Toronto City Councillor representing Ward 12 Toronto—St. Paul's. He's been pushing for a maximum temperature bylaw in Toronto for years.
Josh Matlow is a Toronto City Councillor representing Ward 12 Toronto—St. Paul's. He's been pushing for a maximum temperature bylaw in Toronto for years.

Coun. Josh Matlow, whose Toronto-St. Paul's ward includes Russell Hill Road, says the city can do more to help developers address the housing crisis. (Farrah Merali/CBC News)

Council altered city zoning rules to allow developers to put up those low-rise structures in residential neighbourhoods, without applying for a costly and time-consuming zoning change.

It's too soon to tell whether the change will help bring much needed housing into neighbourhoods currently dominated by single family homes, according to Coun. Josh Matlow, whose ward includes Russell Hill Road.

Matlow said developers can help themselves by ensuring that their plans are complete when they come to city hall for approval.

But he also said there's more for the city to do to remove roadblocks developers face when it comes to completing projects during tough times.

Streamlining the approvals process that developers face before they can put a shovel in the ground would help, said Matlow.

"There are some boxes that city staff have to check off that may have no context within the actual application in front of them, but the developer is asked to wait six months," he said.

CBC Toronto has reached out to city staff for a response to Matlow's suggestions. This story will be updated with any response.

Back on Russell Hill Road, it's not clear when, or if, residents like Carol Roup will see a sleek mid-rise condo tower on their block.