Holy Condos!

I found the perfect site for a new condo development to pitch to my builder-client, and it’s ripe for the picking.

There’s currently a building on the site, but nothing a wrecking ball won’t fix!

Only one potential problem exists, however: the building is a one-hundred-year-old church

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I remember watching cartoons or movies as a kid, and a reoccurring theme would be the sweet, innocent family or business owner who fought to make ends meet, and the evil developer or banker who wanted to take it all away from them.

Clearly the movie or cartoon would lead the viewer into taking sides with the sweet and innocent and thus condemning the bank from foreclosing on the family’s house the week before Christmas, or force the viewer into hating the developer for wanting to build a roller-coaster on the site where their family business had been thriving for three generations.

The endings were always happy, however, and if the family didn’t magically come up with the money to save their house or business, then the evil developer would have a change of heart and leave the small peons to be.

But even as a child, I wondered if it always turned out that way in the real world.

When I first saw the listing for this church in the Bloor & Ossington area, I immediately logged on to Land Registry to see how large the property was, and then called the city to inquire about the zoning.

I then called my clients who are looking for a sizeable lot in the downtown core to develop, and informed them that there is a quarter-acre of prime land available in the heart of “Bloordale Village.”

It took three days for me to ever consider that now I was the evil developer that I watched so many times in the movies as a child, and it took a friend of mine to shout, “You’re going to tear down a church” before it ever occurred to me.

What can I say?  It’s my job…

St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Toronto is currently offering their place of worship for sale at $1,800,000.  The property has been for sale for just over a month, and I know nothing about the people who worship there, nor the figure-heads that made the decision to list the property for sale and shut down operations inside.

I know very little of religion, and even less about the business end of how it works.  But I can only assume that if this church is for sale, then there aren’t enough people attending services or joining the congregation, and that the folks in charge simply had no choice but to close up shop, and offer the property for sale.

Perhaps they have plans to build a new church with the proceeds, who knows?  But that simply isn’t for me to concern myself with.

Is it?

My business is real estate, and this property is an 84 x 137 foot lot two steps from Bloor Street and three blocks from Christie Pits.

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See those two properties immediately north of the church?  Those are two very small houses that could be purchased to bring the total land to about 4/10ths of an acre.  That’s enough for a medium-sized condominium development, and with the laneway adjacent to the north end of the subject land, and with the south end of the retail property fronting on Bloor Street, it’s the dream scenario for development.

There are, however, many considerations to be made with a property as unique as this one.  Let me outline the major issues:

1) Heritage Designation

If this property has a heritage designation by the City of Toronto, then it’s on to the next project and forget about this one!  Call me a hypocrite, but I’m a huge fan of the heritage designations in Toronto simply because they allow us to keep a part of our city’s history, and without history, what do we have in Toronto?  Part of the reason why I love living in the St. Lawrence Market area is because of all the old buildings from the original Town of York before Toronto ever existed!  We don’t have to keep every old building, and keep them all in their original shape and form, but at least try to preserve them like at 230 King Street where the exterior of the Imperial Bank of Canada from 1901 has been incorporated into the new condominium development from 2005.

In any event, if the church on Concord Street has been given a heritage or historical designation, there is a slim chance that it can be used in conjunction with a condominium development.  Try to be creative and think of any way in which the exterior of the church could be preserved and used in some way, shape, or form with a new condo…..I can’t think of any.  Besides, the property needs to be maximized and keeping part or all of the original church there would decrease the amount of units you could build into your new condominium development.

If this property has any heritage designation whatsoever, it’s going to be impossible to develop.

2) Zoning

This property is currently zoned as residential, which comes as no surprise even though it’s a commercial building.  It’s not that difficult to change the zoning of a property from one to the other, but the fact that this is/was a church may complicate things.

Some properties come with zoning for particular uses, and whether the property is residential or commercial might not matter if this property is zoned for a place of worship.  If that’s the case, then not only do you have to apply for the change to commercial so you can develop the property, but you also have to apply to change the intended use of the property.

I don’t think it would be that difficult to change the zoning for height restrictions on the property that would allow the construction of a fourteen-storey condo, but to convince the City that something other than a church should be built on the property if that is what it’s zoned for could prove difficult.

3) Backlash from Neighbors

Show me any condominium development in the city that was planned and constructed without a single complaint from neighbors and my eyes will pop out of my head.  It simply doesn’t happen, and it never will.  Neighbors, business-owners, and people with too much time on their hands will always voice their complaints even if it’s to no avail.

And in the case of a church, those voices will be much louder.  Surely there will be former members of this congregation who will fight the development tooth-and-nail, even though their efforts would have been better served trying to keep the business afloat when the church doors were still open, but I digress…

All it takes is one politician who wants to make a name for himself, and he could shut down the entire development before it ever gets started.

There are other considerations to make with this development, but these three are the mainstays.

I might also think about how much money you could sell the fixtures and chattels for (ie. seats, pews, flooring, stained-glass, windows, etc), but that’s a nominal amount when compared to the cost of this development.

I don’t deal in the purchase & sale of churches every day of the week, so perhaps I’m naive or cruel to think that the only potential buyer for this property is a developer.

Could another church come along and buy this one, and double the size of their congregation?

Is the word “congregation” even being used in the right sense here?

I don’t know.  The closest I ever got to a church was during Beavers and Cub Scouts when I was a kid.  So what the heck do I know?

Maybe a white knight will come along and save the day for this bankrupt church on Concord Street, but I’d be surprised if I was the only person thinking “condo” when I see the FOR SALE sign.

I’m not sure if this story will have a happy ending like they always do in the movies.

But I am sure that no developer I know would ever purchase this property and then suddenly have a change of heart

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  1. […] A few months ago, I wrote an article about a church that was for sale in the Bloor & Ossington area.  (click here) […]

  2. Krupo says:

    Congregation is the right word. 🙂

    This post reminds me of two churches that got sold.

    One is the loft redevelopment on Sunnyside Ave – I know people who live there. One of whom is a church minister which makes things kind of ironically hilarious.

    The other one is the church at Palmerston/College IIRC – I think there’s scaffolding up now. What I found hilarious was the “For Sale by Owner” sign it had.

    So, it was being sold by God?

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