Adam Vaughan’s take on King West

I tried to contact Adam Vaughan for my Peter Freed profile, but we didn’t connect. Both men have been quoted saying how great the other one is – they have a good working relationship for a developer and councillor. That said, there are obviously some hot spots. Here is what Vaughan would have said, had we connected (I’m not blowing any confidences here, he posted this under the story on the Globe’s site):

Peter’s story is an amazing one and his projects as a cluster are having a huge impact on the ‘hood. But as in all stories there is a pre and a post history to consider and I wish I coulc have directed you to residents on either side of the “Freed Era”.

Jane Jacobs set the table with a crew of creative politicians and architects long before Freed even got started in the development business. Developers like Mike Emory at Allied Properties and Howard Cohen at Context were the pioneers. They took the first risks after Free Trade cleared out the textile industry from the warehouses in the late 80′s.

It was the seminal “Two Kings” report under Mayor Barbara Hall that unleashed this areas potential while protected the zones heritage and human scale. If “freed” to his own devices Freed would do damage to a lot of what attracted him to the neighourhood in the first place. A great deal of public effort and community pressure have made his buildings better. This in no way diminishes or scoffs at his entrepreneurial skills. Freed is easy to admire. But credit on the communities capacity for revitalization is shared.

As for the next generation of development Freed’s business model is  about to be measured by a different set of standards and some difficult challenges lie ahead. Several of his buildings are now complete and people are living in them. Freed believes that he has created this neighbourhood and in some ways he deserves credit, but just as there were residents living here before Freed, and developers on the ground (and in fact in the ground) before he picked up a shovel it is impossible not to note that Freed is operating now in a different environment.

People have brought his products, his “lifestyle” projects neighbour the residential communities he has created. And as a result his construction sites and new projects are now popping up in a much more complex community.

His biggest problems may however be a result of his success. There are a lot of other developers now active in the area. Every owner of a parking lot of rundown commercial property, even some of the folks in the Victorian homes on local streets is playing the market. Speculation is driving land values up. With that property taxes driven by the same market values are inflating. Heritage buildings are seeing tax bills in some cases jump from $8m to $23m in a single year. With locked in leases property owners are selling to avoid bankruptcy. New owners buy knowing the will have to demolish and redevelop just to pay the taxes.

The new land values and the hot condo market have temporarily sparked a real estate bubble.

Developers are demanding more height and density to cover costs, they find it cheaper to demolish heritage buildings that creatively re-use them. Corners are cut on construction. New condo quality is lower and buyers tend to be speculators rather than residents. Higher rates or renter to owner ratios in newer buildings undermine the stability and maintenance models that make condos successful communities unto themselves. Additionally the pressure to build quick often means that the construction sites violate start times and noise by-laws, sites are not well managed and dust dirt and lots of trucks parked everywhere drive new and old residents nuts.

The “lifestyle” changes are also raising concerns. The bar on top of the Thompson has brought hundreds of late night taxis to quiet residential streets. Honking and shouting at 3am is now a problem. Beer bottles are being tossed from the rooftop lounges and the condominium documents that govern shared costs between the businesses in a building and the residential components have not been thought through to the disappointment to condo owners. Costs are rising after purchase without warning, and promised amenities  are being pulled without notice.

Freed is not to blame for all of this but needs accept some responsibility. He moved in to an exiting community. He did not create it. He has helped even led the transformation of the neighbourhood and for that he deserves credit, much good, some bad. The future is a question mark.

Freed’s business model must now adapt to the new realities. His claim to have created a neighourhood notwithstanding, once people move into a community it becomes theirs. All of theirs. Peter Freed had a few neighbours when he arrived and he has opened the door to new neighours, but now the neighbourhood is full of people. Everyone thinks the community belongs to them and everyone is right. Freeds next challenge will be to see if he can get along with the folks next door. If he can he may well remain the King of King. If can’t he may spark a revolt amongst the subjects.

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