Despite delays caused by the pandemic, Sifton Properties Limited is still working hard on what it states will be the most energy efficient community in Ontario: West 5 on London’s Oxford Street West.
The next building to complete will be the Riverstone retirement residence, scheduled for occupancy in August.
West 5 will have 450,000 square feet of commercial space, a central park and 2,001 net-zero units consisting of townhomes, condominiums, apartments and retirement residences when fully built-out in 15 years or so. The entire project is targeting net-zero.
According to Rick Gooyers, Sifton’s chief operating officer, the company was the first in London to build a LEED-certified home and the first to build a net-zero home in 2014.
In January, Sifton placed fifth on the Energy and Environmental Building Alliance’s self-reported list of North America’s top zero-energy developers, thanks to the West 5 units it is developing.
West 5’s progress
Gooyers noted the roadblocks posed by the pandemic, saying it "kind of put everything into a little bit of a tailspin. And when I say that, retail slowed down for a period of time . . . nobody wanted to go into the office. Those areas were slower on the uptake during COVID.
"However, we've been very successful at this point."
He referenced construction challenges because of the increase in remote work and people completing their own renovations, which created an impact on the overall price of goods; and struggles with the availability of trades and commodities.
Gooyers estimates Sifton is around a quarter of the way to completion, with approximately 600 residential units, slightly more than 100,000 square feet of office space and around 50,000 square feet of retail done.
West 5’s first residential condo, a mid-rise building with ground-floor retail and commercial space targeting 100 per cent energy efficiency, was supposed to be complete in 2022. Thanks to COVID, the finish line has moved to 2024.
Aside from Riverstone, there are three other elements under construction.
Legacy Square is a 1.6-acre private park with amenities powered by solar energy. It will also mark Sifton’s first foray into solar storage. The square is planned to open this summer.
Spektra, a six-storey apartment building with 65 units which utilizes solar panels and high-performance windows, is to be completed by August 2024. Next will be Candela condominiums, an eight-storey building with 74 units anticipated in September or October 2024.
Registration for both buildings opens this spring.
“We currently have phase one of retirement apartments, as well as a phase of retirement townhouses. We're (also) currently building a second phase, which is a 115-unit retirement residence,” Gooyers explained. “A little different as far as services (which) are provided.
"Retirement apartments would have their own kitchens within them, as opposed to retirement suites where we would provide all food services. We also have low-rise townhouses, but 176 units of those are rentals.”
West 5 and sustainability
While Sifton is targeting net-zero energy consumption, there is no set goal for carbon emissions. Instead, Gooyers explained the focus is on reduced carbon where possible.
That philosophy extends to the architects, engineers and construction companies it is employing for the development.
“We've previously built LEED housing ourselves. I would say that we're not as into the acronyms or obtaining a LEED Gold,” Gooyers said. “What we're into is the actual performance of the building. And we continue to monitor the performance of the buildings to ensure that they have met their modelling and continue to respond the way that we had intended.”
Given the long development timeline for West 5, Sifton is always looking for technologies that can improve its sustainability goals. When West 5’s 60,000-square-foot Sifton Centre was constructed as the first net-zero office building in Canada, its 524 solar panels generated 275 watts of electricity. The same solar panels today generate around 410 watts.
While West 5 remains Sifton’s primary focus, especially in terms of energy-efficient development, the years spent on the project have had a positive influence on the rest of its portfolio. Gooyers said the firm has used the West 5 model to assist in retrofits of some of Sifton’s existing buildings, lowering their energy consumption.
However, despite the progress for net-zero construction, there are still market forces at play.
“The market is still mixed on those who have an appreciation for the . . . enhanced sustainability and reduced energy consumption to those that would prefer to have a granite countertop,” Gooyers said. “We have had some projects where we have offered a net-zero option for people.
"Unfortunately, that has been slow on the uptake.”