Queen walk sparks optimism, activism

About 100 concerned Beachers gathered on a cold Feb. 25 morning to walk a section of Queen Street East, looking at potential development sites singled out in a recently completed segment study. The study was requested by Ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, and was completed by Armstrong Hunter and Associates, and funded by Reserve Properties, the developers of both the condos being built in the former Bellefair United Church, as well as the proposed project at the current Licks’ location at 1960 Queen St. E. The study was peer reviewed by Brook McIlroy, who was chosen by former Toronto Chief Planner Paul Bedford.

The purpose of the walk, led by McMahon’s executive assistant Jane Farrow, was ostensibly to review and discuss potential development sites on Queen Street East between Woodbine and Lee; however, much of the conversation remained focused on the controversial proposal by Reserve Properties for a six-storey building at 1960 Queen St. E.

McMahon said she was encouraged by the turnout.

“It was a great turnout, good energy, lots of people keen on their neighbourhood and about learning more about the planning process,” she said.

Although the walk was meant to review the segment study, some attendees were focused on looking for answers on the Reserve Properties proposal.

“I think the facts still need to get out there, and also the reality of what’s going on in our city with development,” said McMahon. “We love our neighbourhood and we want to retain the character, but we’re also living in a city, and we need to work with the developers.”

Joanne Kashooek, a Ward 32 resident along for the walk, said the event was an eye-opening one for her.

“The walk enabled me to sort of really take a look and see what’s currently there, and that allowed me to imagine potential and possibility for improvement,” she said.

Although the venue and the weather made the meeting format a bit challenging, she said the opportunity to give input into the planning process was a valued one for her.

“It begins the process of imagining the possibilities and opportunities, and I think we need to do that collectively,” said Kashooek.

Beach resident Linda Ross said the chance to talk about something greater than a single proposal was what drew her to the walk.

“There’s an awful lot of apprehension about what’s going to be happening along Queen Street,” she said.

Although she heard that many people are unhappy with what’s currently proposed on Queen, she believes there will need to be much more compromise on both sides to make things work in the future.

“The developers are coming, that’s going to happen. It’s a very desirable place to be, and the condos are selling that they’re building, so it’s just trying to find the compromise between what the majority of the people in the Beach will be happy living with in terms of what the buildings look like,” said Ross.

She also said she’d like to see the community ask more of developers.

“Some of these developers could do some really great things for the Beach in terms of giving back, that would be a really nice thing to have happen,” she said.

She said she’s encouraged by the invitation from McMahon for community input, and hopes to continue to have a say on what future development will look like.

“I’d love to see the Beach stay the same, but I don’t think that’s reality, not when the land is that valuable, so let’s work with it and make the best of it,” said Ross.

Jason Self, a representative of the Friends of Queen Street group that is leading opposition to the current proposal at 1960 Queen St. E., said he wished he had been able to hear more about current resident concerns at the walk. He also questioned the accuracy of the segment study as a basis for city policy. The study points out four likely sites for development, while his group found a fifth that has been advertised as a development opportunity on the mls.ca website for the past two years.

He said he and the Friends of Queen Street would like to see a freeze on any new building approvals until a visioning study, requested by McMahon, can be completed.

“Mary-Margaret, to her credit, has asked for this visioning study. However the visioning study won’t even begin until after Lick’s can go to the city and the OMB for approval, so there’s a real disconnect in terms of timeline,” said Self. “If this (1960 Queen St. E. proposal) can go for approval in April, and we’re not starting a visioning study…until the summer, if not the fall, then what do we do in the interim? And so we’re asking for an interim control bylaw to freeze any new development until we understand where things are going.”

The Friends of Queen Street presented a petition to McMahon at the walk, which included over 230 signatures of Beach residents asking that a previous council motion limiting Queen Street East development to four storeys be respected by developers and the city planning department. The group worries that a six-storey building at 1960 Queen St. E. would set a precedent for future developers.

“There has to be a clear plan that includes the voices of residents before you start allowing precedent-setting development,” said Self.

The Friends of Queen Street will be holding a follow-up meeting to the segment study walk on March 15, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Kew Beach Public School. Self said the purpose of the meeting is to clarify the current situation for Beach residents, and to continue the education process.

“It’s not just about Lick’s. Lick’s is certainly the catalyst, but it’s also about everything else that’s coming down the line,” he said.

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