Are Beachers a bunch of whiners?

With seven community organizations that pop up every time the word ‘development’ is mentioned, many – including the people involved – may wonder if Beachers are a bunch of whiners suffering from a severe case of NIMBYism, or simply residents that will fight at length to see their neighbourhood stay as is – packed with history and full of character.
Jason Self, a member of Friends of Queen Street (FoQS), said at a public meeting on March 15 that one of the challenges that Ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon has at council is convincing other councillors that Beach residents are not whiners.

The meeting, attended by some 150 residents, was planned as a follow-up to McMahon’s recent walk along Queen Street that looked at the segment study funded by developer Reserve Properties. The study suggests that Queen Street between Woodbine and Lee could potentially see four sites developed in the near future: the gas station at the corner of Queen and Woodbine, The Beach Mall at Queen and Waverley, Ends at Queen and Elmer, and TD Bank on Queen at Lee.
McMahon was not in attendance as she was on a planned vacation for March Break and was given short notice of the meeting.

Self repeatedly said that “we are not against development,” and emphasized that FoQS welcomes development “that fits with the character of our neighbourhood.”

What that means is instead of the proposed six-storey building that is planned for Queen Street East, buildings should be limited to four storeys and no more than 12 m in height, which is the current zoning.

Self referred to the Beach Urban Design Guidelines put in place back in 1990, which state that developments should maintain “appropriate streetscapes.”

In 2002, the official plan for the City of Toronto pushed for development in what they defined as ‘avenues’, roadways with increased pedestrian traffic that can benefit from development. The Avenue and Mid-Rise Buildings Study guidelines stated that developers could build as high up as the width of the street, which on Queen Street is roughly 20 m, or the equivalent of six storeys.

In 2010, City Council voted to remove Queen Street from that study after Ward 32 Councillor Sandra Bussin and Ward 30 Councillor Paula Fletcher put forth a motion to protect the heritage nature of many parts of Queen.

The frustration, it seems, stems not from developers applying for zoning exemptions, but from the process that sees these developments grow beyond zoning bylaws after exemption requests are put forward to the committee of adjustment or City Council.

“The exemptions are not being adjudicated in a fair way, and there are too many exemptions to the rule,” said Jan Hykamp, organizer of the Greater Beach Neighbourhood Association. “Sooner or later we are going to be completely re-zoned based on exemptions rather than a comprehensive plan.”

Self said some of the objectives of the group include protecting the historical properties and adding more trees along Queen Street.

“We’re not here to say ‘stop all development and we never want change.’ No, that’s not it because it’s very easy for opponents to say ‘you’re just a bunch of NIMBYs’,” said Self.

The residents seem to accept that development is inevitable, and in some cases desired.

Hans Looije of the Beach Triangle Residents Association also spoke at length about the issues his area has had with sewage problems due to new developments going up. The group feels those concerns, along with parking and transit, should have been addressed and studied prior to development approvals.

“So you’re gonna have, for residents [and visitors], worse parking. You’re gonna have more traffic, and you’re gonna have more unreliable transit,” said Looije.

As a result of the concerns by Beachers, McMahon has initiated a Visioning Study to address such things as densification, character, traffic and parking, and report on their impacts on the community.

The problem is that it will not be started until late summer or early fall. This opens the door for more developments to be approved in the meantime. FoQS has requested that the Study be fast-tracked and that all re-zoning applications be frozen until it is completed.

Some residents suggested filing an application for Heritage Conservation District designation, a process that could be lengthy and not guaranteed.

The proposed development at 1960 Queen St. E. (the current Licks’ location) has been delayed by six months, and the developer is now entitled to bring it to the Ontario Municipal Board.

“The [Lick’s] developer has actually been fairly open and trying to work with residents,” said Self.

A few residents expressed their disappointment that McMahon was not present at such an important meeting and that she should be doing more.

“I believe the politicians play a major role in all of this, and if there’s a lot of crookedness on the politician’s part then it really isn’t fair…they should not favour one side more than the other,” said Maria De Lima, a resident in the Beach for 17 years. “Everybody should benefit equally.”

A resident also claimed to have heard McMahon calling Beach residents whiners.

So are they?

“The Beachers really care about their neighbourhood. They might get a little vocal and very passionate but I think deep down they really care about the neighbourhood,” said George Papasimitriou, who has lived on Lee Avenue for 15 years.

“There’s nothing wrong in being concerned about your neighbourhood and the area that you live in,” said De Lima.

“It’s now or never,” concluded Self. “Development can be good. We just want clear rules.”

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Referring to all of the residents of Ward 32, Beachers are not whiners. The community is highly organized and very capable. One reason why community/neighbourhood organizations emerge, is a lack of trust in the politicians and frustration with the bureaucrats.

The Beach has a quality of life to protect and to preserve. It is one of the most desired communities in which to live, work and play.

The Beach is rather NIMBYistic, and I would expect that attitude given the continuing gentrification of the neighbourhoods and the exploitation that goes along with it.

In addition, from a charitable perspective, the Beach is one of the most generous communities in the City of Toronto and as the former Executive Director of Community Centre 55, I can attest to that.

Given the mobilization of the Beach and the community’s ability to coalesce and respond to issues, I think the Ward 32 Councillor must be one to the busiest on Council .

So for the most part Beachers are winners not whiners. As they say at the Balmy Beach Club-“up the Beach!”

Bob Murdoch

There is a prejudice against The Beach that I fail to understand – supposedly we are all really RICH – which is a joke in that housing is pricey here, but only when you condier how small the lots are.

What about Rosedale, Forest Hill, the Annex, High Park? All are within TEYCC’s area and are more expensive than anything here, outside of a few larger homes around Glen Manor.

Or Leaside, Lawrence Park, The Kingsway, or The Bridle Path?

Anyway, the number of people at the meeting has been revised to 200, not 150 – an incredible turnout that shows how important Queen Street is to us all.

12m is equal to 3 1/2 storeys, using the City’s formulas for 4.5m for the retail, plus3m for every residential floor. 20m is 6 storeys – but “storeys” is a rough term – the proposed LCBO was a 13m tall one storey building!

I cannot verify if McMahon called us whiners, but some other Councils have implied as much or that we are spoiled – largely over irritants like there being front pad parking still allowed here, which is not odd given how far away we are from the Downtown – we do border Scarborough after all!

Saying that “development is inevitable” is a pointless remark – nobody wants to make a museum of what we have now as the street could be improved – but it has to be positive change done with the approval of the community, not driven by what sells quickly to condo buyers and is cheap to build!

An HCD will take time, and we are likely well down th elist with many other areas ahead of us, p-plus the $100,000 for the study doesn’t come from the city – it has to come from the community unless section 37 money is set aside, but that requires big developments happen first -a catch-22!

And in fact, many people have complained about Reserve Properties approach to the building in our community. The issue isn’t just about clear rules, but keeping the ones that have governed us reasonably well since 1987 instead of wholesale change, or piecemeal change that doesn’t fit and looks chaotic!

Oh, I was going to say that I disagree with Jason about the developer when he says this:

“The [Lick’s] developer has actually been fairly open and trying to work with residents,” said Self.

This might apply to the developer working with Jason and nearby residents on some things to do with the Bellefair condos, but on the LCBO and Lick’s there was no prior consultation – and in a meeting held regarding the Lick’s site in Councillor McMahon’s office, there was no willingness to make any changes to make it fit in better even if the issues of height and density are put aside.

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