It’s fun to see your own community on TV. However, a March 15 segment on Global News about the glass condo blitz on Queen in the Beach was sad to watch (tinyurl.com/6p54fjw).
It covered the problems associated with development, such as increased street parking, traffic congestion and TTC short-turns. Local historian Gene Domagala described how the history of the Beach has shaped a unique neighbourhood, whose character is now at risk. Mitchell Kosney, Professor of Urban Planning at Ryerson, said “development is a privilege, not a right,” and that “developers need to establish a reciprocal relationship with the community.”
That same evening, 150 residents attended a community meeting organized by Friends of Queen Street, a residents’ group. They were concerned that the rezoning of one property at a time along Queen will result in the domino destruction of the character of the street. They wanted to know whether this type of development is unavoidable.
Some development advocates insist that intensification is inevitable and is mandated in Ontario’s Places to Grow Act, to avoid urban sprawl. The fact is that we are well ahead of the province’s targets for intensification. The Ontario Ministry of Finance’s Historical and Projected Ontario Population by Census Report for 2010-2036 shows that Toronto has already met 80 per cent of its target for 2031. And with so many new homes being built, there is now one new unit being constructed for every 1.4 new residents! Toronto is well ahead of the curve.
Toronto’s Official Plan clearly states that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ and that many communities, such as ours, are already zoned just right.
The Official Plan says that “not all lands that fall within Avenues are designated for growth.” Densification makes sense for arterial roads where there are few buildings except strip malls, and where major streets can easily handle more transit and cars. Queen Street East is not an arterial road at all and is already very congested.
Toronto’s Official Plan and the Avenues and Midrise Buildings study both concede that some avenues that are ‘main streets’ already have appropriate zoning: “These stable communities have a sizeable residential base that supports local shopping such as grocery stores, drug stores, banks etc. They already have zoning in place to guide development in a way that fits with the neighbourhood.”
Queen Street East is specifically listed as one such stable main street that is to be developed through infill, as per existing zoning. Our Queen Street is also designated by City Bylaw No. 1118-2008 as a ‘Potential Heritage Conservation District’. According to Official Plan Amendment No. 38, the desired outcome for this designation is “conservation of the character,” and “infill development that is sensitive to the character of the area.”
In July 2010, Council approved a motion to remove Queen Street from the Avenues study “because of the heritage nature of many parts of Queen Street and this as-of-right nature of the buildings.” The heritage commentary indicates Council’s intent to maintain the low-rise nature of the street.
Many are not aware that there are currently Beach Urban Design Guidelines that stipulate the design elements that give Queen Street its special character.
The City has confirmed that these guidelines are still in effect. They have been used until now for many attractive modern developments along Queen Street. Yet each time the Friends of Queen Street have raised this issue, the city has said that the Guidelines now carry little weight because they are “just” guidelines and they are “outdated.”
A planned Visioning Study, which is intended to update the Guidelines, is certainly a good idea. Unfortunately, it will not be completed until November. By that time, so many rezoning applications will have been filed that the Queen Street we are trying to save may no longer exist.
That is why a recent petition by 400 residents asks that until the new Guidelines are in place, the existing Beach Urban Design Guidelines should be upheld.
Developers point to 2012 Queen Street, across from Kew Gardens, as a positive precedent for the kind of 6-storey condos that are being proposed. With deep step-back levels that begin as low as the third floor, this 16.5 metre building blends into the streetscape and does not constitute a precedent to allow taller (20 metre or more), modernistic, un-environmental glass structures, with minimal step-backs, and vast windowless, side walls.
One of the Avenue Study requirements is that a complete re-zoning application must be accompanied by an Avenue Segment Study with proper public consultation as well as traffic studies, shadow studies, infrastructure studies and so on. We have had none of this.
Most Beachers recognize the need to develop and revitalize the street. We are not opposed to change nor to heights that are in keeping with the context of the street. However, with eight identified sites from Woodbine to Lee that are either in development or with potential for development, we have questions about traffic, parking, transit, sewerage, shading, inappropriate transitions, unattractive blank side walls and loss of character. We feel that existing rules are not being upheld that would address these very issues and help to preserve the character of Queen Street.
Simone Skopek is a member of Friends of Queen Street. They are online at friendsofqueenstreet.wordpress.com.