The Friends of Queen Street had some of the wind taken out of their sails at a meeting they hosted on April 12, thanks to a surprise admission related to the development proposal that inspired the formation of the group in the first place.
Gregg Lintern, Director of Planning for the Toronto and East York district of the City of Toronto, dropped a bombshell at a community meeting organized by the Friends of Queen Street last Thursday, revealing his department’s stance on the development at 1960 Queen Street East weeks ahead of the official recommendation.
The development, planned for the current location of the first Lick’s restaurant, is proposed at six storeys and just over 20 metres in height. Friends of Queen Street came into existence as a group of Beachers determined to fight developments over the current zoned height maximum of 12 metres, specifically the proposed building at 1960 Queen. However, Lintern, while speaking to over 250 residents at Kew Beach Public School, admitted that the planning department is intending to recommend that the proposal be approved more or less as is, with some slight modifications.
“I want to be straight up with people about where we’re headed with that,” he said.
Lintern said he and his department staff don’t believe the project will precipitate a rush of condo construction on Queen, or that it would significantly alter the neighbourhood as a whole.
“The whole notion and idea of context is always on the agenda,” he said.
City planners have been trying to balance the Beaches Urban Design Guidelines with the Avenues and Midrise Buildings Study, two city documents with varying views on appropriate numbers regarding height and density.
Lintern pointed out that while much of the city is exploding with new construction, Queen has escaped much notice (“100 units in 10 years on Queen Street”), due in large part to the fact that most of it is not feasible for even midrise developments. He also said he wanted to avoid an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board, from whom the city is currently attempting to part ways, pending provincial approval, according to Ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon.
The planning department’s recommendations for the Lick’s site, as 1960 Queen St. E. is casually referred to, will likely be presented at the May 15 meeting of Toronto and East York Community Council. Citizens are welcome to make five minute presentations on any development application at Community Council.
Although most advocates of smaller condo developments regularly claim that they ‘aren’t against development’, it’s difficult to deny accusations of NIMBYism when several people repeatedly yell “we don’t want it here!” while the city’s chief planner attempts to explain the rationale behind the planning department’s decisions.
In between the settling dust, the meeting also covered a wide range of development-related subjects, including advice from Toronto’s Senior Preservation Coordinator, Scott Barrett, who offered his professional opinion on the possibility of a Beach Heritage Conservation District for Queen Street East.
“It’s a very powerful tool under the Ontario Planning Act,” he said, although it’s also one that will take quite some time to put in place, should the overall community agree to try. “If you ask me, I think this is a good area to do a study in, but we have a lot of priorities in the city.”
He also cleared the air about the role of HCDs when it comes to new construction.
“They are not designed to frustrate development, they are designed to conserve heritage,” he said.
Barrett also said he wouldn’t recommend an interim control bylaw for Queen Street East, which the Friends of Queen Street have been advocating for. He said the Beach is not on the brink of losing the character of the neighbourhood, which is the problem that type of bylaw is designed to address.
Other issues addressed at the meeting included sewage infrastructure and basement flooding. A Toronto Water study should be completed some time this summer, and a number of solutions will likely be recommended to deal with flooding south of Queen Street.
The TTC’s Mitch Stambler was also in attendance to answer questions about development impact on transit.
“We’re very well aware of the concerns of the neighbourhood,” he said. “The fact is there’s only so much one can do with a long vehicle on rails in mixed traffic.”
Stambler said a few key actions could go a long way to relieving wait times and short-turns on the 501 Queen streetcar line; however, most of them are a tradeoff, as car drivers would face turn restrictions, extended peak traffic parking prohibitions, and actual serious enforcement, none of which will make drivers very pleased.
Despite the controversy over 1960 Queen St. E., McMahon did come to the meeting bearing some good news. For one, the planning department has assured her they will abide by her recent request to delay any new development applications for Queen until a planned Visioning Study can be completed. She also clarified some confusion over the future of another future development site, at the northeast corner of Queen and Woodbine. A company specializing in soil remediation has purchased the land at the former gas station, but no applications of any sort have been filed with the city; that fight, at least, won’t be happening in the immediate future.