Beach character comes from people, not buildings

Make the entire length of Queen Street a heritage district?!?

What have people been smoking (perhaps they were at the marijuana conference this past weekend!)? I imagine a small group of Beachers sitting around in a circle brainstorming, and planning their next initiative: a Declaration of Secession! They’ll dig a moat along the length of Coxwell, complete with toll bridges and customs checkpoints! Declare the Beach a principality, and Gene Domagala its king. They already have a flag.

But c’mon, I’ve lived here in the Beach for most of my life, but would never say I think it should remain the same as it was 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. Stores come and go, Greenwood has come and – sadly – gone, yet the Beach has managed to keep its unique feel.

What makes these guys think that a few small condo buildings are going to turn Queen Street into Yonge Street? It’s the Beach people who make the neighbourhood what it is, not the buildings! It’s the Lions Easter Parade, it’s the Beaches Jazz Festival.

Jon, I know you’re coming back from small town life in northern B.C. Do you notice many changes to the Beach since you’ve been gone? How does it compare to Smithers? Certainly downtown is beginning to resemble the concrete canyons of Manhattan. I half expect to see Spiderman swinging overhead (what do those webs attach to anyway?). But the few new condo developments going up here along Queen are nothing compared to those towers. You would think from listening to some of the talk that someone was proposing to build St. James Town-on-the-Boardwalk.

I realize that the City is upping the density levels, but there is no way they would ever cram them in like they once did. And these are not rental units either, not that I have anything against rental units. I live in one! These are upscale, high-priced, spacious (if you can call any condo spacious) condominiums that will be purchased, for the most part, by Beach Boomers cashing in on the red hot real estate market (“Sure, if they want to offer me a million bucks for my little bungalow, then spend half that again putting on a second storey, who am I to turn it down? I’ll just move into a condo overlooking Kew Gardens.”) I probably would do the same thing if I could afford it.

People are complaining that these “glass and steel towers” will ruin the small-town feel of the Beach, that they will obliterate the views of more well known Beachy landmarks; the clock tower on the fire station, for example (and I’m trying to think of another example of a Beachy landmark along Queen!).

I’m sorry guys, Toronto is no longer a city of small separate physical neighbourhoods. It is now officially a megalopolis, and the Beach will eventually be swallowed in much the same way Yorkville was (I still remember the coffee houses of the 60s). If it’s old buildings you want, you might consider moving to Stoufville.

Then again, I’m not looking forward to the day when the landlords decide to throw me out of my walk-up in order to convert it to a condo. On my pension I’ll be looking for a basement apartment.


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7 comments

Garth – I don’t think that you understand what a Heritage Conservation is or does.

The best example I can think of is to say that Queen street between University and Spadina is a Heritage Conservation District – if you go there you will see that that part of Queen is not a museum and there are new buildings being built there.

An HCD doesn’t stop new buildings, but it gives the city and the community powers to control development so that the heritage buildings and character are protected, and new development fits in.

Toronto is growing, but that does not mean that every part of the City has to change – I would think that we would try to preserve the best features and charactertics of neighbourhoods and areas that seem to work, and new development should go where it is needed and welcomed -particularly to the suburban Avenues lined with ancient strip malls.

Tourists don’t come to this city to wander the street marvelling at new midrise condos – we need to preserve some of the diversity and history of the city and some of its “authentic” older areas like The Beach are key to this.

And frankly we have no idea who is buying these condos – that statistic merely comes from the developers themselves and there is no independent confirmation.

While it is the people who make a neighbourhood what it is – the buildings are a big part of that – Quebec City has some nice people, but would it attract tourists and be anything but a government town were it not for the history and buildings? Paris, Prague, Rome, Barcelona and other cities are what they are because of what they have preserved or how they have managed change in a positive way, instead of letting the market dictate.

The beach has had development over the last 25 years – mainly through building where there were gas stations or car dealerships – what is happening now could see most of the older retail stores demolished – this is quite unlike the racetrack – but the racetrack buildings are an example of how new development cannot successfully replicate what we have now – a vibrant, successful and unique retail street.

This is a city which used to be renowned for making smart planning decisions- but now we have planners who don’t want to plan and pay little heed to what local residents think – and HCD is a tool that will help to keep what is best, but it not turn the Beach into a museum or into Disneyland either!

YES PEOPLE ARE THE ISSUE – ITS THEIR COMMUNITY AFTER ALL!

Mr. Clark sounds like a most interesting individual but for purposes of clarity we can readily agree that the debate is centered on people but he misses the point of people and communities. In this Province we have an elaborate system of Planning Requirements which are centered on creating livable communities and a reflection on the type of community people want to live in. Through the Official Plan the view of the type of community is in theory articulated through the citizens individually, their representatives and retained staff of planners. It is intended to represent the direction that development will go over a 5 year period and hence infrastructure and land use is worked into the Plan.

The challenge which Mr. Clark may want to reflect upon is when our promotion of Official Plans moves to a site by site “spot zoning” process and we move to a development by exception process where the accumulated effect of many ‘exceptions’ are not taken into account and leave a legacy of having to repair that which was built. Welcome to St. James Town and other exceptions embraced by City Hall at one point or another.

Toronto works at being a number of neighborhoods as part of what makes this city unique through diversity. Cork Town is one, the Beach is another and then Woodbridge is yet another and the list is lengthy.

So there is a clash of values. Thiose that believe that quality of life starts at our buildings we live in then our streets and then our neighborhoods, and that a planning process is valid. The opposing view is that market should dominate our choices of space and land use. Both have their validity. The challenge is finding a balance between the individual land owner and the community and that is an on going debate.

Where I suspect Mr. Clark and I come to a point of agreement is recognizing that the issue for many is keeping and developing more affordable accommodations for many that can neither afford multi million dollar homes or condos but need decent places to live which does not take more than 50% of their incomes. And that is a community responsibility as is maintaining and preserving our urban heritage.

A very well thought out response neil. There is a fundamental problem of the market often destroying the very qualities that made some place attractive to begin with.

There is a story of a family who went to a place like Mexico and hated the big tacky resort town with massive hotels and decided to find a quaint out of the way place with charm – they found such a place and started telling their friends, who in turn told their friends etc, and the quaint resort ended being the same as the original resort town they disliked -which had now fallen on hard times. Then the family found a third town.. and the process kept repeating itself until there were no quint little town left, only half empty ones that had been overdeveloped!

I would love to have a condo in Venice – Venice is unaffordable, but building massive condos there would obviously destroy its history! Maybe it is better if some places are unafforable but can still be visited, then that they be developed and lose the qualities that made them uniquely attractive in the first place.

In any case, there are already condos here, and the choice is 4 storey condos or 6 storey ones – allow the 6 storey ones and more of them will be built as the higher profits accelerate the process.

I would even put the issue differently and say that there are many parts of the city where condo development is wanted and needed -but even with 100,000 people moving into the GTA each year, those areas, like Lawrence avenue in Scarborough, cannot and will not attract development as long as the city continues to allow rezoning in areas that are healthy and where things are fine pretty much as they are.

Worse, the city is spending a fortune for LRTS and subways int he suburbs – but these will be white elephants as long as the market for housing can be met in areas like the Beach by rezonings.

The only way that the demand for housing will shift to these areas is if the supply for housing elsewhere remains limited.

The overall price of housing in the GTA is high because there enough people with high incomes to bid up the price of housing, there is a limited amount of “greenfield” sites because of the Greenbelt etc., and because the construction industry cannot keep up with demand – there are too many people moving here, but not enough of them are skilled construction workers, making the shortages in skilled trades even worse!

Sir,

I find the tone of your article incredibly insulting and not in the spirit of trying to have a mature debate on the future of our neighbourhood. If you took the time to understand the issues residents, hundreds I might add, are trying to resolve, you would realize that everyone IS for development. The key issue in short – How can we approve development until we have a clear plan and understanding of the impact ? Look at the Mimico waterfront for an indication of poorly planned development.

For those who state all development is good consider these questions. New developments are more and more going ‘clean’ which means no food services, thus no restaurants. The TTC wants to ban parking on Queen until 8pm and left hand turns so what does that do to property values? Will city residents and tourists come to the Beach if transit and parking is even worse, what does that do to retailers ? The issue isn’t condos at all, it’s development and the impact on livability of the community. If it’s done right it enhances what make our neighbourhood so enjoyable, if done wrong we end up with the Mimico waterfront.

I would gladly sit down for a coffee with you if you’re open to having a mature debate on the issues and end result of development. I’m certain in the end we could both come to the same conclusion that if planned properly development will enhance our neighbourhood.

Coffee on me,

Jason

Garth, well said! We can’t allow people the likes of Neil Sinclair and Brian Graff, both spokespersons for FOQS, co-opt the debate again! They don’t represent me in spite of their unsubstantiated statements to the contrary about represnting and having tjhe support of the “community”. Their anecdotal evidince in support of their weak arguments would be humorous if it wasn’t so dangerous to the futurte of our community. We need to take a stand against NIMBYism here in the Beach!

I love the comparison of Queen Street developpment to St. James Town! Any more straw men that you’d like to throw up?

I wouldn’t quite go so far as Jason and say that “everyone is for development”.

At the visioning study, people pointed out many of the specific buildings or sites where new development might be a good thing – assuming it is done in a way that fits in and is an improvement over what is there now.

Any new development will be here as long as we are alive (it is difficulty to tear down condos and replace them with anything else, unless you get much higher densities than us being proposed now) – we do not want to see the mistakes of the Greenwood racetrack buildings repeated, or to have a building that people will instantly regard as an eyesore (Such as when you go elsewhere in this city and say to yourself “Why did they ever allow that?”)

People also like old buildings and the existing character and scale – the authenticity and history of the area – a couple of new buildings might be fine, but apart from the issues Jason raises, a street full of all-new buildings – regardless of the height and density, just isn’t the same. I pointed this out in a letter that was published – just go to The Shops at Don Mills – which is a nice development and yet is still seems sterile and over-planned and somehow phony.

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