As the clock ticks at the Kew Beach fire hall, time is winding down for two developers and a group of Beach residents. They’re gearing up for a hearing that will shape two condos planned for a nearby stretch of Queen Street East, and possibly the future of development in the heart of the Beach.
About 100 people met in the Kew Beach School gym on Wednesday night to hear how the Greater Beach Neighbourhood Association plans to make its case at the first of two Ontario Municipal Board hearings about the separate condos, which starts on Oct. 7.
Supporters also came to write cheques, buy benefit concert tickets and local art to raise the $30,000 the GBNA will need to bring expert witnesses on heritage and urban design to both hearings.
GBNA president Jan Hykamp said the umbrella group of seven residents’ associations has raised $10,000 already. Hykamp noted that the remaining gap is much smaller than it would be without pro-bono representation from Wood Bull LLP, a land development law firm whose founding partners live in the Beach.
“The reason why these two developments are so incredibly important is that they are almost like a test case for the urban design guidelines,” Hykamp told the crowd. “We cannot let this slip us by.”
The guidelines Hykamp referred to were approved by city council last November and created following a $200,000 study that asked Beach residents, developers and city planners to balance Toronto’s need to densify with the historic, “small town” character of Queen Street East.
Championed by Ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, the guide requires wider sidewalks, open views of the historic Kew Beach fire hall and a three- or four-storey look for the street-facing wall of any new buildings from Coxwell Avenue to Nursewood Road.
“Other councillors are jealous of our ‘Beach Bible’,” said McMahon. Just west of the Beach, she added, Ward 31 councillor Paula Fletcher has commissioned a similar study she is calling “the New Testament.”
Besides the GBNA, lawyers for the City of Toronto will defend the application of those guidelines to the two condo proposals for Queen and Woodbine at the OMB hearings.
But not everyone is a believer.
At the northeast corner of Queen and Woodbine, Queen EMPC Six Limited proposes to build a six-storey, 70-unit building with ground floor retail on what was once the site of a Shell gas station.
The developer appealed to the OMB in February because the city had missed a deadline to approve that plan. At the same time, Queen EMPC asked city planners to scale back the directive to keep the clock tower of the Kew Beach fire hall visible from all four corners of Queen and Woodbine.
No empirical study of that view was done, said lawyers for the company, and the view would be partly blocked by the street trees and hanging baskets called for in the guidelines. Requiring such a wide-open view of the Kew Beach fire hall also put it on equal footing with bigger Toronto landmarks, they said, such as City Hall and St. James Cathedral.
On Wednesday, Neil Sinclair, a lawyer and GBNA member, said that along with such heritage issues, both OMB hearings will examine whether Queen Street’s new urban design guidelines can apply at all to the two condo projects because they were drafted at the same time the developers made their proposals.
For Jason Self, another GBNA member, if the guidelines are not upheld during the first OMB hearing in October, the next hearing, set for February, may not matter.
“In my view, and some folks might disagree, if the first one is lost, the second one is lost.”