It all hinges on a point of view.
As lawyers debated plans for a six-storey condo on Queen St. East at the Ontario Municipal Board last week, they took different angles on a key question: How much of the historic Kew Beach firehall should people see from Queen if the condo is built on the nearby corner lot at Woodbine Avenue?
Speaking for the developer, lawyer David Bronskill said there is no in-force policy requiring what the city and a group of Beach residents’ associations is asking for – an open view of the firehall clock tower from all four corners at Queen and Woodbine.
That requirement is listed in the new Beach Urban Design Guidelines, which were championed by Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon after city council approved another six-storey condo a few blocks east on the former site of Lick’s hamburger restaurant.
Toronto city council adopted those guidelines in principle in November 2012 and passed a corresponding bylaw in May.
But as Bronskill noted, the developer had already applied to build the condo about a month before the guidelines were adopted, in October 2012. That application landed at the OMB after the city failed to act on it by its four-month deadline.
Unlike the historic firehall in Yorkville, he added, the Kew Beach firehall has no specific protection in the city’s Official Plan, although the city has forwarded a request for one to Ontario’s Ministry of Housing.
“Show it to me in an in-force policy document,” Bronskill said in opening remarks to the OMB. “They will not be able to do that.”
[flagallery gid=23 name=”1884 Queen Street East”]
Many issues besides the firehall views were raised during the 10-day OMB hearing that wrapped up yesterday and attracted some 50 residents to the Bay Street hearing rooms.
The owner of 223 Woodbine, a four-storey apartment building just north of the site, bowed out of the hearing on day two after resolving shadow and privacy issues with the developer.
Architect Michael Spaziani, an expert witness called by the Greater Beach Neighbourhood Association, criticized the six-storey stone corner of the proposed condo as “virtually a sheer wall.”
Leontine Major, a senior planner with the City of Toronto responsible for the Beach area, said the city clearly wants more density at Queen and Woodbine.
The corner was recognized by planners as the entry to the Beach more than 20 years ago, she said, but it has been home to a gas station since the late 1960s. The developer, Queen EMPC Six Ltd., is affiliated with Kilmer Brownfield Equity Fund, which cleaned up the site.
But the six-storey condo goes against recent decisions made by city council, Major said, not to mention council’s 2010 decision to exempt Queen Street East from the city’s Avenues and Mid Rise Guidelines – guidelines that encourage five- to 11-storey condos on major roads as the best way to house the 500,000 new Toronto residents expected to arrive by 2031.
Architect Roland Rom Colthoff, who designed the condo in question, is a major proponent of the mid-rise approach.
“We think the building as designed meets Toronto’s mid-rise in spirit,” he said.
An awarded member of Toronto’s design review panel, Rom Colthoff and his firm, RAW Design, have five mid-rise condo projects nearby: the Bellefair church conversion, the six-storey condo on the former Lick’s site, a four-storey condo on Kippendavie, a six-storey condo at Woodbine and Kingston Road and a seven-storey condo at Woodbine and Gerrard.
Clad in red brick to match the firehall and the one-storey TTC substation beside it on Queen, Rom Colthoff called the building a “modest insertion into the existing fabric.”
Its many vertical windows are a contemporary rendition of local heritage structures, he said, and the white stone facade on its corner gestures to a southern Ontario tradition of marking key intersections.
One block south, he noted, Woodbine has traditional cottage-style homes on one side and tall, bright New Urbanist townhomes on the other.
As for council’s 2010 decision to exempt Queen from the Avenues and Mid-Rise study that guided his design, he and other experts representing the developer noted that city planners have said the study represents a good guide for urban design in Toronto, whether on an official Avenue or not. When he spoke to planners about this and other projects on Queen, it was always the Avenues guidelines they referred to.
“Because council took it out of the guidelines, it kind of leaves planners at a loss,” he said.
Final arguments at the OMB were made after the Beach Metro press deadline, but will be covered in a future story. A decision by the OMB may take four to six weeks.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly listed a condo under construction at Queen and Rainsford as a RAW Design project. In fact, that condo is by another firm.
This story has been corrected to show that Beach Club Lofts, a seven-storey condo at Kingston Road and Woodbine, is a RAW Design project.