Future of Beach “gateway” at stake

With residents and developers looking on, lawyers made final arguments at an Oct. 22 hearing into a six-storey condo proposed for Queen and Woodbine.

Ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon and staff protest on Oct. 4 at Queen St. East and Woodbine Avenue against a six-storey condo that opponents say would block too much of the historic Kew Beach fire hall two doors down. PHOTO: Andrew Hudson
Ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon and staff protest on Oct. 4 at Queen St. East and Woodbine Avenue against a six-storey condo that opponents say would block too much of the historic Kew Beach fire hall two doors down.
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

But with a February hearing into another six-storey condo planned across the street and a May appeal of a city bylaw related to the Queen Street urban design guidelines, debate over the Beach’s “gateway” corner is far from done.

Quoting an architect who called it “overbuilt,” “overpowering” and “incompatible,” lawyer Dennis Wood said the condo plans for Queen and Woodbine’s northeast corner ignore local design guidelines from 2004 that were updated last year.

“A mantra that says guidelines aren’t meant to be expressed literally doesn’t mean you can throw them out,” said Wood, whose firm, Wood Bull LLP, is representing the Greater Beach Neighbourhood Association.

Wood rejected the idea that the people he represents are NIMBY types, saying they accept new condos in the Beach.

But developers have to accept local guidelines, he said, which call for buildings that appear to be three or four storeys from Queen Street and respect heritage sites like the Kew Beach fire hall, which has a clock tower the new condo would partially block from the west.

“You’ve heard no evidence that the applicant will suffer hardship for having to live within the best practices of urban design,” he said, referring to the developer, a subsidiary of the Killmer Brownfield Equity Fund.

“They just don’t want to do it.”

City of Toronto lawyer Jessica Braun said apart from local guidelines, the proposed condo has projecting balconies that violate the city’s overall standard for mid-rise buildings, and is twice the density allowed by the existing zoning, which the developer is asking the city to amend.

Braun also joined Wood in defending the Beach guidelines.

“Guidelines matter,” she said, noting that although the new guidelines were formally accepted a few weeks after the developer applied to rezone the property, the developer was part of the city exercise that created them.

Braun said while such Urban Design Guidelines are not on a par with Avenue Studies, the city’s higher-order neighbourhood plan, they are the best choice for Queen Street East, which already has the kind of commercial activity and density the city is trying to encourage.

Speaking for the developer, David Bronskill said the Beach guidelines were rushed, leaving areas of confusion and, in any case, were retroactively imposed.

Even if they do apply, Bronskill said the Beach guidelines should not be given the same weight as the mid-rise guidelines that are part of the city’s official plan because they are not laws, meaning no one can appeal, amend or seek relief from them if they are poorly made.

Bronskill also noted that Woodbine Avenue is “not a hard and fast line,” and the new condo should reflect the six-storey buildings just west of it as well as the lower buildings to the east.

It’s not as if someone standing on the corner closes their eyes when looking west of Woodbine, he said.

Wood later countered that argument by saying the historic Beach starts at Woodbine, joking at one point that like Las Vegas, whatever happens west of Woodbine stays there.

Asked what she thought of the 10-day hearing, Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon said she was heartened that the board set aside two hours for public comments, which she said is uncommon.

McMahon said the Beach guidelines that the developer is challenging took six months and $200,000 to create, were voted in unanimously by city council and strike a fair compromise between growth and heritage values.

“We’ve all put our blood, sweat and tears into this,” she said.

Like Braun, McMahon noted that the developer was part of the Beach guidelines study, so she was surprised to find their architect designed the Queen and Woodbine condo to meet the city’s overall plan without taking the Beach plan into account.

“When we first started the visioning study, everybody was at different ends of the spectrum and all over in-between,” she said, adding that the final guidelines were a hard-won compromise.

“For them to be dismissed would be a huge slap in the face, it really would be,” she said.

“It’s the one time when we’re all on the same page.”

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