OMB ruling discounts Queen guidelines

City councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon says she still has faith in her  “Beach Bible” after the Ontario Municipal Board poked a hole in it last month.

On Dec. 11, the OMB ruled in favour of a six-storey condo proposed for the old Shell site at the northeast corner of Queen Street and Woodbine Avenue.

The ruling dismissed a key part of the building design guidelines McMahon has championed for Queen Street East – that someone standing at Queen and Woodbine should be able to see the  clock tower of the historic Kew Beach fire hall from any corner of the intersection.

Writing for the OMB, board member Blair Taylor noted that neither the guidelines nor the Visioning Study they are based on contains any heritage reports to support preserving such a  view of the tower, which would mean the six-storey condo would have to be  smaller than planned.

“From the Board’s perspective, that is a fundamental omission of the Visioning Study,” he wrote.

At the OMB hearing, where the City of Toronto and a Beach residents’ group argued against the developer, Queen EMPC Six Ltd., the lawyer for Queen EMPC also stressed another issue – his client had applied to build the condo before city council passed the new Queen Street guidelines in November 2012.

Calling the OMB’s ruling on the former Shell site “hugely disappointing,” McMahon said that hearing and an upcoming one for another six-storey condo proposed across the street are both one-offs.

“I still stand by our guidelines,” she said.

Because they applied for their permits before council passed the guidelines, McMahon said, “We knew that the developers would plead wiggle room on these two. But no one else can.”

McMahon said she will meet with city planning staff this week to talk about what happened at the OMB, and whether in the future they might seek changes to the city’s Official Plan.

Another reason why the OMB ruled in favour of the Queen EMPC proposal is that the new Queen Street guidelines are non-statutory – unlike Official Plan policies, which are statutory, they can’t be appealed if a developer believes they are unfair.

McMahon said one possible solution is to make Queen Street East a Heritage Conservation District, meaning its existing character would have Official Plan protection.

Asked whether, in light of the OMB ruling, the $200,000 Visioning Study and resulting Queen Street guidelines were worth doing, McMahon said the guidelines are the strongest means to protect Queen Street’s character short of getting HCD status, which takes a long time.

In the larger picture, McMahon said she feels the recent ruling shows why Toronto should be excluded from OMB jurisdiction.

“A year ago, at council, we passed a motion asking the province to take us out,” she said. “And we’re still waiting.”

Jan Hykamp, president of the Greater Beach Neighbourhood Association, said while he too is disappointed by the OMB ruling, the GBNA and the city did win some concessions.

The OMB agreed with the GBNA’s architecture expert that the white stone facade and overhanging top floors on the building did not suit the character of the street and should be changed.

The condo will also have to shed some of the balconies that were planned for it because of complaints from the apartment building to the north and a 1994 bylaw that called for a “notch” that protects a view to the Kew fire hall from the south side of Queen.

Hykamp joined McMahon in calling for Toronto’s exit from the OMB, and said the GBNA is meeting with larger residents’ association groups and NDP MPP Michael Prue to talk about it.

But Hykamp pointed out that such an exit is no simple move.

“The right to appeal is so strongly embedded in law that even if the OMB goes away, you’ve got to answer the question, ‘What will take its place?’”

Beach Metro News requested a comment from Kilmer Brownfield Equity Fund for this article, but did not receive a response by press time.

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