Concern, confusion over 17-storey building at southeast corner of Queen Street East and Coxwell Avenue

The proposal for the southeast corner of Coxwell Avenue and Queen Street East includes a 17-storey building which will face onto the Eastern Avenue side (seen in this photo) of the site. Photo by Alan Shackleton.

By ALI RAZA, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A new development proposed for Queen Street East and Coxwell Avenue is too tall for the neighbourhood and will set an unwanted precedent, some Beach residents are saying.

Residents are “concerned and confused” regarding a 17-storey development coming to 1631 Queen St. E.- despite guidelines that restrict height.

Many who participated in the creation of the Queen Street East Urban Design Guidelines for the Beach in 2012 – guidelines that restricted building heights to maintain a district agreed-upon character – are wondering what to make of a new Housing Now mixed-use development.

“We’re somewhere on the spectrum between concerned and confused,” Jeffrey Levitt said. “It was kind of surprising to see the city come out with this proposal.”

Levitt was involved in developing the Queen Street East Urban Design Guidelines. He is supportive of the affordable housing initiative, stressing that is not the cause of concern among residents.

The proposed height is the “elephant in the room,” he noted.

The site is located southeast of Queen Street East and Coxwell Avenue, and falls within the Queen Street East Urban Design Guidelines which cover building heights along Queen Street East in the Beach from Coxwell to Nursewood Road.

The current occupants of the site are the Beaches Employment and Social Services Centre and the Coxwell Toronto Early Childcare Centre, as well as a closed road allowance. The redevelopment aims to bring a mix of retail and residential areas, including affordable housing units via the city’s Housing Now initiative, as well as an expansion of the childcare centre.

At a community meeting on Dec. 7, 2020, most residents in attendance expressed support for the affordable housing initiative and the other redevelopments on the site. The main concern since that meeting has been the 17-storey height of the residential units, which significantly exceeds the height limits established in 2012.

“In the absence of an explanation from the city as to why they think these designs are appropriate we no longer know what to make of the guidelines, and we don’t know what the guidelines means for the next development on Queen Street East,” Levitt explained.

In the designs shown then, the building frontage on Queen Street East would be just over six storeys while in the middle of the lot, and the 17-storeys would front Eastern Avenue.

While not quite 17-storeys fronting Queen Street East, residents say it still sets a precedent for developers.

“The main height for this proposal would be based on the Eastern Avenue frontage,” Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford said. “This site is quite large and not typical of other lots on Queen.”

From Levitt’s understanding, the building will be eight storeys fronting Queen Street, 10 storeys in the middle, and 17 facing Eastern Avenue, exceeding the guidelines’ six-storey limit.

The city’s agency, Housing Now, says an exception to the Queen Street East Urban Design Guidelines to exceed the height limit would support 25 per cent more affordable housing at the site. It adds this possibility for the site was raised when the guidelines were first developed in 2012.

Levitt said the city has not addressed or adequately explained to residents why it’s “blowing through the height limit.”

In a letter to Beach Metro News, residents Mary Campbell and Barbara Myrvold noted the exception seemed unnecessary.

“The proponents should have done some research to find out that affordable housing units have been sprinkled through the Beach over the years,” they wrote. “These have not been high-rises; but instead, existing houses or new low-rise buildings were used. They were designed so that the dwellings blended with the neighbourhood.”

They also raised concerns regarding the “height-setting precedent” for future buildings.

Bradford is largely supportive of the initiative, and doesn’t believe it will change the neighbourhood’s character.

“A proposal that exceeds the general six-storey recommendation won’t set a negative precedent for all of Queen Street,” he said.

“Height and density has to make sense in context, and I certainly wouldn’t support 17-storeys anywhere along Queen Street.”

Levitt and other residents believe more dialogue is needed with the city to completely understand why the planning decisions were made.

Bradford has noted that there are more community consultation meetings to come, but since the Dec. 7 meeting, residents have been waiting for more answers.

“We went into this process with some element of confidence in the guidelines,” said Levitt. “Coming out of this because of the lack of dialogue and justification for departure, then there’s less confidence.”

“People aren’t confused if they have an explanation,” he added. “They’re usually confused when they don’t.”

Ali Raza is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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