TRCC post: 1960 Queen St E

Or, A Tale of Two Condos
Or, NIMBY!

Last week I went to my first community meeting with Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon and fellow TRCC-er Suraiya Rahman. The meeting had been called because of  the upcoming development at 1960 Queen St E, referred to throughout the night as “The Lick’s Condo” because it would be replacing the neighbourhood burger joint.

There was a lot of passion. Ward 32 has got some incredibly proud Beachers who felt protective of the “small town next to the water” quality of the area, something they said this condo would diminish. Friends of Queen Street and the Beach Residents Association‘s websites both clearly lay out details and their positions on this development.

It’s a complicated issue. There’s real estate, development, infrastructure, construction, heritage, neighbourhood integrity, policy, population, and transit elements at play, and that’s only what we were able to cover over the course of the meeting.

Here is the proposed condo:

And it has inspired a very emotional backlash. No, it’s not a massive condo, but it will be ousting a neighbourhood landmark, and is fairly taller than its surrounding buildings. Dropping a 6-storey, 29-unit glass condo there is, yes, going to break up the small town- feel of the stretch consisting mostly otherwise 1-2 storey, early 20th-century buildings.

A repeated concern was that this development will set a precedent, and before long developers will descend on Queen St E, raze its charm to the ground and replace it with glass-box condos. Fortunately the small-town qualities of the Beach(es) can make it tricky for aggressive development. The limited lane-ways, smaller lots, and scattered heritage buildings somewhat limit opportunities for condos.

At one point the question was raised as to why Queen St E, with its narrow roads and limited parking was a suitable area for condo development in the first place. Why weren’t developers forced to build on the Danforth instead, with its wider road, greater parking opportunities, and subway line? (People want to live on the subway line remember? So much so that building a subway line will initiate development, right?) But it’s undeniable – Queen St E is a great place to live, and a wonderful draw for developers.

Throughout the night, two terms came to mind: NIMBY and BANANA

NIMBY, I’m sure you’ve heard, is “Not in My Back Yard”. A constituent doesn’t have an issue with a development per se, they just don’t want it anywhere near them.

BANANA (thanks Andrew Jeanes for introducing me to this term) is “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything” which might be my favourite new acronym.

Many citizens agreed development is healthy for creating a sustainable city but were concerned about creative a slippery slope. This condo would only be the beginning, so don’t let them build it in the first place. But since developers manoeuver around local guidelines and have the legal and financial clout to outlast any grassroots protest, what can a group of residents do to  impact a decision?

There are a few options. All take a lot of time and energy, none are guaranteed, or will be able to slow the development of condos already in the planning process.

A Heritage Conservation District (HCD) is something Councillor McMahon, Heritage Toronto, and Scott Barrett, Senior Planner in Heritage Designation have brought up. Mr. Barrett pointed out there are 97 potential HCDs in the City of Toronto, and not enough staff to handle the applications. If implemented, an area would receive certain protections, but could not completely stop future development, nor challenge development currently underway.

A Visioning Study is in the works for a plan for the area. Similarly, it will help protect stakeholders’ interests but will have limitations in the control it has over development.

Buildings and sight-lines can also be submitted for listing and designation if they have historical and heritage significance.  Considering how even the Queen’s Park’s sight-lines aren’t sacred, it’s not clear how successful such a measure would be in Ward 32.

Those are the major heritage issues at play. Now for the policy issues:

There is a need to balance policy that seek growth (Places to Grow) and local guidelines that seek to moderate that growth. A the meeting when city the crowd was informed that the Beach(es) have only seen 100 units built in 10 years, the reply was “That’s what we want!”

It was reiterated than that Ward 32 (Beaches-East York) is not Ward 20 (Trinity-Spadina, or really, a good chunk of downtown Toronto). Ward 20 faces 80-storey condo development. I mean, have you driven along the Gardiner lately? Soaring skyscrapers take advantage of every square foot of available space. By comparison, 6-storey development like the “Lick’s Condo” is a modest addition. People want to live in Toronto. Our population is growing. In order to protect our green spaces from urban sprawl, we need to intensify.

And yes, the heritage preservationist (and proud Beach(es) resident!) in me wishes the developers had found a way to incorporate the existing architecture. It’s called adaptive reuse folks, and it’s awesome. You get to keep the heritage elements of an area and accommodate new growth. Everybody wins.

I mean, Bellefair Kew Beach Residences, a few blocks east of Lick’s, worked it out:

So what happens next? There is a Beaches-East York Community Meeting scheduled for May 15, where this project will be recommended, and you can have your say. There’s also a free workshop on making an impact with your deputation coming up.

If you’re interested in new buildings cropping up and old buildings going down, get to know incredible online resources like Heritage Toronto, the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and its blog ACORN in a Nutshell, Urban Toronto, and Built Heritage News’ newsletter. And if you’re interested in the fate of 1806 Queen St E, hope to see you at the Beaches-East York Community Meeting May 15.

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