The Queen Street East Visioning Study was born in part out of the wildly negative community reaction to the Lick’s condo development (1960 Queen St E). A similar community backlash is currently underway on the other end of the city on Ossington. The study is intended to balance the city’s Official Plan (which calls for density intensification) and the wants of the community (which wants to preserve the small-town feel of Queen St E).
In the wake of the Lick’s condo being passed, residents are looking for planning and design guidelines with teeth to encourage development more fitting the small town feel of the strip, and to fight development perceived to be ungainly and detrimental to the area’s character.
Last night marked the second of three community meetings to collect community input. Around a hundred Beach(es) area residents sat around tables with maps of Queen Street from Coxwell in the west and Victoria Park and the R.C. Harris Treatment Plant in the east.
Along the wall were photos taken of the north and south sides of the street, upon which constituents at the first community meeting had added comments and stickers – green ones around spaces they liked, red ones around points of frustration. The exercise proved telling in that the green circles populated heritage sites (most notably the Fire Station 227, generally accepted as the Beach’s west end landmark, churches, and the Fox Theatre in the east end). Red circles congregated around empty lots and past condo development, derided as sprawling masses with retail spaces that see constant turnover.
The evening started with a discussion about whether a one-size-fits all policy would work for the entire stretch or if different parts of Queen St E needed different guidelines. Little consensus could be felt in the room, as some argued the area should be treated as one unified street whereas others felt the 3km strip called for as many as seven different divisions. Some voiced frustration that the consultation process was even asking this question, feeling like distracted by the nitty-gritty rather than focusing on the more important topics of heritage, development allowance, and infrastructure.
Nicole Swerhun, the Independent Facilitator engaged for the Queen Street East Visioning Study, defended the process and expertly navigated residents’ concerns, bringing the discussion back around to constructive thought.
Later in the evening the topics moved to height restrictions, building materials, step-backs and massing. Still disappointed with the passing of the six-storey Lick’s condo, some residents insisted that a three-storey height limit was the only option, to deter large-scale development and maintain the small-town feel. Others looked to compromise, arguing instead that extra height would not damage the street’s character so long as upper storeys were stepped back from the street, giving the impression of less height, and so as not to overshadow the street.
Although the Official Plan calls for intensification along Avenues (identifying Queen St E as such) several citizens pointed out the language of the Official Plan does not require Avenues to seek or approve intensification. The point was made that as the Beach draws thousands of tourists from the rest of Toronto and beyond because of its small town charm, it should be exempt from the density called for by the Official Plan.
The importance of preserving Queen St E’s main street feel was likened to that of protecting old growth forests and endangered species. That developers were eyeing the lucrative potential along Queen St E, an area undeniably underdeveloped compared to some other parts of the city, was reason enough to limit and even deter intensification.
One resident hinted at the NIMBYist spirit of much of the night’s arguments. Was it fair, he asked, that the sanctity of Queen Street East be preserved, thereby forcing development to the surrounding areas? Should one area be considered sacrosanct to the detriment of its neighbouring hoods? The room’s response was not supportive.
Another resident’s poetic diatribe asked the room what character they were attempting to capture. The area had once been cottage country, then a distant tourist attraction, and now a built-up community. The Queen Street East Visioning Study should be forward thinking in accommodating inevitable growth and development. It should not merely fit the preferences of its current residents, but suit the needs of the city and future residents.
At the close of the night, little consensus was made on any of the topics brought forward by the consultation team. Consensus did not seem to be the aim, as the consultants were looking more for opportunities of compromise. Fortunately there is a third community meeting on September 19, 2012, set to bring the community involvement in the Queen Street Visioning Study to a thrilling conclusion.
More information about the Queen Street Visioning Study can be found at the City of Toronto’s website here. You can also get in touch with Kate Green of SWERHUN Facilitations & Decision Support at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (416) 572-4365.