Beach residents fiercely opposed to a six-storey condo proposal near Queen Street E. and Woodbine Avenue say a showdown at the Ontario Municipal Board is appearing increasingly inevitable.
“The residents groups are certainly trying to avoid that, but we’re committed if we have to,” said Jason Self, spokesperson for the Friends of Queen East. “If we choose not to, there will be other people.”
A final report making its way to community council on May 15 is recommending a rezoning of the site at 1960-62 Queen St. E. to permit the construction of a 29-unit boutique condominium with at-grade retail and underground parking.
The site, located at the northeast corner of Queen Street East and Kenilworth Avenue, is currently a Lick’s Restaurant.
Despite having the backing of the planning department, site owner Reserve Properties is facing significant pushback from local residents, who decry the proposal as too large and out of context with the mostly one- to two-storey mixed-use buildings that currently line Queen Street E. between Woodbine and Lee avenues.
“It just throws the whole harmony of the street,” said Simone Skopek, who has lived just north of the proposed site for the past 25 years.
The site is currently zoned for a height cap of 12 metres, which translates to roughly three storeys. Reserve Properties applied to build to 20 metres, equaling roughly six storeys. If the planning department’s recommendations are passed at council, maximum density of the land is also set to increase.
Self says though height is an overriding concern, the development will also attract more traffic to a neighbourhood already bogged down by too much traffic and parking troubles.
The project, Self says, will also have negative implications for the neighbourhood’s potential as a heritage conservation district.
Moreover, residents say the development will set a precedent that will open the floodgates for similar developments they fear will destroy the neighbourhood’s distinct character.
The report says planners took into account an independent segment study as required by law and commissioned by Reserve Properties, the Beaches Design Guidelines for Queen East, and the Official Plan’s Avenues and Midrise Buildings plan.
The planning department contends that the area is designated as an Avenue in the city’s Official Plan, and thus marked for growth and intensification. The proposed development, the report states, is in keeping with that directive.
But Self said the planners should be adhering to the Beaches Design Guidelines for Queen East, especially where height is concerned.
“They say they’re applying it, but as resident groups, we don’t feel it’s being respected,” he said. “They’re picking and choosing which rules they want to enforce.”
Shelley Fenton, president of Reserve Properties said Queen Street E. is poised for new growth as there has been little by way of new development for years. Further east on Queen, Fenton’s company is also converting the former Bellefair United Church into a condominium and townhouse complex.
“There is a dire need to accommodate residential housing for both young first-time buyers and people who are selling their homes and stepping down into a smaller environment to live in,” he said.
Mary-Margaret McMahon, who earlier in the year received council approval for a visioning study that will determine specific guidelines for future development on Queen Street E., says she has her own concerns and has asked the developers to look into better environmental standards for the condo, and further design changes that would lessen the visual impact of its presence on the street.
But the Ward 32 councillor says there are community members, including local merchants, who approve of the development and see it as an opportunity for revitalization.
“The Beach is spectacular, we all love the small-town feel … but we have to remember — we do live in the city,” she said.
McMahon says she’s hoping a compromise can be reached for the community’s sake.
“I don’t want to lead people down the garden path that they can win at the OMB,” she said. “And believe me, I’m the eternal optimist but I’ve seen how skewed it is toward the developer.”
But according to Self, if it comes down to it, residents are ready for that battle. He’s received a slew of emails from locals he’s never met who say they will not accept the proposal as it is now.
“It’s inevitable that someone’s going to take it to the OMB,” he said.
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