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Beach Triangle Residents Association

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The Beach Triangle Residents Association, Toronto, Ontario

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"Condo Creep"

By John Ellis

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When the city of Toronto committed in its City Official Plan to increase population density along main transportation corridors like Queen Street, many of us applauded and considered it to be a good trade-off against urban sprawl.

Intensification was seen as an affirming strategy to get better use out of existing infrastructure while broadening the property tax base and generating more pedestrian street culture out of mixed use buildings.

Some of us might have reconsidered when the old arts hall on Queen between Rainsford and Brookmount, and some neighbouring shops with second storey apartments, were replaced by the four-storey condominium that is there today. Others, accustomed to hearing about how “cash strapped” our city is, wonder if the promised improvements for transportation and supporting infrastructure will come with increased density.

Condo development is trending upwards. Remember the four-storey height by-law? A few years ago, the developer of the buildings on the south side of Queen between Woodbine and Northern Dancer asked for a “minor variation” to add one floor, to make a five-storey structure. The BTRA strongly opposed this proposal but it was approved as a reasonable variation from the Official Plan.

The Avenues portion of the Official Plan, dedicated to increasing density on major transit routes, increased maximum height on Queen Street from the original four storeys to 20 metres (six storeys). And so the developer of One Rainsford applied for five storeys, with a sixth storey set back. Despite the concerted opposition of lower Triangle residents, this was approved.

Today, we face the next dimension of “Condo Creep” – the developer of One Rainsford is now planning “Phase Two”, a condominium to stretch from Phase One to Woodbine (except for the Poornan home, barber shop and dressmaker that will be squeezed between the two condo buildings). The BTRA Board has been represented at a meeting to review the developer's plans that, in effect, signal the developer’s opinion that if six storeys are acceptable, why not eight?

The developer proposes a six-storey structure facing on Queen and Woodbine, with a two-storey setback.

Is this acceptable to Triangle residents? The BTRA Board feels that in the tussle with the developer over One Rainsford, support was largely from those most affected in the neighbourhood of the development – there was little support (feedback?) from Triangle residents further away. Without indication of support from across the Triangle, the BTRA Board feels that there is no mandate to take action.

Some might say, “Why should we dedicate our valuable time to a cause that doesn’t directly affect us?” Well, consider the history of “Condo Creep”, from four storeys to six, and now a proposal for eight. How can anyone in the Triangle be secure that there will never be a proposal for a multi-storey building within the Triangle, such as the one on Kippendavie that caused local residents great grief, much expenditure of time and funds, to result only in some concessions from the developer?

What about our streetscape on Queen Street? Rainsford One has resulted in the destruction of some of the oldest homes in the Triangle and Phase Two will result in the destruction of one of two original homes dating back to the turn of the twentieth century. What about an eight-story tower (twice the original four-storey limit) on the building at Queen and Woodbine that, if approved, will certainly become the new standard. How long will it be before the Coffee Time/Shell gas station at Woodbine and Queen becomes a candidate site for another eight-storey tower?

What about the lovely original retail streetscape still left on Queen from number 1824 to Sauvignon Café, including Harvest and Meat on the Beach? How long will it be before that falls prey to developers and more generic, nondescript towers? Do we care?

In the article written by Hans Looije in this newsletter, it is documented that “Condo Creep” is evident throughout the Beach, with developments at the Bellefair United Church, at Licks, at the Glen Davis Ravine, at Corpus Christi School, and at Kingston Road just east of Woodbine. If this pace continues and if one eight-storey development is approved, we can expect the Beach skyline to change forever.

Hans Looije has been attending meetings inspired by Mary-Margaret McMahon to form a federation of resident groups in order to set a Beach-wide agreement on acceptable building standards and to martial resources for challenging unacceptable developments.

A new group, Friends of Queen Street, which came together due to concern about the proposed development at the Lick's site, has prepared an excellent essay on One Rainsford, and permission has been obtained to paraphrase key points from it:

Respect for heritage buildings can be incorporated in new developments. Consider the Yonge Collection at Five condos at Yonge and St. Joseph, and Yonge Street south of Adelaide, where massive new buildings are behind historic store fronts, preserving a warm and inviting streetscape. Consider 42 Hubbard Boulevard here in the Beach, where Cityhome has completely renovated the interior but restored the exterior, faithfully preserved in harmony with the other homes on the street. Consider the repurposing of Bellefair United Church, where the developer has preserved most of the original building exterior (one wishes that all of the gothic doors and windows could have been saved, but not to quibble), and created a wonderful new life for an historic landmark.

There are other serious concerns for Triangle residents. In September, residents of lower Rainsford experienced flooding of their basements, many involving major restoration costs and some including hotel costs for basement tenants. The luckiest are those who had adequate insurance, experiencing primarily inconvenience and stress. But what of those who aren’t adequately insured? The city bears no responsibility because the flooding was allegedly due to the developer of One Rainsford dumping standing water, including water containing cement washed off trucks, into the storm sewer without a permit.

Are Triangle residents concerned about the developers having it their way? What is your vision for the Triangle community? Do you want your voice to be heard? Are you prepared to give up a bit of your time to ensure the integrity of the Triangle community?

The BTRA Board neither endorses nor fails to endorse the contents of this article. The Board wants to hear from Triangle residents. Contact your residents’ association President, Hans Looije, today.