Queen East Urban Design Guidelines

Oct 13th, 2014 | By | Category: Winter 2012

The Visioning Study for Queen Street East in the Beach led by our councillor, Mary-Margaret McMahon, resulted in the formation of a Stakeholders’ Advisory Committee (SAC), that met three times during the summer, augmented by three public meetings. The meetings were expertly facilitated by Swerhun & Associates, while James Parakh of the City Planning Department pulled the diverse opinions and ideas together into a plan that would gain majority acceptance.

John Ellis was appointed as the BTRA delegate and Hans Looije as the alternate. Hans attended the meetings until he left the country for much of the summer and John attended all but one. New BTRA board members Jeff Levitt and Bill Hurst also attended meetings, with Jeff being a representative from the Greater Beach Neighbourhood Association (GBNA).

The SAC was made up with approximately half being representatives from area residents’ associations and half being interested professionals (architects, planners, academics, etc.).

The meetings became increasingly long and loud as opinions polarized. At the beginning, most people wanted Queen East in the Beach left pretty much as it is and, if any parts needed renewal, they should look pretty much like what is there now. Some supported the City Planning position that the Official Plan encourages increased density on “Avenues” (major streets that are well served with transit) and that: new development in the Beach isn’t likely to consist of large buildings, some existing buildings need major renovation or replacement, and architectural treatment could result in visually-acceptable, new buildings.

By the time of the final meeting in September, a poll of attendees revealed that a majority of the resident association representatives largely supported the final draft guidelines while a majority of the professionals did not. There are a few professional experts that have continued to fight these guidelines, and one of these has fostered incorporation of the Toronto Beach Residents Association toward that goal.

The Urban Design Guidelines (UDG) adopted by the Toronto City Council in November establish guidelines for new development. Among other things, these guidelines contemplate maximum heights up to six storeys depending on the area and depth of the lot, with the goal of having the development fit comfortably into the existing streetscape. The City Planning Department expressed the view that there are relatively few sites for re-development due to: new development being already under way, new development being prohibited (due to buildings containing more than six rental units1), Listed or designated heritage buildings, or being zoned residential or a “neighbourhood”.

City Planning recommended that the guidelines be expanded from those adopted in 1987 to now include the area from Coxwell to Woodbine. The BTRA representatives strongly supported this, and recommended that Queen East be divided into planning areas aligned with the historic beaches and reflecting differences in the streetscape. Thus, three planning areas were adopted: Woodbine Beach Precinct, Kew Beach Precinct, and Balmy Beach Precinct.

There were representatives from east of Woodbine that argued that the Beach really begins at Woodbine and extends east to Neville Park/Nursewood. This view was overturned based on agreement to a north-south orientation between the beaches and the street, and on the History of the Triangle that documented the pivotal role played by the Triangle and area in the development of the entire Beach area.

Listed or designated heritage buildings will be preserved and sight lines to historic sites (such as the Fire Hall) will be assured. The Bellefair church condo was agreed to be a good example of how a heritage building could be largely conserved but serve a new purpose.

New buildings might span more than one existing property but the architectural treatment of the building front will resemble the diversity of storefronts one sees today.

East of Woodbine, existing streetscape will be further respected by limiting new buildings to three or four storeys at the sidewalk and any additional floors will be set back so that a person standing on the opposite side of Queen would be able to see only the three or four storeys. Building materials, windows and signage will be complementary. Sidewalks in front of new buildings will be wider (similar to those on Queen in the area of the Triangle). There will be abundant benches, more trees, and utilities buried wherever possible.

Extensive shadow studies of new buildings constructed under the guidelines demonstrate that between September and March there will be no shadows on neighbouring buildings across Queen Street and there will also be set backs at the rear of new buildings to minimize shadows on homes on connecting streets.

Although we won recognition that the Woodbine Beach Precinct is part of the Beach, it was clear that it is quite different from the other precincts, due to the hodgepodge of buildings between Kingston Road and Coxwell (with the exception of Murphy’s Law and a few others). The only part of our precinct that is significantly similar to the rest of Queen East in the Beach is the area from Kingston Road to Woodbine on the north side, and Woodbine Park.

Unfortunately, this area is now partially compromised due to the aberrant row of buildings on the south side of Queen, the One Rainsford condo, and the proposed 200 The Beach condo at Queen and Woodbine (now with City Planning for consideration and subject to the new Queen Street East Urban Design Guidelines). The BTRA fought hard for these developments to be more compatible with the neighbourhood but we fought alone. One wonders if they would have been approved as they are if we had the public support now seen in developing the current guidelines.

The new draft guidelines contemplate different massing of buildings in the Woodbine Beach Precinct as compared to what would be required east of Woodbine, as the guidelines contemplate new development that resembles the One Rainsford building (four storeys at the sidewalk and up to two more floors set back, i.e. upper floors would be visible from the opposite side of Queen).

The BTRA Board is closely monitoring the 200 The Beach condo proposed for the north-west corner of Queen and Woodbine, to see if the developer amends the plan to comply with the UDG.

The developers of the former Shell station site on the north-east corner of Woodbine and Queen have already submitted objection to the draft guidelines, contending that:

  • This is “a substantial departure from city policy and practice where corner sites are approached with a view to give prominence to the street frontages” and “this site is an entryway into the traditional Beach commercial area.” This view overlooks the reality that new UDG begin at Coxwell and Queen, meaning that the entry to the Beach and the commercial district really begins there.
  • “The provision of a 4.8 metre sidewalk on both the Queen Street East and Woodbine Avenue frontage with an additional 45-degree chamfer on corner sites is in excess of the current condition of the Beach commercial area”. However these guidelines were strongly supported for new development in the Beach.
  • “The draft guidelines, as currently written preclude the reasonable expectations for development of our client’s property”. This will represent a substantial test of the UDG and readiness of City Planning to fight for the guidelines.

The final draft guidelines were distributed to the BTRA board, reviewed and approved. The views of other residents were sought. There was no negative reaction to the final positions taken by your representatives, who recommended that: the final guidelines better reflect the historic significance of the Woodbine Beach Precinct, any new buildings conform to the same guidelines as apply to those east of Woodbine, that the residential neighbourhood between Kingston Road and Brookmount be designated as a neighbourhood, and that the heritage retail buildings between Brookmount and Rainsford be protected.

here are pluses and minuses. The UDG do include a Sustainability section, endorsing the Green Toronto standards. However, the guidelines lack an extremely important section regarding Infrastructure (ability to meet needs for transit, traffic flow, parking, bike lanes, water, flood prevention, and more). City Planning explained that these responsibilities are not under their jurisdiction and a multitude of other rules and guidelines apply to approvals in these areas.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating”. Although City Planning assures us that these new guidelines will be applied vigourously in considering development applications and will be the basis for city-supported opposition in any appeals filed with the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), critics of the new guidelines say that developers will view them as a minimum and seek exemptions or appeals in order to get what they want. We will be watching application of the guidelines closely and opposing those that seek to breach them.

(The image used to accompany this article taken from Toronto Urban Design Guidelines: Queen Street East – Coxwell Avenue to Nursewood Road, November 2012)

1 Development in such properties could be approved if the rental properties are replaced, a condition not popular with most developers.

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