With seven community organizations that pop up every time the word ‘development’ is mentioned, many – including the people involved – may wonder if Beachers are a bunch of whiners suffering from a severe case of NIMBYism, or simply residents that will fight at length to see their neighbourhood stay as is – packed with history and full of character.
Jason Self, a member of Friends of Queen Street (FoQS), said at a public meeting on March 15 that one of the challenges that Ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon has at council is convincing other councillors that Beach residents are not whiners.
The meeting, attended by some 150 residents, was planned as a follow-up to McMahon’s recent walk along Queen Street that looked at the segment study funded by developer Reserve Properties. The study suggests that Queen Street between Woodbine and Lee could potentially see four sites developed in the near future: the gas station at the corner of Queen and Woodbine, The Beach Mall at Queen and Waverley, Ends at Queen and Elmer, and TD Bank on Queen at Lee.
McMahon was not in attendance as she was on a planned vacation for March Break and was given short notice of the meeting.
Self repeatedly said that “we are not against development,” and emphasized that FoQS welcomes development “that fits with the character of our neighbourhood.”
What that means is instead of the proposed six-storey building that is planned for Queen Street East, buildings should be limited to four storeys and no more than 12 m in height, which is the current zoning.
Self referred to the Beach Urban Design Guidelines put in place back in 1990, which state that developments should maintain “appropriate streetscapes.”
In 2002, the official plan for the City of Toronto pushed for development in what they defined as ‘avenues’, roadways with increased pedestrian traffic that can benefit from development. The Avenue and Mid-Rise Buildings Study guidelines stated that developers could build as high up as the width of the street, which on Queen Street is roughly 20 m, or the equivalent of six storeys.
In 2010, City Council voted to remove Queen Street from that study after Ward 32 Councillor Sandra Bussin and Ward 30 Councillor Paula Fletcher put forth a motion to protect the heritage nature of many parts of Queen.
The frustration, it seems, stems not from developers applying for zoning exemptions, but from the process that sees these developments grow beyond zoning bylaws after exemption requests are put forward to the committee of adjustment or City Council.
“The exemptions are not being adjudicated in a fair way, and there are too many exemptions to the rule,” said Jan Hykamp, organizer of the Greater Beach Neighbourhood Association. “Sooner or later we are going to be completely re-zoned based on exemptions rather than a comprehensive plan.”
Self said some of the objectives of the group include protecting the historical properties and adding more trees along Queen Street.
“We’re not here to say ‘stop all development and we never want change.’ No, that’s not it because it’s very easy for opponents to say ‘you’re just a bunch of NIMBYs’,” said Self.
The residents seem to accept that development is inevitable, and in some cases desired.
Hans Looije of the Beach Triangle Residents Association also spoke at length about the issues his area has had with sewage problems due to new developments going up. The group feels those concerns, along with parking and transit, should have been addressed and studied prior to development approvals.
“So you’re gonna have, for residents [and visitors], worse parking. You’re gonna have more traffic, and you’re gonna have more unreliable transit,” said Looije.
As a result of the concerns by Beachers, McMahon has initiated a Visioning Study to address such things as densification, character, traffic and parking, and report on their impacts on the community.
The problem is that it will not be started until late summer or early fall. This opens the door for more developments to be approved in the meantime. FoQS has requested that the Study be fast-tracked and that all re-zoning applications be frozen until it is completed.
Some residents suggested filing an application for Heritage Conservation District designation, a process that could be lengthy and not guaranteed.
The proposed development at 1960 Queen St. E. (the current Licks’ location) has been delayed by six months, and the developer is now entitled to bring it to the Ontario Municipal Board.
“The [Lick’s] developer has actually been fairly open and trying to work with residents,” said Self.
A few residents expressed their disappointment that McMahon was not present at such an important meeting and that she should be doing more.
“I believe the politicians play a major role in all of this, and if there’s a lot of crookedness on the politician’s part then it really isn’t fair…they should not favour one side more than the other,” said Maria De Lima, a resident in the Beach for 17 years. “Everybody should benefit equally.”
A resident also claimed to have heard McMahon calling Beach residents whiners.
So are they?
“The Beachers really care about their neighbourhood. They might get a little vocal and very passionate but I think deep down they really care about the neighbourhood,” said George Papasimitriou, who has lived on Lee Avenue for 15 years.
“There’s nothing wrong in being concerned about your neighbourhood and the area that you live in,” said De Lima.
“It’s now or never,” concluded Self. “Development can be good. We just want clear rules.”