The final public meeting in the Queen Street East Visioning Study process was held on Sept. 19 at the Toronto Fire Academy, with a vocal group representing a number of local interests taking part. A draft of the proposed new Urban Design Guidelines was presented by James Parakh, the city’s Urban Design Program Manager. Also on hand were representatives from the city’s Heritage, Planning, Operations, Transportation and Engineering departments, as well as from the TTC and the Parking Authority.
Nicole Swerhun, who has been the facilitator in charge of running the meetings as part of the study process, began by praising the energy the participants have brought to the process, but also pointed out that much of what the community is looking for – including improved sewers and infrastructure, and solutions to traffic, parking and transit issues – fall outside of the scope of the study.
“You’re going to have to continue your advocacy,” she said.
Swerhun also acknowledged that many participants would not necessarily agree with everything in the proposed guidelines; however, considering the range of opinions present in the room, pleasing everyone isn’t possible.
The draft guidelines split Queen Street into three areas: the Woodbine, Kew and Balmy Beach precincts. Many of the suggestions apply to the entire stretch, from Coxwell to Neville Park.
According to the draft guidelines handed out at the last meeting, connection to (or “synergy” with) the physical beach should be preserved, including north/south views on streets south of Queen.
New developments should include existing characteristics, such as recessed business doorways. They should also be designed so they don’t restrict the possibility of restaurant use, so they should be able to accommodate mechanical and air handling units as well as garbage storage.
Continuous surface walls are to be discouraged, to maintain the small scale of the street. Treatments should fall into a six to 12 metre “rhythm.” A number of architectural elements and building details are outlined in the guidelines as well.
Business and residential entrances should be easily distinguished. Buildings should also use high quality materials – untreated materials, such as exposed concrete block, should not be used even for side walls. Balconies facing Queen should be recessed.
Shadow studies were undertaken to arrive at the required setbacks from the front and rear property lines both west and east of Woodbine. To the west, street-facing walls, or ‘streetwalls’, will be a maximum of 12.5m. Anything above that height, to a maximum of 20m, will be set back at an angle of 45˚. Existing areas classed as ‘Neighbourhoods’ – areas of houses on the north side of Queen – are not encouraged for any development.
East of Woodbine, streetwalls are to be 9.5m tall, with a fourth floor set back 3m, and any remaining storeys should be set back so that a person standing on the opposite side of the street will see a building that appears to be four storeys. The rear of the buildings are to be set back at 45˚ for anything over three storeys. Corner buildings between Woodbine and Glen Manor are to have 45˚ set backs over three storeys for the side facing the north/south street.
A number of architectural styles are named, including Late Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, Queen Anne Style, Art Deco and Style Moderne, and Modern Brick Vernacular. There are also environmental standards to be incorporated in new buildings, known as the Toronto Green Standard.
Finally, special note was made of the views of the fire hall clock tower. Views of the tower are to be maintained from the sidewalk at the northeast corner of Queen and Woodbine. It should be noted that, by virtue of geometry, views from the northwest corner would also be preserved along with those from the northeast corner.
A number of concerns were raised by meeting attendees. One of the most prominent was the question of whether the guidelines would be enforced by the planning department. Parakh said if adopted, the guidelines would be supported by staff, and will be “defensible” at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), should a proposal outside of the guidelines require a hearing.
“Should council adopt these guidelines, then we will be maintaining these guidelines in our recommendations to council,” he said.
Answering questions from the crowd, city planner Leontine Major said the proposed building at the northwest corner of Queen and Woodbine will be held to these guidelines, as will any other buildings that don’t yet have approval. Unfortunately for many in the crowd, that means the six-storey building planned for 1960-1962 Queen St. E. – known as the Lick’s development – is, so far, going ahead as planned, barring any surprise decisions at the OMB.
Concerns about the nature of the architectural instructions were raised, although some thought they were too strict, while others thought they were not strict enough. Parakh said he believes the instructions were a good balance.
“I think there’s enough flexibility written into these guidelines, but also enough guidance,” he said.
Some, including members of the Beach Residents Association of Toronto, believe the whole Visioning Study process is unnecessary, and that former guidelines for the Beach would be sufficient if the planning department would enforce them over the Avenues study often used by developers at the OMB.
Ward 32 Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, who requested the study from council, believes Queen Street will be better off with a fresh set of guidelines that the planning department is willing to apply and enforce.
“I never would have asked for this visioning study if I didn’t believe in it. I never would have asked to spend taxpayer dollars for it if I didn’t believe we could find common ground,” she said.
McMahon also said the study was only “chapter one” in dealing with issues on and near Queen Street – meetings to deal with infrastructure concerns will be set for the near future, once the new guidelines have been voted in by council.
East End history expert and Beach Metro News columnist Gene Domagala said he believed the process could be used as a model elsewhere in the city, although most areas don’t have the wealth of history and heritage that has so far survived on Queen Street East and in the Beach.
“I think the draft is pretty good in essence,” he said. “It’s good to see they’re actually listening to the community.”