Well over 200 people crowded into the Kew Beach Public School gym on Oct. 23, for a meeting organized by the Beach Residents Association of Toronto (BRAT), responsible for the ‘Save Queen Street’ campaign, which has featured lawn signs, robo-calls and the resurfacing of former politicians.
The group is opposed to a proposed set of development guidelines for Queen Street East. While the organizers would like to see existing development guidelines for the Beach enforced, the city’s planning department has not been strictly enforcing those guidelines.
The controversy over approval of a six-storey condo at 1960-1962 Queen St. E. – known as the Lick’s development – led to the January, 2012 decision by Toronto and East York Community Council (TEYCC), at the request of Ward 32 Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, to approve a ‘visioning study’. The goal of the study is to lay out a fresh set of development standards for Queen Street East, east of Coxwell.
A series of six meetings (three for the general public, and three for those that volunteered to take part in a smaller Stakeholder Advisory Committee) took place between June and September, with the resulting draft guidelines revealed at the third and final public meeting on Sept. 19. The final version of those guidelines will be voted on today (Nov. 6) by TEYCC.
Though many at the Sept. 19 meeting appeared to approve of much of the content in the draft guidelines, some were not so quick to show their support.
Members of BRAT organized the Save Queen Street campaign, handing out free lawn signs, paying for a robo-call service to rally Beach residents and organizing the Oct. 23 meeting. Organizers encouraged Beach residents to sign up to speak at today’s TEYCC vote, where councillors are expected to approve the proposed guidelines. If they are approved, City Council will hold the final vote on the matter on Nov. 27.
Anyone with a knowledge of Beach politics would be forgiven for thinking they had been caught in a time warp on Oct. 23, with former councillor Tom Jakobek being joined on the panel at the front of the Kew Beach Public School gym by MPP Michael Prue (who left early due to another commitment) and TDSB trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher, and former TDSB trustee David Moll moderating (and apologizing on behalf of former councillor Sandra Bussin, who was unable to attend). McMahon was also unavailable.
BRAT organizer Brian Graff said he would like to see the TEYCC decision deferred, with more community meetings, and a full Avenue Study including infrastructure and related studies, before any new final guidelines are approved. In the meantime, he’s suggesting an interim control by law, which would freeze any development on Queen until the studies have been completed.
“If they’d done an Avenue Study, they would have done studies of traffic, infrastructure, schools, flooding,” he said at the meeting.
Jakobek was asked to provide some historical context to the crowd, having previously dealt with interim control bylaws during his tenure as a councillor.
“When you have a crisis in planning, as we did in the ’80s or as you do today, when you’ve got three, four, five applications that are all trying to exceed the existing law, the first thing you do is shut down the street,” he said.
One man in the audience wasn’t so sure an interim control bylaw would have the intended effect. Pointing out that McMahon, the city planning department and the city legal department don’t support an interim control bylaw, he worried that it may, in fact, allow developers to win approval for unwanted six-storey buildings in appeals at the OMB.
“My question is, how can you explain to the community how you will overcome these obstacles and not throw us back into a Lick’s style of approval process?,” he asked.
One attendee at the meeting pointed out that – whether rightly or wrongly – the planning department is using the Avenues and Midrise Buildings study to set front wall height limits for Queen Street East development applications.
“The visioning study actually brought that street face down from four storeys and 16m to 12m, and I think that has to be clear,” she said.
Cary-Meagher, who was invited to sit on the panel at the front of the room, may have surprised organizers by standing up and asking the crowd to support the guidelines being voted on today by TEYCC.
“The chance of that failing are about a gazillion to one. It is not good enough to simply posture tonight about something as important as our local community,” she said. “I really believe that if we’re going to save Queen Street, we have to do something more than to say ‘don’t do anything.’”
Despite her differences of opinion with Councillor McMahon, Cary-Meagher said she would still like to see the guidelines resulting from the visioning study in place sooner rather than later.
“I’m pleading with you to think very strongly in favour of the visioning study and supporting it. I may not be totally happy with Mary-Margaret, but that doesn’t really matter. What I have to be happy with is the work that our community did to get that visioning study put together,” she said.
No matter what their opinion of the draft guidelines, many Beachers would likely agree with Cary-Meagher on one statement she made: “I’ll fight anyone in this room or in this ward or in this city to prevent this street from being destroyed.”