After a dozen deputations both for and against, and many months of Beachers fighting passionately both for and against, Toronto and East York Community Council ignored a small but vocal group of objectors, and unanimously voted in favour of a new set of urban design guidelines, created after a months-long visioning study process instigated by Ward 32 Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon in January of this year.
Arguments against the guidelines were many and varied, ranging from the fact that Queen Street can only accommodate at most several hundred more people in a plan meant to intensify Toronto, to the fact that those several hundred people may overload an already stressed infrastructure system in the Beach. Arguments over the validity of the whole process were still offered as well, although with only one city council vote left before the new guidelines become official city planning policy, it may be a bit late to argue the process of creating new guidelines is unnecessary.
While many Beachers are, with good reason, concerned about an influx of condo buildings out of character in the Beach, Community Council members stated that these new guidelines are, in fact, the best tool available to control new development, which, legally speaking, can’t be stopped cold, whether or not the heights being built are in keeping with existing buildings in a neighbourhood.
“Anyone who has attempted to persuade you that there is any way in the world that you can get a four storey limit in the current legal framework we have, from the Places To Grow Act, and the Planning Act at the Province of Ontario, has misled you. You cannot stop development at four storeys on main streets in the City of Toronto,” said Community Council chair Gord Perks.
Perks’ ward (Ward 14 – Parkdale/High Park) was where the visioning study model used on Queen Street East originated. Previous to his ward’s community planning exercise, Bloor Street had the same 12 m height restrictions in its zoning bylaw; however, without any supplemental planning documents, he was unable to fight a rezoning application well in excess of the existing rules.
“Because I didn’t have that study in place, I had applications come in with exactly the same planning regime as you have on Queen Street right now, at 12 storeys, that I had no ability to turn back. I had a 12 m zoning bylaw, and I wound up with a building that is 12 storeys,” he said.
Another common complaint was that there was not enough public consultation; however, with three public meetings, three meetings of the Stakeholder Advisory Council (open to anyone to sign up) and two meetings previous to the visioning study process, it might safely be assumed that anyone interested in taking part would have done so by now. Beach resident Scott Bullock, who presented a deputation at Community Council, was a bit more blunt in his assessment of the public’s desire for more consultation, referencing the turnout at recent meetings.
“While 200 people that showed up may seem like a lot, Ward 32 has approximately 60,000 people, and I would submit to you that most of them either are in favour of this, or really don’t care, because it’s not bad, what’s happening,” he said.
John Ellis, a 40-year Beach resident and member of the Beach Triangle Residents’ Association, said his organization was one of several that were in support of the new guidelines, despite his original misgivings that Queen Street shouldn’t be allowed to change drastically at all.
“I started this process personally feeling that Queen Street should be left exactly the way it is. I love it, and wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else if possible. As time went on and discussion progressed, and I began to look more critically at our area, I saw that there are areas that desperately need renewal, and we need renewal that is in keeping with the neighbourhood,” he said during his deputation.
Jan Hykamp and Uwe Sehmrau of the Greater Beach Neighborhood Association also presented a deputation in favour of the new guidelines. Hykamp said the issues of greatest concern have been addressed “in a very substantial way,” adding that the majority of the seven residents associations in the Beach area were in support of the guidelines (there was disagreement over whether it was five or six out of the seven groups).
When questioned by councillors about community support for the visioning study and new guidelines, Sehmrau clarified that it is the executive boards of the organizations that are in favour, and not necessarily all the members of each individual group.
“I would doubt that anybody could speak on behalf of residents in the Beach on this issue,” he said.
Despite the varied opinions on both the process and the outcomes, members of Community Council failed to see why some Beachers were so upset, given that the new guidelines are essentially the solution that many seem to have been asking for. Councillor Janet Davis (Ward 31, Beaches/East York) pointed out that the process seems to have been needlessly aggravated by a few aggressive participants, while trying to understand what benefit might be gained by delaying the passage of the guidelines.
Councillor Perks echoed the opinion (and envy) of many on Council, stating, “What your community has produced through the offices of your councillor and city staff in this visioning guideline is the best set of zoning restrictions on development in a main street in the City of Toronto.”
The guidelines passed by Toronto and East York Community Council are expected to be passed by the full Toronto City Council at its regular meeting on Nov. 27. Download a copy of the guidelines at www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2012/te/bgrd/backgroundfile-51604.pdf. Councillor McMahon is planning a series of meetings to deal with infrastructure concerns. The first, on water and sewage, is set for Monday, Dec. 3, at 7 p.m., at the Balmy Beach Club.