A local developer who plans to build a six-storey condo on the northwest corner of Queen and Woodbine has struck a tentative deal that avoids a legal dispute at the Ontario Municipal Board.
Karsten Riedel, a Beach resident and developer of the project called Two Hundred the Beach, is said to have found a compromise with city staff and a group of Beach residents’ associations who had opposed the condo for exceeding a set of new urban design guidelines for Queen Street East.
Not all details of the deal were made public by press time, but it is said to include a wider sidewalk along Queen, a 0.9-metre step-back above the condo’s fourth floor, a review of the building façade, and a parking garage that exits to a rear lane rather than onto Woodbine Avenue.
Like the One Rainsford development to the west of the site, the 29-unit condo would feature ground-floor retail, which the developer has agreed will be no larger than 325 square metres unless it is used for services such as a bank.
“The final design almost meets all the guidelines,” said Ward 32 Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, noting that Riedel made significant changes, and the plans are now very close to the approved design of One Rainsford.
“Of course, we know that if we went to the OMB and lost we would get nothing.”
Indeed, said Jan Hykamp, president of the Greater Beach Neighbourhood Association, opponents of the plan may have got something worse than nothing – another OMB precedent that runs counter to the small-town feel they want to preserve along Queen.
In December, the city and the GBNA lost all but a few concessions after a similar OMB hearing into a larger six-storey condo planned by Queen EMPC Six Ltd. for the former Shell gas station site on the northeast corner of Queen and Woodbine.
In that decision, OMB member Blair Taylor found that the new Beach urban design guidelines championed by Councillor McMahon and the GBNA do not have the strength of a legal statute.
On Feb. 25, council directed city planners to further strengthen the Beach design guidelines by adding some of the provisions to Toronto’s Official Plan. The move follows a vote by city council last spring to move parts of the guidelines into a city bylaw. But that bylaw was appealed by Queen EMPC Six, and in any case was voted in too late to apply to either of the Queen and Woodbine condo proposals.
Calls to the sales office for Two Hundred the Beach were not returned by press time, but in a deputation to city council last spring, Riedel said that to be fair, his proposal should be weighed against the planning guidelines that were in place when he made it.
After months of talks with city staff, Riedel stepped down his original proposal from eight to six storeys, and he filed a rezoning application to the city in March 2012.
That was more than six months before council formally adopted the new Beach urban design guidelines drawn up after several public meetings held that summer.
McMahon said the next step in strengthening those guidelines, the Official Plan amendment, is “pretty darn strong,” though it could be made one step stronger by declaring the Beach stretch of Queen Street East a Heritage Conservation District.
“We were very disappointed with the Shell site results, and we always knew that, as we said before, there was wiggle room with these two properties,” she said, referring to the fact that both developers filed for rezonings before the guidelines were adopted.
Still, McMahon said city planning staff were surprised the guidelines were given such little weight in the OMB decision on the Shell site.
“The OMB is basically a crapshoot – it’s always unpredictable,” said McMahon, who has voted in favour of removing Toronto from OMB jurisdiction.
Other ward councillors have started citizen-led urban design guidelines modeled on the Beach’s, McMahon said, noting that some will likely push for Official Plan amendments after the Shell site decision.
Hykamp agrees that the experience at Queen and Woodbine points to a larger issue with the OMB, which he said often allows development beyond what city planners recommend. The GBNA met recently with local NDP MPP Michael Prue to advocate for a change to how Ontario handles real-estate appeals.
“OMB reform is a huge mountain of an issue, and it continues to be a big influence on what happens with development,” he said.