Jason Wilson can watch Canada Day fireworks from his backyard.
Standing on his back deck, the Battenburg Avenue resident can see a good slice of sky above Ashbridges Bay Park, not to mention the roof of one of the only barns still standing in Toronto, and a Queen Street KFC.
But when Wilson met his neighbours there after learning more about the six-storey condo proposed for the KFC lot, they had another prospect in mind.
“We’re looking at a dramatic loss of privacy,” said Wilson.
Planned for the unusually deep, north-side lot east of Coxwell Avenue at 1630 Queen St. E., the condo is expected to include 58 apartments and four “live-work” town homes designed to have ground-floor retail.
To the Beachers who took part in the 2012 visioning study that led to a new set of council-approved guidelines for Queen Street East building design, the condo plan might not be so unexpected.
A photo of the KFC and its expansive parking lot was actually published in the report as an example of a property ripe for redevelopment.
But at a June 15 rezoning meeting with the developer and city planners, it seemed that memo never got to the people who live close by.
“We weren’t kidding about how surprised we are that they’re allowing this structure, or are excited about it being built,” said Brian Video, who also lives on Battenburg. “If it was something sensible, we’d be happy with it.”
At the meeting, some residents said a four- or five-storey building would better suit that part of Queen, given that none of the surrounding buildings are six storeys high.
But the rezoning guidelines that city council passed last year okayed buildings of four, five, or six storeys for Queen Street between Coxwell and Woodbine Avenues, depending on the depth of the lot.
Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, who led the visioning study, said those guidelines are the most restrictive that Queen Street has ever had.
McMahon also said the guidelines follow a city-wide policy to encourage mid-rise buildings on well urbanized streets, or “avenues,” such as Queen –that policy recommends new buildings be no taller than the width of the street they are facing.
“We are going to build up our avenues, because the downtown cannot hold 80 and 90 storeys,” she said.
Besides height restrictions, the Queen guidelines call for the upper storeys of new buildings to step back at a 45-degree angle to reduce the impact on privacy and shadows.
McMahon said the proposal is “pretty close” to the Queen Street guidelines.
At 19.15 metres, its top roof height is higher than the 18.5-metre guideline – a difference that the applicant, Bousfields Inc., said was justified because the lot is so deep.
Developer Zev Mandelbaum said the plans have changed to include some more traditional materials for the face of the building, such as red brick, after city staff suggested the original design was out of character.
Leontine Major, the city planner tasked with reviewing the rezoning application, said the city often requires balconies with opaque glass or non-glass balcony edges that have wide planters that make it impossible to peek over. Major added that privacy is as much a concern for condo residents as it is for people in neighbouring houses.
Besides the building’s form, residents expressed concerns about traffic, noting that Queen Street is already congested, local street parking is already hard to find, and vehicles entering the condo’s two-level underground garage would have to make left-hand turns across Queen.
Ryan Sankar, a transportation engineer hired by the developer, said studies forecast peak-hour morning traffic trips from the condo of less than 10 vehicles per hour, and fewer trips in the afternoon rush than are currently generated by visits to KFC.
Speaking after the meeting, Brian Video said the Coxwell-Queen neighbourhood has improved a lot since he first moved there in 1987. Back then, he said his front yard was a place to see muggings or abandoned cars.
While Video and other residents said they welcome some development, they are concerned that their part of Queen Street will one day be a solid wall of six-storey condos. Video also said vacancies in the ground-floor retail spaces of existing Queen Street condos to the east have not helped revitalize the street.
“What really makes the Beaches unique is character – and character’s starting to come back,” said Video. “But character takes time to move in.”