Jane's Walk draws attention to condo development in the Beach

Published on Monday, 7th May, 2018 at 10:35am

A condo nearing completion at Queen Street East and Woodbine Ave. It is one of at least six low rise condo developments currently under construction in the Beach, with more in the planning phase.

Photo: Beachify

A condo nearing completion at Queen Street East and Woodbine Ave. It is one of six lowrise condo developments currently under construction in the Beach.

On Saturday May 5th, Adam Smith led a Jane's Walk along Queen Street East which explored the topic of 'Condo Development in the Beach', highlighting issues around the planning and approval process for condo developments.

The walk visited the site of four major condo developments along a three-block stretch of Queen Street East, kicking off at the site of the former Licks at Kenilworth & Queen and winding up at Queen & Woodbine, site of two major developments.

Jane's Walk is an annual series of free, citizen-led walking tours inspired by author Jane Jacobs, best known for her seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jacobs was an American-Canadian journalist, author, and activist whose work has influenced urban planning, sociology, and economics for a generation. She lived in Toronto from 1968 until her death in 2006.

The walk was led by Adam Smith, long-time area resident and community activist, who has been leading local Jane's Walks since 2014. Smith also used the opportunity to announce his candidacy for Ward 32 Councillor. Current Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon announced last year that she will not seek re-election in October's municipal election, and Smith is among the first candidates to announce plans to run.

The Jane's Walk was attended by only about a dozen people, roughly half the number who joined last year's walk. Smith attributed the smaller turnout to limited promotion of the event by janeswalk.org, primarily due to a lack of funding. It may also reflect the apathy of local residents towards condo development in the Beach. One person we spoke to on the walk described a sense of inevitability in the face of a system they felt was rigged in favor of developers.

Construction begins on the Heartwood Condo, at Queen Street East and Woodbine Avenue. The building will largely block the view of the fire station from the west.

Photo: Beachify

Construction begins on the Heartwood Condo at Queen Street East and Woodbine Avenue. Some residents are concerned that the six-story building will block the view of the fire station from the west.

Despite the NIMBY epithet often directed at Beachers, not everyone is anti-development. Smith says that he's not against development, but has issues with a process which he says is deeply flawed. He explained that City Council's urban planning decisions have frequently been overruled by the province's Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), an opaque quasi-judicial body that dealt with development proposal appeals. He also voiced concerns over Beaches condo developers who were awarded zoning variances in exchange for promised improvements to exteriors and adjoining public spaces that never materialized.

The much-criticized OMB was widely seen as a rubber-stamp for developers, ignoring local community design plans and the concerns of city councils and community members. In response to growing critisism, the province launched a review of the beleaguered OMB in early 2016. After reviewing hundreds of comments and complaints submitted during the review process, the government passed Bill 139 - Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act 2017, abolishing the OMB and (as of April 3) creating the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) in its place. Bill 139 greatly curtails LPAT's powers compared to the OMB, and in theory the new body should be more responsive to the concerns of municipalities and citizens. How that pans out in practice remains to be seen.

Toward the end of the walk, the group was joined by local historian Gene Domagala, often dubbed 'The Mayor of the Beach' for his many years of community volunteer leadership. Domagala took a few moments to reiterate Smith's message to the group. "Listen to him!" Domagala said emphatically, as the small group stood on the site of the future Heartwood condominium. It's too bad there weren't more people there to hear his message.

We expect too much of new buildings, and too little of ourselves.

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities