Tag Archives: heritage

Five Hours and Two Towers

February 18, 2016 — Five Hours and Two Towers

Hello All:

My name is Karen Pagratis and I report on the Planning Committee meetings of Kingston City Council. ‘Cause planning is where its at, at least in this decade, in this great and growing city of Kingston.

The Planning Committee consists of 6 City Councillors, one of whom acts as Chair. Currently: Liz Schell (Chair), Jim Neill (Vice-Chair), Richard Allen, Jeff McLaren, Lisa Osanic, Laura Turner.

Meetings are held on the first and third Thursday of the month in Council Chambers commencing at 6:30 pm. and are open to the public to observe and address.

Five Hours and Two Towers

Not only were all the Councillors in attendance, and many municipal employee luminaries, but it felt as if half of the downtown was there as well. Now why they try to combine a regular planning meeting with a special meeting is beyond me. Unless City Hall is trying to set an endurance test for its citizens.

The regular meeting took over 45 minutes, and was about fairly minor amendments required to create secondary suites for two residences and the renovation of the “Queens’ Day Care” at 169 Union St. into a Dental office with two apartments above. All three passed unanimously and probably should have been deferred to another time, given the tremendous public interest and time required for the Homestead proposal which followed.

The first thing that strikes one about the developers’ presentation was that the designers and architects were given as much time (in this case 50 minutes) as they required to put forward their case for major zoning and Official Plan amendments. Whereas members of the public, those who were both for and against, were given 5 minutes each in which to express their views and concerns. This is normal practice at City Hall, although it does seem rather unfair. One could question why those with an opposing viewpoint wouldn’t have an equal time slot in which to make a cohesive presentation.

As we all know by now, the applicant, Homestead Land Holdings Limited, is proposing to develop two 21 storey buildings, resulting in a total of 380 residential units, (in addition to a parking garage whose spots will be sold back to the City at a cost of $68,000. each) along Queen St and Ontario St. in the downtown core. Essentially there are two major sticking points to the proposal. First the height, because currently the Official Plan makes provision for building heights not to exceed 25.5 metres (8 to 9 storeys). Secondly is location (which again refers back to height) as these buildings would sit on the inner edge of a heritage district thereby dwarfing all buildings near them, and would irrevocably alter the street scape.

After repeated assertions and assurances from the architects that the proposed buildings are not only beautiful, but will incorporate many “heritage details” to make them fit in, and that “the pedestrian experience will be enhanced” and the “impact on surrounding heritage properties is very limited”, they insisted that the proposal “represents good planning and is in the public interest”   You’d expect that a designer would consider his plans to be good, and indeed from seeing the sketches the buildings appear reasonably attractive. However when Councillor McLaren asked City Staff for “the rational for those heights?” no one had an answer, but they assured him that they “could get that”. Herein lays the crux of the matter. Why won’t 8 or 9 or even 10 storeys do? Because as a builder, the higher you go the greater the profit. We all understand that. (Although interestingly enough, Jay Patry who suddenly came out in defence of Homestead’s plans, thought he should explain it to us and proceeded to do so himself. So in the near future expect to see some monolithic plans proposed for the beleaguered Marine Museum site which he recently purchased.)

During the following three hours we heard from representatives of organizations, residents and business people, 28 people in all. Almost all were truly engaged and concerned, one way or the other. Downtown business owners seemed to be the most supportive of the Homestead proposal. The shared belief being that “this project will keep our downtown more vibrant. We want people downtown to live, work and play. It just makes good business sense.” Although Ed Smith, president of the Downtown Business Association, clearly stated that “internet shopping has increased significantly…and the anchor stores are not coming back”, he still considered that “these buildings are totally appropriate.” Does this not beg the question as to why? Going back to an earlier question posed to staff by, again, Councillor McLaren: “Will this mixed use building create need by simply existing?… Is it a build it, they will come, kind of scenario?” There were also a few residents who liked high rises because they said that they were “safer” and “more energy efficient”.

On the other side were a mixture of heritage advocates, academics, history buffs, former city councillors and affordable housing advocates. Jennifer McKendry, a well-known historical architect, stated that “the key to the problem is scale”. Also that “economic viability can be achieved with 8 or 9 storeys and there’s no objection to the design, if it were somewhere else. Similarly Ed Grenda, president of the Frontenac Heritage Foundation said that “we have a unique street scape and skyline” and “Intensification is not the only justification for ignoring heritage goals.”   There were other speakers, notably from Coalition Kingston Communities who pointed out the impact of sun shading from the proposed height of these buildings, restricted views, lack of amenity space and again the lack of “human scale”. In addition there were residents who simply wanted to maintain a section of “old Kingston” in the same way that Montreal has its old city. In the words of one speaker, no one comes to Kingston for high rises, “if you want to see those, go to Mississauga”.

Profit is by no means a shameful thing.   Equally, development is necessary and change is mandatory to keep a society from stagnating. The question is the degree, where does the golden mean lie?   Everyone wishes to see those empty spaces of the North Block revitalized and most, if not all, want to enjoy a vibrant downtown. But will the construction of residential buildings alone do that? There need to be employment opportunities for those residents to fill in order that they can pay the property taxes and afford to avail themselves of the shopping and restaurants and other services downtown.   Perhaps a new Request for Proposals should go out from City Hall asking for developers to submit plans more in accordance with the guidelines set out in the Official Plan, rather than seeking permission to abandon it? Perhaps we can do better than high rises in a heritage district, here in the place “where history and innovation thrive”?

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Good Debate!

Jason here. All would be impressed by the quality of debate last evening. What is going on? First of all, the quieting of Councillor Neill has been impressive. Secondly, the mayor must have something to do with it! But what, Jason does not know. Maybe it is just a steadying influence. Maybe he spoke to Councillor Neill.

Third is the addition of Councillors Allen and McLaren- the latter between Neill and Hutchison. Maybe it makes a difference where one sits. So far we have not heard from Candon. Boehme is quiet, as is Turner. 

The much anticipated reform of non-statutory advisory committees happened last night. Gone is the near campus advisory committees as dysfunctional and the Memorial Centre advisory committee and the non-working Kingston Entitlement Access Committee, merged are the Municipal Heritage Committee and the Museums and Collections Advisory committee. This may have to be broken up again as ‘heritage’ is very important to Kingston. The Rural Advisory Committee made the cut as did the Housing and Homelessness Committee although the latter was advised to meet less often. All committees were advised to submit an annual report (they should have anyway) KEAF- drawing as it has on the experience and expertise of Queen’s, St. Lawrence and RMC and CRCA was the committee that Council hated to abandon, in fact it was saved by being thrown the carrot of climate change later in the meeting by McLaren and Allen. The environmental committee has been overwhelmed by in-house experts and the ‘environmental ‘ portion of Sustainability. Perhaps ‘ overwhelmed is not the word. In fact this committee is the last one -as staff grows- to appoint members with experience and expertise. So – over to them re climate change rather than the city’s staff.

Also under the gun was the City’s RFP procedure-. Councillor Hutchison’s amendment for future revisions to the Transportation Master plan which passed 7/5 was an example of the inadequacy of existing RFP procedure. Jason has thought for a long time that familiarity with Kingston should be worth at least 5 points

 

Defer Defer Defer

Jason here. Last night’ Council meeting was all about ‘planning matters’ all other items of interest being deferred (including the Transportation Master Plan- (the staff person was unable to attend)

First we heard from the owner of the property at 218 Green Bay Rd on how much it was going to cost him to renovate the building in Barriefield (where else!). Then we heard from the President of the Barriefield Village Heritage group who told us why the building should not be torn down (most of the houses on Green Bay Road appear to be new and BIG.) Council voted to go with the heritage committee which went against the staff report that said that the building should be demolished. Toward the end of the meeting Councillor Allen asked for a reconsideration of the vote that had occurred on 218 Green Bay Rd because the staff report appeared not to have asked for a Heritage Easement. Staff replied that the owner had not asked for an easement even though they were asked if they wanted one. Apparently such a reconsideration at the same meeting, does not need 2/3, only a majority of Councillors- this caused a ruffle among those who determine voting protocol. In the end the Councillors voted the same way- in spite of the reconsideration or- perhaps because of it. The option is now with the owners of ask for a Heritage Easement which could restrict the type of house he could ask for. This is an interesting question that will occur again and again. Hopefully, the Sydenham Ward Heritage District won’t cause as much stress.

Next up was the question of ‘ secondary suites’ When is a duplex a duplex? When it’s more than a secondary suite- or more than 40% . A secondary suite is only 40 % of the area of the main building- a duplex can be equal in size. Hence the building in Westbrook which has servicing constraints- (sewer)-should be withdrawn from the secondary suite area…it should be in closed session. While Jason agrees that it should be in closed session, it will be hard to overcome the motion of Boehme and McLaren that deferred further discussion of the problem area until the next Council meeting. This is a problem area because it is an industrial area above 401and not below 401 where all the industrial areas are now. As Councillor Allen said, this is the area of the highest residential density in his Ward. No one (with the exception of Councillor George) knows how the zoning got the way it has. It appears to be Institutional but allows Industrial uses.

It would appear to Jason that an inordinate amount of time is being spent on Heritage issues.

Where is Glover when you need him?

KEDCO KEDCO KEDCO

Jason here. Transparency- what does it mean? KEDCO has been accused by Kingston First, of lack thereof. I suppose that it means that the number of jobs that have been created should be documented, what they are and who fills the jobs. Then, and only then, will Council be able to decide if the money spent on KEDCO is money well spent. I think this is a job for the CAO? Are the jobs all small business? Then that gives direction. Has money and time been spent on attracting the BIG Gorillas of the world or will they come (or not!) anyway? Is this time and $ well spent? The CAO has kept his hands off KEDCO, treating Garrah more like a partner than one of his team. Time to step in I think! First, is KEDCO aligned with the Strategic priorities of the city?  Probably not. As the City is firmly on the path to sustainability and KEDCO represents only one pillar- Economic- one wonders if Council can support KEDCO at all. Be prepared for a motion to declare KEDCO dysfunctional from Councillor Hutchison, seconded by Councillor Neill.

What is the CAO going to do with non-statutory advisory committees? We will find out on Dec.1, for that is when the fireworks have been referred to. To merge, or eliminate them is what. It stands to reason that some committees over time lose their way, lose quorum or fail in their core role which is to advise Hence, the near-campus neighbourhood and KEAF will be put to bed- the latter because their role has been taken over by in-house experts, the former was said to be dysfunctional.  I have no knowledge of the near campus committee, but it seems that the items that should have been on their agenda were well worth talking about. Perhaps the AMS has taken over.

This happens when individuals are appointed as representatives of a group. They carry the group approach with them. All we need are individuals of good intent. What do you make of the merger of the Heritage Committee and the Museums and Collections advisory committee. Is the Heritage realllly devoid of culture? What becomes of designations that have been lagging? .

All in all an interesting meeting capped by a motion on safety by the mayor. May he remain so careful about the ideas he adopts.