Tag Archives: Karen Pagratis

Let’s Get Cozy

April 21, 2016 – Let’s Get Cozy (The Intensity Report)

My name is Karen Pagratis and I report on the Planning Committee meetings of Kingston City Council.

The Planning Committee consists of 6 City Councilors, one of whom acts as Chair. 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.


The information report submitted by planning staff to the Planning Committee is entitled “Pending and Committed Residential Development Supply Update to December 2015”. The purpose according to Paige Agnew, Director of Planning, is to “provide ongoing technical education for the committee and interested members of the public” in order to enable a “real understanding of the numbers before the staff”.

As the reader might imagine, this report touches on a number of topics beyond mere housing requirement projections. In terms of which, by the way, Kingston is in fairly good shape. Contrary to popular belief, we are very close to the 3% vacancy rate, which is considered the golden mean or “acceptable” rate by both the CHMC and current industry standards. (Note population projection figures do not include students, which for six months of the year at least, does cause a misleading sense that the vacancy rate is much lower than it is.) Currently Kingston has a 15 year supply of committed and pending housing which actually exceeds our forecasted requirements.

According to staff, housing trends suggest that multiple dwelling units are increasing in popularity while medium and low density housing (the typical single family house) requirements are in decline. It would seem that the millennials aren’t as keen to be mortgagees as their parents were, nor of course can they readily afford to be.   However pay attention here because this is not just about multi-residential buildings, its about their location as well. In the words of one planner: “we’re trying to analyse what the numbers are telling us. To chart the trends…also the location of where these trends are taking place.”

Next we learn that there is an increased desire to live in a “complete community” which incorporates “mixed use” and is “walkable”. Moreover good planning is based on Intensity Centre’s or Nodes in which density gradually declines as you move from the centre outward and on Corridors like our Williamsville corridor.

We are told that the municipality should regulate building height through its zoning by-laws, not its Official Plan. Indeed the Director tells us that: ”Too much detail in the O.P. actually weakens it, (because) it requires constant amendments”. (Should a document such as an O.P., which according to legislation, must be reviewed every 5 years anyway, need constant amendment in between time?) Another staffer, when asked by Councilor McLaren about the sustainability of an O.P. that contains no specific numbers, said: “Well we won’t take out all the numbers … we certainly would keep density figures (numbers) in the O.P. … How we achieve the vision of the O.P. is through zoning standards”. Keep in mind that in the last few years in Kingston, zoning by-laws have been very easily and frequently amended.

However the best is yet to come, in the form of “Density Bonusing” or “Community Benefits” as it is to be called in the future. Density Bonusing, which is outlined in Section 37 of the Ontario Planning Act, refers to a practice whereby a developer is allowed an increase in height and density in exchange for other benefits the developer is willing to offer the city or community. The “bonus” can be in goods or services such as an additional playground or park space, or cash directly given to the city. Our planning department will be determining a set of guidelines to be followed in this regard. The bonus or “benefit” must take place in the area that’s affected by the height or density by-law suspension. (In other words, the playground must be near the location of the hi-rise.) Also the bonus must be of equitable value to the community in which it is to be allowed. This is where the equation gets tricky. When Councilor Allen asked if it would be similar to a rule apparently in use in Montreal that allows a developer to exceed the by-law requirement by one floor if the developer provides a “green roof” (solar panels), the answer was that things would be evaluated on a case by case basis. Similarly there was no definitive answer when Councilor Hutchison asked if the planning department would have a rubric to accurately determine “the equitable value” of the benefit. The Director stated that the guidelines, they were developing would have to go through consultation “with the developers, the public and the Council. (At the risk of sounding cynical, isn’t asking the developer for his idea of equitable value a bit like the farmer asking the fox what kind of gate should be built on the hen house?) When Hutchison further asked if these “guidelines” would become part of the OP, he was told that no, they would only be “back- up to the policy”. But there will be “open houses” to discuss what the guidelines should look like.

A concerned citizen, Tim Soper, probably said it best, when he addressed the planning committee and the city as a whole with “we can all agree that empty parking lots on Queen St. are ugly. But will we be proud of what we build?” Let us use rational thinking rather than be swayed by the promise of bonuses.


Casino Free Zone?

March 31, 2016 – Casino Free Zone?

 My name is Karen Pagratis and I report on the Planning Committee meetings of Kingston City Council.

 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.

After an unusually long March Break and Easter recess it was business as usual with all Councillors in attendance at the Planning Committee this week.  Zoning by-law amendments were requested and generally accepted as feasible.  Thus 1575 Westbrook Road (north of the 401) will be expanding from its current business of firewood processing to include a contractor’s yard, transport and cartage yard, soil processing facility, and service garage etc.  169 Union St. (formerly known as Queen’s Day Care) will indeed be turning into a dental office with apartments above it, as previously reported here.  And the subdivision planned for 2939 Creekford Road – Phase 2 & 3 will go ahead increasing the density in Cataraqui West.

The only slightly unusual request at this Planning meeting was the application by the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority (CRCA) to sever 2.82 hectares of its land which is part of the overall Conservation Area and is designated Open Space in the Official Plan and re-designate it to Restricted Agricultural.  The reason here being that the CRCA wishes to sell this land which contains an existing dwelling, (currently rented) and barn.  Municipally known as 1572 Sunnyside Rd., the CRCA apparently considers it “surplus to their needs”.  Councillor Neill asked if this 19th century farmhouse was listed, (meaning if it has a heritage designation).  Director Paige Agnew answered the question herself, saying she would look into it. Curious.

However the really “big” issue presented was that of zoning amendments concerning Casino Gaming Facilities.  You will likely

recall that the “Casino within Kingston” issue appeared as a referendum question on the ballot of our last municipal election in October of 2014.  The result was that a resounding 67.09% of Kingston electors voted “No” to a casino.  (The groundswell of opposition came as a surprise to many of the previous Council members who had been in early support of the idea and gradually changed their minds throughout their election campaigns – including our current Mayor.)  After the referendum and election, the new Council directed staff to determine options or “measures that could be taken to not permit a Casino Gaming Facility in Kingston”.  One of the resulting options was to “Amend the Official Plan to prohibit a CGF anywhere within the City”.  However according to that same staff report, “the City is not able to use its Official Plan to put in place City-wide prohibitions, but can use the Official Plan and Zoning By-Laws to control land uses.   There doesn’t appear to be a clear explanation as to why the City is not able to prohibit a Casino, but Council chose to take the latter option.  Therefore, a casino “will not be listed as a permitted use in any of the zones in any of the by-laws” of Kingston.

But note, that should developers at some time in the future wish to build a casino, they may simply apply for an amendment to the Official Plan and (just like their residential counterparts) apply for an amendment to the Zoning By-Law.  Doesn’t sound like a permanent solution.  Let’s hope the casino question doesn’t raise its ugly head again in Kingston any time soon.


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”?

Yin and Yang

February 4, 2016 — Yin and Yang

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 (who was absent today) 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

Yin and Yang


Another wonderfully brief meeting!

First and foremost the Rideau Heights Regeneration Strategy required some zoning by-law amendments and minor “Official Plan” amendments. These were passed with virtually no discussion and unanimous approval.

(The regeneration of Rideau Heights is universally anticipated with optimism. Initialized by the previous City Council, it is seen as a positive, progressive plan to re-shape a north end area that has traditionally been under-serviced and a community with more than its share of challenges. Many of the old, run-down buildings of the 1960’s are being replaced by more modern and size appropriate housing in demand today. As well, there will be a brand new community centre with a public library in the middle of it all. This is a win-win that the City, with Kingston and Frontenac Housing Corporation, has championed and its eventual completion is widely seen as a very good use of taxpayer’s money. (Something to be proud of and look forward to.)

Now to the less laudable, 720 Princess St. yet again. This is the developer who went to the OMB (Ontario Municipal Board), and won.   Thus everything that has followed in the planning process has been a series of compromises between developer and city council, with the staff very much stuck in the middle. Indeed one has the impression that many of the staff would have liked to start afresh, from the ground up, so to speak. But hey, we live in the real world which means we deal in the realm of the possible and practical, especially since the OMB ruled out the opportunity of the ideal. Therefore we have a building that has more units and bedrooms than originally acceptable according to the Official Plan, offering not enough parking, with an unattractive site line from the street because of course it will be right up against the sidewalk, like its sister building across the street, courtesy of the same developer. Although a few Councillors asked a few questions, they basically accepted what the staff said, that they (the staff) had worked very long and hard with the Applicant to achieve some sort of compliance with the Official Plan. And it passed.

The next Planning Committee Meeting is called for Feb.18th and it promises to be a humdinger!   I understand construction plans for the North Block will be raised. I’ll keep you posted, but don’t expect these meetings and reports to continue being brief, we’re going to be in for some lengthy talks.