Tag Archives: Marine Museum

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”?

Step by Step…?

Step by Step…?

Council came one step closer to buying the Dry Dock and the Marine Museum last night when they went towards creating a’ project’ zone. Next a brownfield designation which allows a potential developer relief from taxes for three years. The mayor was quite emphatic that the city must do everything in its power to assist the Marine Museum. Sounds as though Mr. West has got to our mayor! I wonder if purchase of the Marine Museum is in the City’s future? That – more than purchase of the Dry Dock would cause a municipal crisis. It is interesting that the problem has been solved- the feds did it! They did not take proper care of the site while it was in their control. Should they have done away with the wooden piles that underlie the dock? Should they have, in fact, surrounded the dock with steel as is now projected? Probably. This was the site of building ships in the Second World War. They (the Feds), certainly left the site in a mess. The west side of the dock, where ships were launched is decayed, and the dock itself is unsafe!

The property was not included in the Brownfields area as the “program was not intended to subsidize the cleanup of properties owned and contaminated while being operated by other levels of government.”. Perhaps their failure was the reason the Feds put so much money and time into the Dry Dock. Who knows what has gone on behind the scenes, but I’d bet Homestead has had a hand in everything.

 

Of interest was (finally), the consideration of Councillor Neill’s motions to alter the procedural by-law. As the previous mayor said “if you don’t like it, change it” so Neill tried to give movers an extra minute to speak to an amendment and, in a separate motion, to overrule the chair (mayor). Both motions were quite sensibly referred to the administrative policies committee later (not this week). The mayor stepped gently into this quagmire and was relieved when they were deferred. Clearly, if there is not a procedural committee- which there is not, then these items are too complicated to discuss in Council.  I don’t think Councillor Neill will succeed in committee. The rest of Council seems quite happy with the procedural by- law as it is.  The committee is one of the standing committees of Council consisting (with the exception of Councillor Osanic) of first term Councillors- Boehme, Allen, Candon, Holland, and Stroud. Unless they create a sub- committee and include Neill, he is not there.

 

And you will be happy to know that in spite of losing about 30% of potable water, our water is in fact drinkable as attested by the CEO of Utilities Kingston. Good for us, or good for him!

 

Should the City buy the Dry Dock

City Council Meeting Dec.16th 2014

 

Jason here. At the first meeting of the new Council a few themes emerged. McLaren (Meadowbrook- Strathcona)emerged as the activist- four petitions mostly regarding traffic issues and myriad amendments mostly surrounding the issue of the day- the Marine Museum(MM) The question of the day is Should the city buy it.(It, being the marine museum, Dry Dock and surrounding land.)   It is historically significant – the corner stone was laid by Sir John himself in 1890. It is the last piece of waterfront available to the public There are, as was recognized, some things to be sorted out before a vote is taken. Where does this stand relative to the third crossing? the Wellington St. extension? The price divergence between what Public Works wants and what the city is prepared to pay is one. Another – and a non-starter, is the request by the Marine Museum that any money that is gained by sale of property to a developer (in this case, Homestead) be put aside for their (the MM’s) use. No one trusts the initial estimate of $19.1 million to repair the dock-given the Tett Centre’s overrun. There are two outstanding issues here; one is the emphasis by the current mayor and Council on access to the waterfront and the other is the potential docking facilities for tour boats. These items won’t come cheaply. Look at the facilities in other cities-mainly on the ocean- a landing shelter is the first step. The current initiative is to work with the MM to extend their lease. More later I’m sure. This isn’t an easy question. Given the extent of the public angst over the Rogers K Rock Centre the purchase of the Dry Dock and surrounds is likely to generate similar angst, but it will probably come to pass.

 

Other items of note at the first full meeting of the new Council were, among others, the presentation of a cheque fulfilling the motion by the city to build fences along Princess St. and Taylor- Kidd, to protect turtles, if concerned citizens raised half of the money estimated as necessary. They did. This may be the beginning. If citizens feel strongly about Nature, they will have to put their money where their mouth is, without encumbering the tax base, or without taking money from people- and particularly their housing.

 

The new mayor, Paterson spoke three or four times, relinquishing the chair to the Deputy  Mayor. What he said was probably not too important, but he does read well – better than Gerretsen as shown during the congratulations etc. section of the meeting. He made it clear that Councillors, who intend to make motions or amendments to motions, had better type it out for the clerk in advance, so that it can be displayed properly or the motion or amendment would be ruled out of order.

 

Apparently the AMS requested that sidewalks surrounding the University be given better winter (snow) attention so that students and staff would not have to walk on the roads. This was one of the occasions when the mayor relinquished his chair to ask staff if they would be doing this anyway. The answer is yes. Also this will be the first scrambled intersection in the city – the intersection of Union and University. You can expect more scrambled intersections (red or green on all sides, pedestrians can walk diagonally) once the city finds this is a great move.

 

All in all, while it was a long meeting, the new mayor was securely in the chair and Councillors were finding their feet. The difficult issues are still with us.