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Open letter: City residents opposed to intensification plans for Johnson Street Corridor at Portsmouth Avenue

Overview of the studied areas as part of the City of Kingston’s Central Kingston Growth Strategy. Graphic via City of Kingston Report to Planning Committee PC-21-052 (link in article).

The following is a submitted open letter to the City of Kingston Planning Committee from a group of residents concerned about the proposed plans for the Johnson Street Corridor at Portsmouth Avenue. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.

Dear Planning Committee,

The intent of this letter is to raise our grave concerns and opposition to the proposed intensification along Johnson Street from Robert Wallace Drive to Roden Street (north side) and Old Oak Road to Mowat Street (south side).

The Johnson St. corridor ear-marked for intensification is a significant area of stable residential housing in Portsmouth District. The proposed intensification will impact the neighbourhoods of Portsmouth, Calvin and Polson Parks. Overdevelopment and high occupancy levels in low density areas such as this, go against the Density by Design recommendations, Climate Emergency declaration, and key factors for land use compatibility.

Graphic and details regarding the Portsmouth Avenue Corridor Areas from the City of Kingston Report to Planning Committee PC-21-052 on the Central Kingston Growth Strategy.

While we appreciate the need for housing in our city, the area proposed for infill is inappropriate for the build form of these neighbourhoods and will result in loss of, not only a significant number of mid-century single-family homes, but also large areas of landscaped green space with mature growth canopy. The Central Kingston Growth Strategy (CKGS) report states that the proposed intensification is to protect the integrity of the stable neighbourhoods from ingrowth, yet it proposes to remove 49 homes and upwards of 100 mature trees. Thus, the outcome is in complete opposition to the intent. Additionally, while the CKGS identifies success as “respect for the existing neighbourhoods and their build form character,” the proposed development in no way meets this core objective. In the context of the current dwellings on adjacent streets, many of which are bungalows, four storey apartments are high rise buildings.

A row of apartment buildings and stacked townhouses along Johnson St. will have a number of detrimental and irreversible impacts on the surrounding neighbourhoods and these include:

  • excess shadowing and loss of privacy due to intrusive overlook on adjacent, primarily single-story dwellings
  • increased levels of light and noise pollution and reduction in air quality due to increased traffic
  • removal of carbon-absorbing mature trees
  • substantial loss of porous coverage in an area that already has significant drainage and flooding issues. Many backyards in this neighbourhood already have standing water after rainfalls
  • the requisite parking and laneways proposed at the rear of the development will encroach on existing properties and increase air pollution from both noise and exhaust particulates
  • visual and physical intrusion will disrupt the streetscape
  • environmental damage and degradation will occur as well as loss of habitat for a variety of small mammals and bird species
  • there will be increased traffic on roads that are not designed for a high volume of traffic; requiring additional traffic lights, street widening and traffic control measures for intersections that are already difficult to access

These concerns don’t include the infrastructure constraints on an area that wasn’t designed or developed to support high density dwellings. One of the fundamental objectives of the Density by Design recommendations is to identify areas that are in close proximity to diverse shopping and employment opportunities and services. Without the transportation infrastructure to access these opportunities, intensification becomes car dependent. The proposed intensification area is in an amenity dead zone and whilst there are two bus routes, one at each end of the corridor, it is a stretch to suggest this area is well serviced or has the transportation infrastructure to support intensification.

What consideration has been given to the adequacy of Johnson Street to accommodate the increased traffic that would be generated by this high density housing? This portion of Johnson Street consists of two fairly narrow lanes in contrast to the portion east of Sir John A Macdonald Boulevard that accommodates traffic with two one way streets (Brock St & Johnson St) .This will undoubtedly increase the potential for traffic incidents as vehicles exit the proposed high density units with people endeavouring to go in both directions on Johnson St. Centennial School and St. Thomas Moore school are both within a couple of blocks of this corridor and children cross Johnson St. at various locations to access their schools. Furthermore, if there is some expectation that this portion of Johnson Street will have to be widened to accommodate increased traffic, that widening would further exacerbate the proximity of the new buildings to the residential properties abutting their rear lot lines and further impact the privacy and character of those residential neighbourhoods.

Graphic and details regarding the Johnson and Brock Corridor Area from the City of Kingston Report to Planning Committee PC-21-052 on the Central Kingston Growth Strategy.

The push for greater density in the Portsmouth Avenue and Johnson St. corridor is surely being driven by the demand for student accommodation. While both of our post graduate institutions are important features of our community, should we sacrifice our well-established neighbourhoods to meet the needs of these institutions? The historic mistakes made by allowing intensification of development near Queen’s campus to creep into nearby well-established neighbourhoods should not be repeated. If additional housing accommodation is required by these institutions, it should be satisfied by the type of high density development now occurring along Princess Street in the Williamsville District and other major arterial routes, not along this single-family residential portion of Johnson Street.

These are a few of the macro and micro considerations which have shaped our opposition to the intensification of the Johnson St. corridor. We acknowledge the time and effort that have gone into preparing the CKGS final recommendations report, but feel blindsided by the lack of communication with residents who will be directly affected by intensification of this corridor. There has not been adequate public consultation. The property owners directly affected by the intensification plans have only received one notification letter which was received on November 16, 2021. The 20 days notice is the bare minimum dictated.

As a community, we do not wish to prohibit growth in the Portsmouth District. It is a culturally and historically significant area that, with appropriate planning, could be a vibrant area that is attractive to all. The “gentle density’ in ‘house centric neighbourhoods’ approach to city planning in other cities has been superimposed onto this portion of Johnson St. with little or no site-specific analysis. It lacks true vision and consultation.

One size does not fit all. City Planning needs to balance the needs of the City and developers with those of its residents.

The following photographs illustrate the houses and trees that would be lost to intensification on Johnson Street:

Submitted by residents of the Johnson St. neighbourhood at Portsmouth Ave.
(Note: This letter is accompanied by a list of all the names and addresses of those who have signed a petition and agreed to have their names associated with this letter, however, Kingstonist will not be publishing that list for privacy reasons.)


The three main corridors being targeted for intensification in the Central Kingston Growth Strategy final report to Planning Committee.

To read the entire Central Kingston Growth Strategy report to the Planning Committee, click here.

To view the Planning Committee meeting agenda for Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021 where the Central Kingston Growth Strategy final report will be discussed, or register to watch the meeting live, click here.

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