After the provincial planning appeal body rejected the second high rise development project in the city’s downtown core this year, Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson is pointing to creating policy to add to the City’s Official Plan to create “clarity” regarding development.
On Friday, Aug, 9, 2019, the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) announced its ruling on an appeal filed by Homestead Land Holdings Ltd. in June of 2017. Homestead had proposed a 23-storey building at 18 Queen Street and 282 Ontario Street, and a 19-storey building at 51-57 Queen Street originally in 2015 (though the original proposal was for higher buildings). In May of 2017, Homestead submitted revised proposals, and the following month the developer filed an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) (now the LPAT) appealing the City’s “failure to make decisions on the applications in within the applicable statutory periods.” Homestead filed the appeal, seeking to have the tribunal direct the city to approve the applications, including amendments to the City’s Official Plan and a zoning bylaw.
It should be noted that, before the LPAT hearing took place, Homestead revised its proposals for a third time in response to the City and third-party reviews. The revised proposals were submitted to the City’s consideration, and, in August of 2018, City Staff presented recommendations regarding Homestead’s appeals to City Council in closed session. City Council approved the recommendations, a move the Frontenac Heritage Foundation and other named parties in the appeals process opposed.
The 10-day hearing took place in February of this year, and the ruling by LPAT representative Marcia Valiante was released on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019, denying the appeal from Homestead, and pointing to issues regarding how the proposed development would fit into historic downtown Kingston.
“At the heart of this appeal is a dispute over whether the built heritage of downtown Kingston would be diminished or even destroyed if the proposed developments were approved,” Valiante wrote in her decision. “The City and its residents are justifiably proud of their history and the rich fabric of cultural heritage resources in the CBD [Central Business District].”
In her 45-page ruling, Valiante gave an overview of the clashing views between the developer, the City, and the other named parties, primarily the Frontenac Heritage Foundation, and found that, even after Homestead reduced the height of the two towers in the proposed development, the proposal does not comply with the City’s Official Plan, particularly in terms of “compatibility” and “visual intrusion.”
For Mayor Paterson, the decision was “disappointing,” he said.
“This was a project that had strong support from City Council, and a lot of support across the community, so it’s unfortunate that it’s not moving forward in its current form,” Paterson said.
“That being said, I thought there were a lot of important elements in the ruling from the OMB that created a path forward for what development in the downtown can look like and how we can get there.”
Paterson said that there were a number of aspects of the proposed development that the tribunal found “favourable,” including “the design and the way that the streetscapes really animate the street.”
“Certainly, it was very clear that the north block area in particular is a location in the downtown that is prime for redevelopment with taller buildings,” Paterson said, referring to the five blocks located just above Ontario Street and just north of Princess Street. The North Block (which includes two brownfields that would have been built on if the Homestead proposal had gone forward) has long been noted as an area in need of revitalization, and, indeed, the ruling found many positives about the proposed development for that reason.
“The Tribunal agrees that there are a number of elements of the proposed developments that would positively affect the streetscape of the North Block,” Valiante said in her ruling.
Paterson pointed out that building height in general was not the deciding factor in the LPAT ruling.
“First of all, the ruling was very clear that tall buildings and heritage can coexist. So, I think that’s been the crux of the conversation in the community for the last number of years – how to create that right balance,” he said.
The issue, Paterson said, was the transition between the mostly-low-rise buildings in the area and the proposed development – the downtown can have taller buildings, he said, but there needs to be buildings of an intermediate height between the taller buildings and the existing buildings.
“So I think that there’s work to be done in terms of specifying some of those design standards about how you can get that right balance,” Paterson said.
In the interest of finding a way to move forward, Paterson said it’s about finding that “right balance” and creating policy around it, therefore making it clear how development can take place in the downtown core.
“I’m absolutely committed to the vision of redevelopment of the North Block, and I also believe that City Council has already started down the right path, which is having this discussion about the balance between tall buildings and heritage, no longer on a case-by-case, development-by-development basis, but overall,” he said.
To do that, Paterson said a lot of discussion will need to take place regarding design standards, where taller buildings can be located, and how high those buildings can be. Those discussions, he said, will begin this fall, and City Council will be “looking at having that debate and making that decision probably about next summer some time.”
“Then that sets the groundwork where there will be clarity – clarity for developers, clarity for the community – so that we can get it right, get that balance right, and ultimately se the development in the downtown that we know that we need.”
When asked if setting that groundwork will be readdressing the Official Plan, Paterson said it will.
“Well, definitely when we talk about having a policy discussion where City Council will consult the community and then make decisions on design standards and height limits, and locations for tall buildings versus not – yeah, I think that is absolutely the goal is to be able to put that into the Official Plan, to create that clarity,” he said.
“The issue is that, up until this point, there has been a lack of clarity, and some differences of interpretation based on our current plan [on] what is and is not allowed at certain locations,” Paterson continued, noting that he feels finding that clarity will be beneficial for developers, the community, and the city as a whole.
“I honestly believe that we are on the right path, and this council, this term of council, is to set that foundation and to decide this once and for all how to best balance height and heritage,” he said.
To find out more about the North Block and the proposed Homestead development from the City of Kingston, click here.