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Olivia Chow for Mayor

Toronto can do better. This is how.

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Beach Residents Face Off Against Condo Developers

Residents of the genteel east-end nabe are bitterly divided over a proposed six-storey condo development.

The proposed development site. Photo by {a href=http://www.flickr.com/photos/lxdesign/5630160488/t}lxdesign{/a}, from the {a href=http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

The Beach is known for its unique small-town vibe, but a possibly precedent-setting new six-story condo planned for the area has residents fiercely divided over the evolution of their neighbourhood.

The community, the developer, City planning staff, and Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32 Beaches-East-York) have been in heated discussion for the past year over the condo development, which is proposed for 1960-62 Queen Street East, currently a Lick’s. On May 15, the Toronto and East York Community Council voted to allow the rezoning necessary for the project to go ahead, and it’s almost certain that city council will finalize that zoning approval in early June.

Brian Graff, a leading member of Friends of Queen Street, a group which has been actively campaigning for changes to the 1960-62 Queen Street East condo plan, says he isn’t against condo development in the Beach, but that he prefers three- or four-storey buildings that emulate existing development the area.

“Most people…don’t have any problem with the condos that were built under the guidelines in the ’90s, and so that is what people, and myself included, generally want,” said Graff. “Buildings that fit in, that are not modern, that attempt to somehow respond to the context like the old ones did.” Graff added that he believes most Beach residents are opposed to development.

McMahon, who voted in favour of the rezoning at last Tuesday’s community council meeting, insisted that local sentiment is much more nuanced. After all, she said, around 80 per cent of the people buying condos at the controversial development are Beachers looking to downsize. “Every business owner I speak to wants development. You have to progress for the economic viability of this street,” McMahon said. “We have 148 condo [buildings] going up in downtown Toronto, so we need to get ahead ahead of it and have our plan.”

If anything’s certain, it’s that change is hard. Still, major changes to the Beach’s streetscape will likely be limited. Only four sites in the area have been identified as fit for future development, according to a study commissioned by McMahon. Of those, only one appears primed for imminent construction–the site of the former Shell station at Queen and Woodbine (a soil remediation company has purchased the lot).

McMahon is now looking to push forward a study that will engage the community in workshops to design a community wishlist and discuss issues like architectural design and height. Set for completion in November, the study’s findings will have to be balanced against the City’s Official Plan, which supports increased development along avenues, like Queen Street.

While McMahon managed to finagle design concessions from the 1960-62 Queen Street East developer to keep the project more in line with its surroundings (its brick exterior will now extend to the main floor, it will be set back at the third story), Graff still wonders if there aren’t more appropriate places for development in Toronto, such as Eglinton or Lawrence Avenues.

Even so, now that Beach homes often go for a million or more, perhaps it’s time to extend the opportunity to live in the neighbourhood to those who can’t afford such an overwhelming price tag.

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