Fantastic story on the area in NYT Home and Garden section, in Julie Lasky’s ‘Four Square Blocks’ series, ‘Between a loft and a hard place’. Some highlights”

First came the manor houses, then the mental hospital, then the stockyards. By the end of the 19th century, the part of Toronto known today as Queen West had had more reversals of fortune than an entire season of “Dallas” (the original or the new version).

That was before industry and immigration billowed in the 20th century, before this neighborhood west of downtown grew seedy and unpredictable, before a gangland double murder was committed in a karaoke bar in 2003.

And long before the poles reversed again, and Queen West became one of the most appealing places in Toronto. [...]

Despite these cliches of gentrification, the neighborhood is like no other. It has charming exaggerations: a retired Victorian fire station (now a drug treatment facility) with a tower like a pilgrim hat [...]

“This is probably the most fertile creative area in the city right now,” [...]

It is also one of the oldest. In the late 18th century, Queen Street was known as Lot Street, after the narrow 99-acre parcels that John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, bestowed on his military confederates as a way to create a loyal landed aristocracy.

By 1818 a manor house called Brookfield, the estate of the Denison family, stood at the northwest corner of present-day Queen and Ossington, where the Canadian film director Atom Egoyan opened Camera, a screening room and bar, 186 years later. Directly south, the Provincial Lunatic Asylum was opened in 1850 on the current site of the Center for Addiction and Mental Health.

As lot owners sold off their lands, and the area became populated and industrialized, the parcels crumbled into small blocks with little coherence. They are “helter skelter,” said Benj Hellie, the spokesman for the Ossington Community Association, which has pushed to have the neighborhood declared a heritage conservation district. In his proposal, Mr. Hellie, who is also a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto, described cattle being driven from Ossington along tiny Bruce Street in the 19th century on their way to the slaughterhouse.

The application for heritage status was recently turned down, Mr. Hellie said, on the grounds that the district was “not sufficiently intact.” In some ways, his proposal can be read as a memorial to the many neighborhood buildings that have been demolished and the historical layers buried. The oldest existing structures he identified on Ossington appear to date from no earlier than 1871. One is a modest shingled house at No. 91, now home of Crywolf.

Still, the neighborhood throbs with historical echoes. Not two blocks north of Bruce Street, where cattle marched to their doom, is Côte de Boeuf, a butcher that provides meat to Union restaurant, a sister business at 72 Ossington. The Candy Factory Lofts, on the south side of Queen, east of Shaw, is a relic of local industry, as is the 1970s former textile factory that houses the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, or Mocca, diagonally northwest.

Well, the OMB decision on 109OZ has come in—interestingly, dated the day of the election—and Jason Chee-Hing, the OMB Board member, ruled that the revised proposal that Reserve submitted during the hearing can go forward. The revised proposal is still 6 storeys, which is obviously disappointing. But it was nonetheless very good that the OCA was a party to the appeal, for 3 reasons. Moreover, the story of the appeal isn’t over yet.

First and most importantly, our detailed involvement in this case, and the historically and culturally sensitive “Ossington Avenue High Street Development Review” written by our planner, Terry Mills, had a concrete positive impact on the final draft of the Ossington Official Plan Amendment (OPA). The Ossington OPA is the first low-scale OPA on the entire West side: 4 storey max on all of Ossington between Queen and Dundas, with a 5 storey max in “Area 2″ (East side of Ossington, between Argyle and Bruce). This OPA is huge: it means that we are very unlikely to have to fight this kind of time-consuming and expensive battle again, and more generally, that the character and culture of the Ossington strip and surrounding neighbourhood will be preserved for the foreseeable future.

Second, as a result of going to the OMB, Reserve produced a better proposal in several respects—this was the “surprise” 6-storey revision submitted at the end of the first week of the hearing, which led the City’s team (which by intent of Council direction was supposed to fight any 6-storey proposal) to cave, leaving the OCA to fight on our own. The height now is reduced from 21.5m to 20m, the mechanical penthouse is moved and the rear angular planes adjusted to improve shadow impact on rear houses, and—very importantly—the one very large retail space is broken up to 3 smaller spaces, with a max retail floor size of 500sq m. Chee-Hing also added as a condition of approval that a 1.5m pedestrian walkway be placed behind the building, for the safety of those walking down the alley (he also recommends that the City explore extending this the entire length of the alley).

Third, fighting this proposal was the right thing to do, for the sake of the character and culture of Ossington, and in hopes of improving the serious impacts on our neighbours and friends. It was also the right thing to do in hopes of getting the City and the Province to uphold the Official Plan, whose motto is “Grow but Protect”, and which explicitly directs mid-rise intensification to broad, long, transit-thoroughfare “Avenues” in need of “reurbanization”, as opposed to narrow, flourishing, culturally significant main streets like Ossington. Having read the decision, I remain convinced that our Official Plan-based reasoning is correct. We are clearly correct that Ossington is (notwithstanding the testimony of for-hire “expert” Anne McIllroy) nothing like an Avenue (and thanks to our OPA will never be like an Avenue), in which case there is no good reason for treating it like one. And we are also correct in rejecting the claim that Ossington is (or was, prior to the OPA) designated for mid-rise intensification just in virtue of being a mixed-use area. We originally heard this “mixed use” justification from Francis Kwashie, who was unable to point us to any passages in the Official Plan substantiating it, rather saying that it follows from reading the Official Plan “as a whole”. Chee-Hing reproduces the “mixed-use” justification and its fuzzy “overall” location in the Official Plan. Such vague and unsubstantiated reasoning is uncompelling. At the end of the day, then, there remains no clear reason for allowing this proposal to be built.

Issues of Official Plan law aside, Chee-Hing’s decision appears to contain two errors of fact, which may serve as the basis for an application to review the decision. We are looking into this, and will keep you posted.

One last word of thanks to the very large number of people who have invested time, energy, money, and psychological support throughout this long, yet informative and exciting, process. We won what really mattered—that is, the West side’s first low-scale protective OPA. We have a Heritage Conservation District application in progress. Perhaps most importantly: as a result of this proposal, we came together as never before as a community. Thanks for being a part of it!

PLANNING PROCESS HEADS-UP:

Starting this week, City Planning is holding a series of open houses/public feedback meetings on the ‘Development Permit System’ (DPS), a pro-growth fast-track (45-day) development approval process which combines zoning amendment, minor variance, and site-plan processes. Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat said that the DPS would be a “fundamental shift” in how planning is done in Toronto. For City info and meeting dates, see the RHS column here:

http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=3b2cd9e27ac93410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD&vgnextfmt=default

Please try to attend at least one of the meetings, and encourage others you know to attend or otherwise weigh in on this significant initiative.

Details for the downtown meeting one week from today are as follows:

Saturday, March 22
Toronto Reference Library
789 Yonge St, Toronto
Open House: 10:30am to 12:30pm
Public Meeting: 12:30 – 2:30pm

Opinionated overview:

The DPS is being pushed as a pro-active, area-based alternative to site-by-site planning. Sounds great, right? But there are concerns about the (largely untested) DPS process. The 45-day timeline is made possible by means of “plug-and-chug” performance-based by-laws, which necessarily elide nuances of site-specific context. The subsumption of the minor variance process means that areas under a DPS will automatically get “up-zoned”—and that could just be the beginning of the “reset” in zoning that City Planning decides the target area should undergo. After a DPS by-law is passed for an area, then for 5 years there is no requirement for public notice or consultation for any development application, and residents and other third parties lose (while developers retain) their right to appeal specific application decisions to the OMB; inclining the process in the developer’s favor. Removal of public rights of consult and appeal is especially problematic given the uncertainty associated with specific applications of the performance-based bylaws, and the possibility of Section 37-style “tradeoffs” for increased height or density. The short timeline means that DPS decisions will typically be delegated to Planning staff—hence not just the public but their representatives are effectively removed from site-based planning in their communities. Moreover, there are existing pro-active area-based planning processes (e.g., Area Studies and associated Official Plan Amendments, as we just got for Ossington) that do not involve removal of public rights of consultation and appeal. One might also ask: what’s the big rush in implementing this “fundamental shift”? Just 4 open house/feedback meetings for the entire GTA—really?

Further information is available at the following links:

Please feel free to get in touch with any questions.

Best wishes,
Jessica

bid on ossington

mike layton in the house to auction off such goodies as —

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— coming this september

fun!raising auction and community jamboree

— plus, say ‘hello, stranger’ to some warm weather by boogie-ing with some ossingtonians!!!!!!!

November 16 was a historic day for Ossington!

Ossington is now at the top level—with Kensington, Chinatown, Yorkville, the Annex, Church-Wellesley—of Toronto’s places with fully recognized and protected character.

City Council amended Toronto’s Official Plan—the legal document which directs what should, can, and can’t be built, all over the city—to now discuss Ossington specifically. (Areas like Kensington and just a few others have that recognition.)

Now the Official Plan has hard, specific, legal regulations for buildings on Ossington. (Regulations that *have to* be followed—because developers will never get a “waiver” from the OMB.)

The new regulations are pretty darn good (read them here)—some hilites:

* Retail small for local business, with no shops bigger than Böhmer (we love Böhmer!—it’s just for comparison of the size)

* Jobs and daytime life on the street, with upper floor offices and workspaces

* Lowrise, with 4 storeys on 7/8ths of Ossington, option to 5 in “Area 2″

But as important is the principle: you all have always known Ossington was great—now it has the seal of approval that will keep it alive, thriving, and exciting: and let Ossington be Ossington and do what it does.

This is all thanks to all of us—hard work, dedication, commitment, passion; seeing the good in the offbeat and knowing the impossible had to happen.

(A big shoutout is due to Mike Layton, who always did exactly the right thing at the right time—and to the hard-working folks at City Planning, who were sensitive and wise: who listened to what we were saying and heard; looked at what we showed them and saw.)

The Ontario Municipal Board hearing for the “109OZ” proposal ran from 5 to 15 November 2013 — eight business days because Remembrance Day interposed.

The Applicant for the “109OZ” proposal had appealed on the grounds that the City had failed to decide on the proposal within the statutory 120 day deadline (the appeal was about 150 days after the application; everyone knows that 120 days is too little for the City to carry out other legally mandated duties, so it is customary to wait over a year before this kind of appeal).

City Council had directed that any settlement would have to include all parties to the case: the OCA, the City, and the Appellant; and that the City would remain in opposition unless there was a settlement.

The Appellant had advanced certain proposals that, in the view of the OCA Negotiation Steering Committee, did not adequately respond to the very strong community mandate to Keep Ossington Lowrise — and to conserve Ossington’s great historic character, juice its vibrant business community, respect the adjacent residents, and protect local schoolchildren, pedestrians, and cyclists.

The OCA advanced to the Appellant a proposal that the Steering Committee regarded as going a long way for these goals, while also including various creative out-of-the-box features that (though profitable for developers and good for communities) are blocked by various hamhanded City regulations and are therefore unattainable in circumstances outside an OMB settlement. It got zero traction — which did not surprise me, inasmuch as the Appellant seems to have been fixated on a six storey building from the start.

The adjudicating OMB Member was Jason Chee-Hing (who had in 2011 approved the settlement at 41 Ossington).

The order of proceedings went: Appellant calls their witnesses; City calls theirs; OCA calls ours; closing arguments in that order with Appellant getting the last word.

Appellant was represented by David Bronskill and called as witnesses J Craig Hunter (a planner), Anne McIlroy (an urban designer who oversaw the production of the famous /Avenues and Mid-rise Buildings Study/), David Bouwsma (who uses a CAD program to make pictures of where a hypothetical building would cast shadows on various days and times), and Alun Owen (who counts cars and pedestrians crossing various places at various times, snaps pictures of trucks making tight turns makes speculative estimates of when people would use cars and trucks for a hypothetical building, and uses a CAD program to make pictures of vehicles of various sizes making tight turns).

City was represented by Amanda Hill and called as witnesses Franco Romano (an independent outside planner) and Ran Chen (an urban designer from City Planning).

OCA was represented by Charles Campbell and called as witnesses Terry Mills (a planner who wrote the /Ossington Avenue High Street Development Review/, Arris Strategy Studios), Thomas Rees (City Planning), Olga Ferreira (our neighbour on Givins), and Jessica Wilson (OCA President).

A few Participants also spoke: Penny Carter (our neighbour on Argyle Place), the Coalition of Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Associations (incarnated in Eileen Denny, CORRA Vice Chair), and [***].

The Appellant took up the first four days. The City called its witnesses on Tuesday and Wednesday of the second week; Wednesday morning was set aside for Participants. OCA called witnesses on Thursday. Closing arguments were presented on Friday the 15th.

Beyond these sparse generalities, an immense amount of detail remains to be reported. I confine myself to illustrative anecdotes, the flow of procedural skulduggery, amusing zings, and potentially important moments.

Bronskill’s opening statement was intended to suggest that we are nuts and should be ignored while City and Appellant work things out responsibly.

The first witnesses, Craig Hunter and Anne McIlroy, generally acknowledged that the street has distinctive character in large part contributed by the predominance of two- and three-storey heritage potential buildings. Hunter also acknowledged that the buildings across the street were unlikely to be demolished any time soon. McIlroy, who recounted how miserable the apartments of her hip youth were by comparison with today’s more advanced apartments, was more optimistic that they would be demolished soon.

Bouwsma’s primary contribution was the concept of a ‘shadow increment’ depicted as a bright yellow patch and constituted by the difference between the proposed building and the mereological sum of (i) an as-of-right (but, as Amanda Hill pointed out, Site Plan Approval-unfriendly) “donut” building and (ii) the angular plane envelope described in City Planning’s problematic May 18 rejection report. Campbell exposed Bouwsma’s qualification to pronounce only on what a certain shadow would be and not on whether that shadow would be OK.

Owen’s testimony was notable for its neglect to assess the traffic impacts of development of all /Area 2/ at the scale proposed. Owen thought that was OK because the traffic isn’t too high yet; when the building where the traffic is too high gets proposed, then it will be turned back. Needless to say, the impacts Owen considered were only incremental impacts, and he proposed no absolute threshold. Also amusing was the revelation that Owen’s car counters had been snoozing on the job.

At this point, late Friday afternoon, the procedural skulduggery — not entirely unexpected — rolled out. The Appellant had changed the proposal! The new one made certain inconsequential modifications to the height and massing and gave City Urban Design extensive control over the facade at Site Plan Approval! Now suddenly it is OK with Romano and Chen!

(Chen, no surprise perhaps. But Romano? His witness statement had trashed the height and massing as grossly out of scale. Drop the height by 7% and the massing by 0.5% and now its OK?)

The big tricksy plan to isolate the community is rolling out! Oh noes! What are we gonna do?

Two things: ensure that the direction of Council to oppose the proposal absent any settlement would be respected; ensure that we would bring to the stand Thomas Rees, City Planning’s author of the Ossington Planning Study and proposed Area Specific Official Plan Amendment.

Tuesday morning was taken up with procedural issues: the new plans were presented and Campbell requested (a) an adjournment and (b) that Thomas Rees would be subpoenaed as our witness. The adjournment was refused but the addition of Rees was granted.

Hill also asked some perfunctory questions of Romano and Chen.

Tuesday afternoon, Campbell cross-examined Romano. Romano acknowledged that the new proposal was not consequentially different from the old and that he thought the old proposal was grossly out of scale with the ‘existing context’ — the buildings that are there now. The new proposal is OK, however — because it is in line with the ‘planned context’, which emerged after he filed his witness statement. Namely, the proposed OPA. But the OPA limits to five storeys in /Area 2/? Yeah well six, five, what’s the difference!

My impression was that Romano’s line of reasoning was the object of considerable puzzlement.

I wasn’t there on Wednesday. Neither was Romano, who had booked a trip out of the country starting Wednesday for the rest of the week. My recollection is that Mr Chee-Hing found that decision somewhat anomalous.

Thursday Terry Mills was back on the stand (apparently Campbell had put Mills in chief on Wednesday afternoon), under cross by Bronskill. Mills’s vision of a below 18m building was getting a lot of traction, as were Mills’s concerns about the capacity of the laneway.

Olga Ferreira gave a vivid and clever testimony about the centrality to the community of the Givins vegetable gardens, the constraints on the laneway, and the natural concerns about backyard amenity with 40-some balconies more or less across the street.

Tom Rees kicked major butt. He was unflappable on the importance of preserving Ossington’s character and heritage, on the incompatibility of a six-storey building with that aim, and on the fact that /Mixed-Use Areas/ are not an OP focus for intensification.

Jessica Wilson also kicked major butt. Bronskill attempted to show her up as an ingnant amateur planning fancier, but got outsmarted: on the issue of where the OP says growth is required in general /Mixed-Use Areas/, she got him to reveal as his justification a passage which no planner had ever before mentioned — thereby tipping his hand to Campbell’s Associate Laura Bowman who would go on to write up a killer factum overnight. Bronskill also attempted to show up Wilson as, like, disrespectful or something? I didn’t get what he was trying to do as he read into evidence Wilson’s FB post criticizing Hill’s limited enthusiasm in pursuing the Council direction to oppose the Appeal. Astonishingly — though Bronskill did not read it out loud — the printed post concluded “right now the OMB is our new best friend”. Wow!

Friday morning Bowman showed up with a killer factum — by a huge margin the best thing I’ve read on the law of this stuff — while Bronskill had drank some wine and turned in early. Accordingly, while Bronskill’s summary statement was a bunch of technical legal stuff and debating sophism, Campbell drove home an awesome Jimmy Stewart-like speech on principles. (Hill, by contrast, was reduced to ‘commending’ the opinions of Romano and Chen and getting grilled on whether the City was or wasn’t opposed to the proposal. Friday morning was also marked by extensive questioning of Hunter by Mr Chee-Hing about laneway capacity.) Campbell’s focus was on (i) the extent to which ‘expert’ trumps ‘lay’ opinion on whether an impact is OK, and if so what the point of community consultation is; (ii) the precedential issue about /MU/ versus /Avenue/; (iii) the ‘burden of proof’ question regarding whether Appellant has justified all the requested overage.

At the end, Mr Chee-Hing announced that his decision would be forthcoming in the future — and not the near future.