The Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) has issued its latest decision on two highrise buildings planned for lower Queen Street in Kingston.
On Friday, LPAT announced it is denying Homestead Land Holdings’ appeal of two of their own proposed buildings — a 19-storey building at the corner of Queen and Wellington streets and a 23-storey building at the corner of Ontario and Queen streets.
In 2018, the City of Kingston struck a deal with Homestead, the developer of the proposed towers, following a closed-door council meeting with the city in which Homestead agreed to revamp the project to make the buildings thinner and add an art gallery to one of the highrises.
Homestead filed an appeal with the Ontario Municipal Board, which was then replaced by LPAT, based on what it alleged was city council’s apparent failure to make a decision on the development application within a prescribed period of time.
After listening to witness testimony, LPAT said the changes to the development proposed by Homestead would not resolve concerns surrounding the height of the proposed towers and citizens’ commitment to preserving Kingston’s heritage downtown.
“Leading the concerns was the height and density of the proposed developments and their lack of compatibility with the heritage resources and existing ambiance of downtown Kingston,” the decision from LPAT read.
The height of proposed condo buildings downtown has been a consistent issue in the city, especially with the Frontenac Heritage Foundation, a group that has been working to oppose large highrises like the Homestead buildings for the last several years.
The group bases its argument on Kingston’s official plan and zoning bylaws, which call for a four-storey building maximum on Princess Street and a six-storey maximum on Queen Street.
The LPAT decision also noted concerns from proponents of the condos, who highlighted the desperate need for more housing in a city with the second-lowest vacancy rates in Canada.
“Many emphasized that old and new can fit together,” the LPAT decision read.
This most recent LPAT decision follows a similar decision denying the IN8 Capitol Theatre application for a highrise on Princess Street in November 2018 in which a 16-storey condo building was denied for similar reasons.
“The foundation argues that the two cases are so similar in most respects that the Tribunal in this case should adopt the same reasoning and conclusions,” the LPAT decision read.
Although the city’s official plan has height limits for certain downtown areas, it also has an exemption that would allow buildings to be built above those height limits if they met certain conditions, which is why council was able to approve the Homestead proposal in the first place.
WATCH: Local group standing up for Homestead development in appeal battle
The exemption would only be granted if the city presented a “site-specific urban design study” to the public that indicates that the building would be compatible with the surrounding buildings, that it did not create an “unacceptable” amount of shadowing and that it met the “land-use compatibility polices” of the official plan.
Those land-use compatibility policies described in the official plan would have to determine if the proposed building would be a “visual intrusion” or present an “architectural incompatibility and impairment of significant heritage views, specifically views of city hall and views of the skyline.”
Despite strong opposition from the city and Homestead, the tribunal found that the buildings would “create visual intrusion to the streetscape” and that the height of both buildings would be an architectural incompatibility in the downtown area.
Nevertheless, the tribunal did not rule in favour of the Frontenac Heritage Foundation on all fronts. The group also argued that the two buildings would overwhelm the view of city hall from within the city and from the waterfront, arguments the LPAT found unconvincing.
Mayor Bryan Paterson, a supporter of the development, says he’s disappointed by the decision, but thinks there were also positive aspects in the LPAT ruling.
“There was absolutely statements that height and heritage can go together. It was very positive on plans for building up the north block — we can have taller buildings there,” Paterson said.
Paterson says he expects council to move forward by having larger discussions about changes in design that will allow for density in the downtown area.
He said he hopes to write those changes into the city’s official plan.
In a news release sent out on Friday, Shirley Bailey, head of the Frontenac Heritage Foundation, said the group was pleased with the LPAT’s decision.
“This appeal was done at tremendous cost to the foundation, and this city council now has two decisions that validate the approved official plan policies in place to guide development in our historic core,” Bailey said.
The CEO of Homestead Land Holdings, Alf Hendry, has refused to comment on the LPAT decision.