The controversial Capitol condominium project in downtown Kingston has cleared a major political hurdle.
At their Oct. 6 meeting, city councillors voted 8 to 5 to support the rezoning application from IN8 Developments for a 12-storey, 169-unit building on the site of the former movie theatre at 223 Princess Street.
But the prospect of another citizen’s challenge to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) loomed large heading into the crucial vote.
Mayor Bryan Paterson says downtown businesses are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this residential development is a signal that council is doing what it can to support them.
“The downtown is probably in a more fragile state than it has been in many, many years.”
He added: “This is our chance to send a signal that we’re investing in the growth and the revitalization of our downtown right at the moment when it needs it.”
The revised 12-storey design had earlier earned the support of city planners and the planning committee.
Planners say the application meets the city’s goals for urban intensification, addressing the city’s low vacancy rate and promoting less auto-oriented movement to reduce carbon emissions.
Read more: Kingston's vacancy rate stands at 1.9%
Coun. Jim Neill backed the downsized design as a “great improvement” over the original development proposal that sought a 16-storey building.
He also invoked the ongoing pandemic and its crushing impact on municipal finances, noting the Capitol condo will generate at least $500,000 to $600,000 in annual property taxes.
“We’re living in a time when we’re forecasting a $9 to $10 million (municipal year-end) deficit. We need to include the fiscal impacts of our decisions.”
But critics say even at 12 floors the building’s height is 50 per cent more than what current zoning rules allow.
“If we are interested in protecting our heritage core then we will not vote for this building,” said Coun. Rob Hutchison.
IN8 president Darryl Firsten has said the revised condo project is about half the size of his original proposal.
He says there is added commercial space on the Queen Street side and all vehicle parking would be located on-site in a podium-style garage with two doors for access and departure on Queen Street instead of three doors.
“We have made a number of substantial changes to the project, although it still does meet the goal of bringing more people to downtown Kingston,” Firsten explained in a recent interview with Global News.
Coun. Peter Stroud says the majority of constituents in his Sydenham district remain staunchly opposed to the high-rise, though he says the angular plane also remains a big problem.
The current zoning requires the building be set back at a 45-degree angle from street level, and the 54-degree slope of this building makes the building too imposing to pedestrians, he explained.
Coun. Stroud also criticized the floor plan layout of residential units as being too small for most people, and suggested the layout would be better suited to student housing.
“This is purpose-built student housing — very small units marketed to investors looking for student income.”
IN8’s initial attempt at a rezoning application for a 16-floor, 212-unit building was rejected by the LPAT in 2018 as too tall for the neighbourhood with its mix of low-rise homes, businesses and heritage properties.
The ruling was deemed a victory by citizens and local groups who challenged the initial design at their own expense.
The developer later filed an appeal of the LPAT decision, which remains stalled in divisional court during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Read more: Why critics oppose Capitol condo
However, Firsten says that he’s willing to drop the appeal on the 16-storey building if the revised condo application is approved by city council and is not the subject of any future appeals.
“We will drop the other appeal in the event the current zoning bylaw we are seeking is enacted into law.”
But his offer may do little to sway long-time critics of the high-rise project, who say the city must follow its own Official Plan and zoning rules which limit development on the site to about eight floors.
IN8 is proposing to demolish the movie theatre but retain and restore the heritage-style façade on Princess Street.
Due to the odd configuration of the property, the condo would be situated away from Princess Street and closer to the Queen Street side of the property.
Coun. Wayne Hill says a vote for the new design is also a vote for the downtown.
“Our downtown can quickly be put at risk. We can’t turn it into a museum. We need to restart the process of bringing people to live in the downtown.”
Those voting in favour of the rezoning application were Mayor Paterson and Councillors Ryan Boehme, Bridget Doherty, Wayne Hill, Lisa Osanic, Robert Kiley, Jim Neill and Mary Rita Holland.
Those opposing it were Councillors Rob Hutchison, Gary Oosterhof, Simon Chapelle, Jeff McLaren and Peter Stroud.
City planners say they will continue to seek input on getting about $117,000 in community benefits from the developer in exchange for council’s relaxing of the height rules.
The city won’t issue a building permit until those negotiations are completed and a recommendation is approved by council.