Downtown Kingston high-rises approved by Ontario planning appeal tribunal

A long battle between a developer and grassroots heritage organizations in Kingston is finally over, with the Homestead Landholding towers approved by a provincial appeals board. Bryan Paterson / Twitter

A six-year dispute over the development of two high-rise apartments in downtown Kingston has ended in a victory for the developer.

Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson said in a tweet Friday that Ontario’s Land Tribunal (formerly the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal) has given Homestead Land Holdings Limited the green light to develop 19- and 23-storey residential/commercial buildings on lower Queen Street, on what is known as the North Block, just two blocks away from historic Kingston City Hall.

“It’s been a long journey but I’m happy to see the result,” the mayor added in an interview with Global News.

In its 17-page ruling issued Nov. 4, the tribunal ruled the proposal is reasonable and appropriate and does not constitute an undesirable precedent.

“The tribunal finds that the proposal supports and enhances the city’s efforts to protect the economic viability of the downtown, meets the city’s interest regarding financial implications of costs and revenues, and will not lead to instability,” said the ruling, written by Susan de Avellar Schiller and S. Braun.

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The appeals tribunal initially denied the project, but the board subsequently rescinded its order, and a rehearing was mandated this past March.

Read more: Homestead Land Holdings asks for review of LPAT decision made earlier in 2019

In ordering a new hearing, the board said the city’s Official Plan wasn’t considered holistically and a number of policy objectives, such as brownfield remediation, housing supply and intensification were not properly considered.

Those points and others were reflected in the revised ruling, which noted the development meets several factors, including: test of provincial and municipal guidelines covering the conservation of features of significant cultural and historical value, the provision of a full range of housing and employment opportunities, the protection of the financial well-being of the municipality, appropriate location for growth and development, designed to support public transit and be oriented to pedestrians and a changing climate.

The tribunal says the height of the buildings will not negatively impact the nearby Market Square heritage conservation district either.

“The Homestead development sites are about two blocks away from the Market Square. The Tribunal agrees that the proposed towers will be seen, again depending on the viewing direction and line of sight, but disagrees that they are either close enough or tall enough to have a negative impact on this HCD.”

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Mayor Paterson said he was “delighted” to hear the news.

“If you think about everything the downtown businesses have been through over the last year and a half, this is about sustaining those retailers and small business owners on Princess Street. I think it’ll also be a good step towards rejuvenating Queen Street. So I think it’s really important step forward for the downtown.”

However, critics like the Frontenac Heritage Foundation were quick to pounce on the ruling in a media release.

“It’s disappointing to have the previous decisions of the tribunal reversed with this decision, particularly when the expert evidence was so strongly in favour of preserving Kingston’s historic core, the unique skyline, and avoiding a repeat of the waterfront condo curtain-wall,” said David Donnelly, counsel to the Foundation in the hearings.

Donnelly says parts of the decision defy much of the evidence at the hearing concerning the impact of the towers, which he says all experts agreed would be a very prominent “landmark” feature downtown.

“The city’s witnesses did a poor job of justifying the controversial decision to approve the towers downtown, and ignored their own climate emergency declaration and warnings of experts like Jennifer Keesmaat and George Baird that tall towers are major contributors to the climate crisis,” Donnelly added.

Click to play video: 'Local Planning Appeal Tribunal hearing for Homestead apartment buildings on Queen & Ontario streets gets underway.'
Local Planning Appeal Tribunal hearing for Homestead apartment buildings on Queen & Ontario streets gets underway.

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