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Date set for appeal of Homestead high-rise project, while City of Kingston stays on sidelines

Opponents of 19- and 23-storey apartment buildings proposed for downtown Kingston will attempt to appeal the case in divisional court Feb. 25.
Opponents of 19- and 23-storey apartment buildings proposed for downtown Kingston will attempt to appeal the case in divisional court Feb. 25. City of Kingston planning documents

A court date has been set in the latest chapter of a long-running battle over a heritage versus high-rise development in downtown Kingston.

The Frontenac Heritage Foundation is seeking leave to appeal a recent Ontario Land Tribunal ruling that gave permission for Homestead Land Holdings Ltd. to build two apartment towers on lower Queen Street in downtown Kingston, a project that’s become a focal point for citizen battles in recent years.

Read more: Kingston reaches deal to support Homestead high-rise development

The 19- and 23-storey residential buildings would be located on opposite sides of the street near Queen and King Streets — one behind the Smith Robinson office building and the other behind Goodlife Fitness and the LCBO store — on surface parking lots.

The two Homestead Land Holdings residential towers would be situated just a couple of blocks from Kingston City Hall, prompting a years-long battle over heritage vs. high-rise in the downtown. CKWS TV

The case will be the focus of a virtual hearing in Ontario’s divisional court on Friday, Feb. 25 with lawyers for the foundation and Homestead expected to make their arguments.

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The heritage group contends the land tribunal made “errors in law” in its Nov. 4, 2021 ruling in favour of the Homestead development.

It will be up to the court to decide whether the group’s appeal has any merit and what the next steps will be.

In a statement last November, Frontenac Heritage Foundation president Shirley Bailey said the land tribunal decision goes against the city’s tradition of conserving “the valuable and unmatched heritage character of the downtown area.”

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The foundation noted that the tribunal came to the opposite conclusion of a former tribunal decision about the project, released in August 2019. That previous decision denied the high-rise construction on the basis of height, saying the buildings would create a “visual intrusion to the streetscape and the prevailing built context” and were “not compatible with the surrounding area.”

A rehearing of the matter was mandated in March 2021.

This is a view of the proposed Homestead apartment building behind the Smith Robinson building at King and Queen streets.
This is a view of the proposed Homestead apartment building behind the Smith Robinson building at King and Queen streets. City of Kingston planning document

In the Nov. 4 decision, the tribunal re-hearing ruled that the two high-rises support 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. ”

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Kingston city council is on the record in support of the Homestead buildings, but will not be participating in the upcoming court case.

Councillors say there’s no need to spend tax dollars, and will watch the legal battle from the sidelines.

“This is essentially Homestead’s issue. There’s really no need for the city to be present,” said Coun. Rob Hutchison at the Jan. 11 council meeting where the matter was briefly discussed.

The city had until Jan. 21 to decide whether to join the legal case.

Kingston city councillors voted unanimously at their Jan. 11 meeting to stay on the sidelines of the latest appeal of the Homestead project, but indicated their ongoing support for the new housing it will create. CKWS TV

Councillors voted unanimously to stay out of the fight, but noted city staff may still be called as witnesses to support the Homestead project.

Read more: Ontario tackles court backlog

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Coun. Wayne Hill stressed the city’s lack of support in the divisional court case should not be viewed as a lack of support for the housing project.

“I don’t want to convey an impression that by doing this we don’t support this project. I think it’s an important one for housing in the downtown.”

Bailey agrees that housing intensification is important for the downtown, but questions the scale of this project.

“The foundation’s position is simple: we support intensification but we don’t see the need for 19 or 23 storeys as necessary.”

— with files from Alexandra Mazur

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