Letter to the Editor – Homestead Towers Hearing Coming Up

Did you know that had Homestead Holdings Ltd. submitted for a development application that conformed with the eight-storey limit on two sites downtown, the units could already be in place with more people living there?

Instead, three-plus years after Homestead’s submission, debate continues, and a hearing will be held on the proposal. For ten days beginning on February 4, 2019 at 11 a.m., people can attend a hearing in Kingston’s Council Chambers to hear arguments about high-rise towers in our historic core, and the impact of those towers on the appeal of our downtown to tourists and residents alike.

Prior to the hearing, I’d like to dispel some inaccurate information that has been circulating about the Homestead towers proposed for the North Block.

Many people are under the mistaken impression that these towers are approved. They are not.

Here’s the background.

The original application for two 21-storey towers was submitted in late 2015, with Block 3 backing on the Good Life Centre and the LCBO, and with Block 5 backing on the S. & R. building. Both buildings would front on different sides of Queen Street, and each building would sit on a large base or podium, which would fill most of the site.

At the legally required public meeting in Feb. 2016, many people turned out with most objecting to the proposal. More than a year later, in May 2017, the developer submitted a revised application for 17- and 19-storey towers. This application would require a change to Kingston’s Official Plan (a document created with a lot of public input that sets out how the city will be developed) and zoning bylaw.

The Planning Act allows municipalities 180 days to make a decision on an official plan amendment. At that mark in June 2017, Homestead Holdings appealed both the proposed Official Plan Amendment and the Zoning Bylaw Amendment. This appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (now called the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal or LPAT) was submitted in June 2017. A second public meeting was held where people were invited to make comments on what community benefits should be negotiated.

Staff continued to negotiate with the developer and – following a private council session to discuss the matter – brought forward an information report in November 2017 recommending a 17- and a 19- storey tower. Around the same time, the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) held its first pre-hearing conference where those interested in the matter stated whether they would be a “party” (a person or organization that submits a statement, witnesses and participates fully) to the hearing represented by legal counsel, or speak as an unrepresented “participant” (a person or organization who submits a statement to the hearing, but may not wish to participate throughout).

Early in 2018, planning expert, Brent Toderian was invited by the City to a town hall meeting where he talked about development, and how, based on his experience in Vancouver, skinny towers were acceptable. It appears that staff continued to negotiate with the developer to modify the proposal. The public was not made aware of this.

In August 2018 during the lame-duck period (when councils are not supposed to make binding decisions) leading up to the municipal election, Council voted 9 – 4 in favour of the development proposal and chose not to report out information on the vote, which gave approval to 19 and 23 storey towers.

This vote took place just weeks before the LPAT decision was released, turning down the Capitol tower proposal. Council voted before knowing LPAT’s decision.

A settlement was signed between city officials and the developer on September 4, 2018. This included a small space on the ground floor for a municipal art gallery as a community benefit in exchange for ten years’ worth of rent on the space. Staff did no further public consultation on the proposal. Meanwhile, other parties including the Frontenac Heritage Foundation, Building Kingston’s Future and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario maintained their opposition to the proposal. A number of participants have signed up to make presentations as well.

More information on appeal process can be found on the LPAT website: http://elto.gov.on.ca/tribunals/lpat/lpat-process/.

I encourage people to attend to show support for development that is in keeping with our wonderful historic centre.

S. Bailey, President,

Frontenac Heritage Foundation

Jan 22 2019