An interesting project we’re currently working on within the Cultural Services department is Your Stories, Our Histories that launched last September. Kingston is often recognized as a city steeped in history and the Kingston Culture Plan approved back in 2010 made the case that Kingston’s powerful historical narrative was perhaps its most compelling cultural asset. History is indeed central to how people perceive and experience our city but it has also become increasingly important to recognize that Kingston has been shaped by a multiplicity of histories, not all of which are well known and represented.
History is complex and ever-changing and that means our relationship to places, people and events evolves over time as new information comes to light and as attitudes and thinking change. In Kingston, people tend to know that Fort Frontenac was settled by the French in 1673 and that the city was established as the First Capital of a United Canada in 1841. But we are perhaps less well versed in what went before and what came after that has shaped where we are today. And, of course, Kingston is also closely associated with the life and legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald who has become a focus of much debate in recent years and that is something the City of Kingston is committed to addressing as part of Your Stories, Our Histories.
Starting in September 2018, the Cultural Services department began actively collecting feedback regarding how the City of Kingston should approach the challenge of interpreting the history of Sir John A. Macdonald in the 21st century, with a particular focus on his relationship to Kingston that became his adopted hometown. What we’ve discovered over the past year is that there are many differing ideas, perspectives and opinions that exist and it has been especially interesting to track conversations that are taking place across the country and at all levels of government.
My colleague Jennifer Campbell who works as the manager of cultural heritage for the City of Kingston recently attended a conference in Ottawa organized by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada titled “Commemorating Canada”. The need to make space for more voices to be heard was a major topic of discussion at the conference as was the need to provide increased opportunities for Canadians to reflect on and contribute to how our histories are being told and to ensuring that the stories we share are more broadly inclusive and represent a greater diversity of experiences.
As part of this conference, the Board shared its most recent Systems Plan that acknowledges in a very direct way the many factors at play when it comes to commemorating the past. The Systems Plan also includes an exploration of what it refers to as ‘Key Practices for Public History’ that are worth thinking about in relation to local history and heritage and especially when considering a topic that has become a focus of debate like Sir John A. Macdonald. In discussion, Jennifer and I agreed these Key Practices work well as challenge questions for all of us as a community to consider as we delve into the Sir John A. Macdonald debate and consider how best to formulate a Cultural Heritage Strategy for the City of Kingston.
- Craft Big Stories – How do we value Kingston history and the history of this region prior to the arrival of European settlers while also connecting Kingston to the larger history of Canada and the world?
- Address Conflict and Controversy – How can we directly address conflict and controversy, understanding how and why people disagree and how our values can shift through time?
- Seek opportunities for Indigenous Peoples to share and communicate their own history on their own terms – How do we make space in Kingston for this to happen and how do we ensure a diversity of Indigenous perspectives is also included?
- Realize that history is written from a worldview – How can we acknowledge and find strength in our increasingly diverse community while also acknowledging that many of our assumptions and values have been shaped by a history of colonization and its legacies?
- Share Authority – How do we work together, capturing a diversity of viewpoints, to build our relationship to our history? How can we create space for traditional knowledge and other world views?
- Emphasize a full range of voices, perspectives and experiences – How do we bring new and divergent voices to the table to understand more fully whose histories have and have not been adequately recognized and celebrated?
- Acknowledge that humans have touched all heritage places, including parks and natural areas – How do we appropriately consider that this land has been home to people for centuries, people who lived and whose descendants continue to live in close connection to the land and the natural world?
- Recognize that power dynamics affect understandings of heritage places – Decisions made in the past may or may not reflect current values and attitudes. How do we understand, acknowledge and interpret how we got to where we are today based on decisions made in the past?
- Explore the spectrum of powerful memories and meanings attached to heritage places – How do we interpret and share with residents and visitors that the meaning of specific sites, monuments, commemorations and spaces has shifted and that they now mean different things to different people?
- Appreciate that interpretations of the past are constantly evolving – As the System Plan says “[h]istory can always be interrogated and no one ever has the last word”. How can we work together to ensure we are being vigilant in terms of our understanding of history and the fact that its meaning is continuously shifting?
Over time, it will be interesting to see how the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada actions its new Systems Plan. It will also be interesting for us here in Kingston to consider these same ideas as we explore our own relationship to local historic sites, places, persons and events. How might we apply these ten Key Practices in our community in an effort to challenge ourselves to think differently?
As a next step, in connection with Your Stories, Our Histories, the City of Kingston will host a speakers’ panel to discuss how best to share the history and legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald. The event takes place Sept. 17 from 7-9 p.m. at the Grand Theatre at 218 Princess St. Three speakers will consider how we, as a community, can interpret and share the life and legacy of John A. Macdonald in ways that reflect the multiplicity of ideas, concerns and perspectives that have emerged in recent years. Our panelists are Lee Maracle, Charlotte Gray and Christopher Moore along with Bob Watts who will moderate both the panel and the Q&A to follow.
The ideas shared at this event are meant to spark ideas and foster discussion and exploration. Our intent is to look at how we can add to our understanding of history and heritage at a local level and develop a more inclusive take on history that avoids any erasure or removals. To capture those ideas, the City will host a series of community feedback workshops on Oct.16 and 17 that will provide opportunities to continue this community conversation.
I’m glad we can come together in this moment to wrestle with these important topics in a meaningful way with the goal of building a Cultural Heritage Strategy for our city that reflects a diversity of histories, experiences and perspectives.
On Aug. 12, 2019, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Divisional Court issued a decision on the motion for leave to appeal for the 223 Princess St. Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) decision. The Court decision granted the property’s developers, IN8 Developments Inc., the right to appeal the LPAT ruling which did not support the development of a mixed-use building at this location. The original LPAT hearing for this matter was held on November 9, 2018 and the date for the Divisional Court hearing has not yet been set.
Explaining the Divisional Court’s Decision
The Divisional Court is one of the three branches of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (the others being Small Claims Court and Family Court). The Divisional Court is an appeals Court and one of its mandates is to review appeals emerging from the decisions of administrative tribunals, such as the LPAT.
The Court’s decision to grant leave to appeal was based on the following question:
Did the Tribunal err in its interpretation and application of the Official Plan (OP) and its policies by:
prioritizing one OP policy (heritage) over (revitalization and intensification);
considering the provisions of the Zoning By-law and the studies and guidelines referred to in the OP;
concluding that the OP policies impose height, density and angular plane limitations on this Site even in the absence in the OP making those limitations specifically applicable to this Site; and
concluding that the development was not in the public interest?
The Court did not grant the right of appeal on the following questions:
Did the Tribunal correctly have regard to the decisions of Council pursuant to subsection 2.1(1) of the Planning Act, R.S.O. 1990, C.P.13?
Does the Tribunal’s decision incorrectly rely on inapplicable studies and guidelines?
Does the decision incorrectly assess the test for amending a zoning by-law?
In summary, the Divisional Court determined that the LPAT’s decision raised a question of law, that there was reason to doubt the correctness of the LPAT decision with respect to that question of law, and that the question of law raised was of sufficient general or public importance to merit the attention of the Divisional Court.
What happens next?
At the Divisional Court, a leave to appeal to the Court acts as an automatic stay on the LPAT decision. This means that no steps can be taken to enforce the LPAT decision until the appeal is fully resolved (after the appeal is completed).
An appeal may be dismissed or allowed. If the appeal is allowed, the Court will set aside the LPAT decision and may order a new hearing before the LPAT, or in certain circumstances, substitute its own decision. If the appeal is dismissed, the original LPAT decision will stand and the automatic stay will be lifted.
Because only the appellant and respondent are entitled to participate in a Divisional Court hearing, the City will not be part of this process. The hearing will also be limited to the one issue outlined above: the interpretation of the Official Plan and its associated policies.
This decision once again demonstrates the need for clarity in the City’s Official Plan and its associated policies. This is a major pillar for the City’s ongoing consultation on mid-rise and tall building design policies. Learn more by visiting the City’s Get Involved Platform.
Over the past week I have received many questions from residents, seeking to understand the recent decision from the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) regarding the lands referred to as Block 3 and Block 5 of the “the North Block.” These properties are just east of City Hall and west of the Leon’s Centre. The initial hearing, for which the August 9 LPAT ruling was made, was originally held in February 2019.
Staff had presented settlement recommendations, reached by City staff and Homestead to City Council in closed session on August 7, 2018. Council approved the recommendations and Minutes of Settlement were entered into on September 4, 2018.
At just over 45 pages, the decision contains a lot of technical information and many people may understandably find it confusing. As a result, many community members want to understand this decision’s impact on the downtown and the city as a whole. The hearing was two weeks long and included hundreds of pages of technical analysis and evidence provided by a number of qualified professional and community participants. It is my hope that the following post will help to clarify some key findings of the recent LPAT decision and also include of path of how we can move forward as a smart, livable and leading city.
Can LPAT rulings set a legal precedent?
The first major question here is whether this decision sets a precedent. In other words, can this ruling guide future planning decisions through a municipal Council or a Provincial Tribunal like the LPAT (formerly the Ontario Municipal Board)? According to the Regional Planning Commissioners of Ontario, “a decision related to a particular building or site should not bind future decisions, even where the context is similar. If OMB decisions were bound by precedent, the accumulation of OMB decisions would soon entirely supersede municipally-led comprehensive planning” (RPCO, 2016). Consequently, all cases heard by the LPAT will be judged on their own merits and will not impact future rulings.
A former LPAT case concluded with a similar question on precedent. The following excerpt further explains the LPAT’s position:
It is submitted by some party to almost every hearing before this Board, that this decision will create an inappropriate precedent. On this issue the Board must note that one panel of this Board is not bound by the decision of another panel; each case which comes before the Board has a unique set of facts; each case must be decided on its merits, taking into account the policy regime in effect at the time of the application (Case No PL070056, 2008).
The LPAT’s ruling explained
The Tribunal found that the proposed Official Plan and the Zoning By-Law amendments for the North Block were consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) and conformed to all applicable Official Plan policies, except Section 10A.4.7.
Section 10A.4.7 of the Official Plan allows for taller buildings within the Downtown and Harbour Area if:
- The building is compatible with the massing of surrounding buildings;
- It does not create unacceptable amounts of shadowing; and,
- It meets the land use compatibility policies of the Official Plan.
The Tribunal found that the proposed buildings “would create undue adverse effects that have not been sufficiently mitigated, specifically visual intrusion and architectural incompatibility.” In summary, the tribunal member found that the proposed height of Blocks 3 and 5 of the North Block were too tall for the surrounding built context.
A City never truly knows how effective or clear planning policy is until it is tested against actual land use proposals and, to a greater degree, argued before a land use tribunal. The recent decision by the LPAT for Block 3 and Block 5 of the North Block has reinforced some recurring challenges with the City’s current Official Plan: clarity and intent.
In the case of this recent tribunal decision, a lack of clarity in some key policies of the Official Plan policy led the tribunal member to make an interpretation of ‘visual intrusion’, which resulted in a decision that dismissed the appeal and settlement that had been reached by the applicant and City Council. More prescriptive Official Plan policies would be able to offer additional clarity on parameters such as “visual intrusion,” therein reducing the need for potentially subjective interpretations.
What’s next for City Planning?
In many ways, this recent LPAT ruling confirmed that we’re moving in the right direction as a City. In addition to confirming that the revised building proposal was consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement and all applicable policies of the Official Plan (with the exception of the one policy noted above), the Tribunal identified a number of positive points:
- The municipal art gallery, proposed as a community benefit, was deemed appropriate and in conformity with the Official Plan.
- The decision affirmed the City’s intention for the North Block to support and encourage redevelopment and intensification.
- The decision acknowledged the City’s careful approach toward North Block re-development through the investment of significant time and effort that led to the agreement.
- The decision also acknowledged that there must be circumstances where the criteria in Section 10A.4.7 of the Official Plan can be met which would permit heights above 25.5 metres (9 storeys).
- The decision asserted that viewing the outline of the City Hall dome with a building two blocks behind it would not necessarily conceal it.
- The Tribunal was not satisfied with opposing evidence that the proposed towers would undermine the City’s heritage or identity, or City Hall’s prominence.
If approved by the Tribunal, these applications would have added 400 new residential units in the core of the City in an area currently containing vacant land and surface parking lots, which aligns directly with the City’s goal of sustainable growth by densification within the urban core. In aspiring to be Canada’s most sustainable City and, in context of a declared climate change emergency, is it essential that we clarify the current Official Plan policy through the Density by Design project that the City has been undertaking alongside Brent Toderian for the past several months. This will require meaningful public engagement on the debate on new policies that will be incorporated into the Official Plan.
Please join the conversation on this important topic through the Get Involved platform or through public engagement events to follow late in September.
A copy of the decision is available on the LPAT website by searching for Case Number PL170714.
The popularity of apps like Airbnb and Vrbo has made it easier than ever for property owners to rent out space on a short-term basis at daily or weekly rates to visitors seeking a place to stay at a competitive rate.
Those seeking homes to rent long-term have also been affected. The ease of offering short-term accommodations online has had an impact on the availability and affordability of long-term rentals across the country. This makes short-term accommodationsa going concern in a city with a 0.7 per cent vacancy rate – the lowest vacancy rate in Ontario.
Short-term rentals can also affect those who live near them, as they may impact parking availability and other neighbourhood concerns associated with more and different people using a property.
In November 2018, Council direct staff to create a short-term rental licensing program to regulate short-term rental businesses operating in Kingston and to implement this program in 2020.
The City is now seeking resident feedback on several potential licensing frameworks that were identified through research and consultation with other municipalities and short-term rental companies across North America.
SURVEY AND OPEN HOUSE
Residents, including those who offer or live near short-term accommodations, are encouraged to complete a survey on short-term rental licensing at www.GetInvolved.CityofKingston.ca by 4:00 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 27.
Interested residents can also find out more about this effort and offer feedback at an open house at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 20 in Memorial Hall at Kingston City Hall.
See more about this project – including background documents offering a look at short-term accommodations in Kingston and how other communities are managing them – at www.CityofKingston.ca/city-hall/projects-construction/short-term-accommodations.
Who doesn’t love to hang out in the good weather and people watch? That’s something I love doing when I travel and I’m always envious of cities that have great public spaces where people naturally gather. Place where you can grab a bench, pull up a chair or find a seat in an adjacent café. Europe is great for those kinds of experiences as is New York City.
I often attribute that to the compactness of those spaces that are often centrally located, or centrally located within a specific neighbourhood, and that thrive because those spaces came in existence long before car culture became the norm. The human experience is paramount and that is what makes the most successful public spaces great. They are designed for people and foster a sense of place and belonging first and foremost.
In recent times, that phenomenon has emerged as a science and is various referred to as placemaking, creative placemaking or city building. The term “creative placemaking” was coined by Artscape Inc. that is based in Toronto and is defined as “an evolving field of practice that intentionally leverages the power of the arts, culture and creativity to serve a community’s interest while driving a broader agenda for change, growth and transformation in a way that also builds character and quality of place.”
What once happened more organically has now been codified and another group that has been pursuing this kind of work is the organization Projects for Public Spaces that is based in New York. Through their work, they have identified four qualities that make for great public spaces that include the following elements:
- it should be accessible;
- it should be comfortable and have a good image;
- people should be able to engage in an array of activities; and
- it should be sociable.
When all these elements are at play, great public spaces are created where people want to come together and where people want to spend time when they visit a new city.
Often cities will explore ways to create great public spaces through experiments that Project for Public Spaces refers to as the “lighter, quicker, cheaper” model. This approach is also sometimes referred to as tactical urbanism, pop-up projects, or D.I.Y. urbanism and offer opportunities to test ways to bring energy and life to a community through designs that start out as something temporary before being transformed into something more permanent.
One of the best examples of this kind of work was the transformation of Times Square in New York City where major thoroughfares were blocked off and lawn chairs were set up to encourage people to take ownership of the space. Following a series of different experiments, Time Square was eventually transformed into 2.5 acres of pedestrian-only space that has taken over what was once one of the world’s busiest intersections. And an interesting side-note is that that transformation was designed by Snohetta, the same architectural firm that designed the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts here in Kingston.
Speaking of Kingston, we’re fortunate to have and enjoy such a vibrant downtown and that is especially true during the summer months. There’s definitely a buzz in the air most days and people are attracted by the many things to be found in and around Kingston City Hall in particular. Events are always popular but the potential also exists to experiment with ways to make the spaces in around City Hall that much more attractive, appealing and sociable on an on-going basis.
That is the purpose behind the pilot project Ontario Street: a vibrant spaces project that is intended to explore and experiment with ways to make the downtown as appealing and attractive as possible for the people who live here as well as for the increasing number of people who are visiting. There’s a lot to work with already so it’s an interesting challenge to see what more can be done to transform the space even more.
Earlier this summer our colleagues in the Recreation & Leisure Services department experimented with programming Ontario Street between Market and Brock Streets through a diverse range of recreational program. This month, the Culture Services department is doing the same but by transforming Ontario Street into a hub of artistic, heritage and cultural activity between August 9 and 11. The weekend will feature a wide range of programs that include installations, visual arts, theatre, and literary workshops, a mural jam, public art and cultural heritage talks, music, and more.
In addition to the programming being offered, other elements have been added as well including furniture, seating, tables, greenery and shade. This opportunity is being used to explore and evaluate how people interact with the space on their own and through programming with an eye to transforming this stretch of Ontario Street into a pedestrian-friendly, welcoming and creative space for Kingston in more permanent ways.
You can find out all of the details about Ontario Street: A Vibrant Spaces Project through the City of Kingston website here and we look forward to seeing you there and hearing what you have to say to help inform what might be possible in the future.