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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;
  • Does not create unacceptable amounts of shadowing; and,
  • 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 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 did not find claims that adding the proposed towers to the skyline would undermine the City’s heritage or identity or City Hall’s prominence satisfactory.

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 with the urban core. In aspiring to be Canada’s most sustainable City and, in context of a declared a 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.

Project for Public Spaces infographic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Lawn chairs in Times Square

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Ontario Street dancing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The other day I happened to catch a news piece online about a new exhibition called Beyond the Streets, which is the largest exhibition of graffiti and street art ever presented.  The exhibition explores on a large scale how these illegal forms of cultural expression have moved from the fringes to the mainstream and how public attitudes have shifted from negative to positive.

Street art — that is, art situated in the public realm that uses vibrant visuals and images — is particularly interesting because of the ways in which it demonstrates the artist’s power of imagination and creativity to transform ordinary public spaces into something extraordinary. All art can be transformative but street art is unique because of its availability and accessibility and for the ways in which it can connect people to art and energize the public realm.

As the news piece explores, street art has come a long way in recent years. It has evolved from being seen simply as vandalism to something that is now widely accepted as innovative, creative and legitimate. Street art enables artists to claim space, display their creativity and transform space in unexpected ways. It also drives tourism as exemplified by programs such as Mural Festival in Montreal and the Up Here festival in Sudbury.

Street art is found around the world and many cities have created street art walking tours but, more often than not, street art is something people stumble over as is the case with my colleague Julie Fossitt (@juliefossitt) who has been documenting the street art she’s discovered during her travels in places like Montreal and Halifax.

Mural in Montreal
Street art mural in Montreal.

Street art mural in HalifaxStreet art mural in Halifax.    

Kingston is now experimenting with street art through the pilot project called Street Art Wall that establishes the Rideaucrest retaining wall adjacent to Douglas Fluhrer Park as a legal wall available to the community to use to create street art and murals.  This pilot project was prompted by community interest and also aligns with the City of Kingston’s own Public Art Master Plan that champions the need to create temporary public art projects such as the Street Art Wall and Paved Paradise as well as temporary installations in City facilities like the INVISTA Centre.

Legal wall in Douglas Fluhrer Park
Project signage located adjacent to the Street Art Wall, near Douglas Fluhrer Park. Photo credit: City of Kingston staff.

Legal wall in Douglas Fluhrer Park.
Kingston’s first “legal” Street Art Wall at the retaining wall adjacent to Douglas Fluhrer Park (Wellington and Bay Street).

Kingston’s own Street Art Wall is now open and will be accessible until April 2020.  Its aim is to support new work creation and to encourage local artists to explore the medium of street art and graffiti art.  Guidelines and an FAQ document have been published on the project page on the City of Kingston website that can be found here: https://www.cityofkingston.ca/city-hall/projects-construction/street-art-wall.

We are also encouraging the community to share their photos of street art in Kingston using the hashtag #YGKStreetArtWall. With the launch of this project, and changing attitudes toward street art, we hope to expand how art in Kingston is defined and that street art will emerge as a form of expression that highlights local talent, stories and issues in ways that enliven our community and that fosters interest and discussion.

Something I look forward to every summer is The Kick & Push Festival that always offers interesting alternatives in terms of summer theatre fare.  Work on this Festival first started in 2014 when City staff reached out to local theatre artists to see if they could come up with something that would help animate the Grand Theatre during the summer months while also attracting artists and audiences by offering something uniquely different.

Kingston has always been a theatre city and the Kingston Culture Plan also identified that the City of Kingston was well positioned to facilitate this kind of collaboration by working with community partners to offer a high quality product that would animate the Grand Theatre but also other non-traditional venues across the city. Discussions with various community partners began in 2014 and the first Kick & Push Festival was presented in 2015. 

Since then, the Festival has featured 25 productions presented at the Grand Theatre as well as throughout the community. The Festival has focused on delivering high-quality, professional programming created by artists working in Kingston as well as elsewhere across Canada and the result has been the creation of a shared opportunity to push the bounds in terms of content and presentation.

The Festival has also included professional development opportunities for theatre artists of different ages and abilities and it has helped to foster the creation of new works that have gone on to be seen in other cities like Toronto and Bangkok!  The Festival also provides regular employment for students and emerging professionals and it has also helped to develop the next generation of theatre artists by offering an annual theatre camp for young people based at the Grand Theatre.

This year’s Festival features another great lineup of eight shows highlighting some of the most innovative, entertaining and boundary-breaking experiential theatre from across Canada.  The Festival runs from July 18 to August 11 and it also happens in tandem with Theatre Kingston's Storefront Fringe that features 18 production companies from Kingston, from other parts of Canada, the United States and beyond.

Liam Karry, the Artistic Producer of the Festival, describes the experience this way, which I appreciate, “At the heart of this Festival is the belief that theatre should bring people together, offer surprising new experiences and, above all, be fun.  Our 2019 season brings music, magic and puppetry to Kingston's downtown, including two compelling indigenous narratives, curated for us by Anishinaabe artist, Waawaate Fobister. A Kick & Push Festival ticket is a passport into the imagination of Canada's most acclaimed cultural innovators. I promise you will never forget what you discover there.”

You might also be interested to know the origins of the name of the Festival, which is deeply rooted in local history.  Back in 2014 everyone involved in developing the Festival wanted to come up with a name that was provocative but also unique to Kingston.  Many ideas got tossed around at the time but the group finally decided on The Kick & Push Festival because that was the nickname given to the former Kingston and Pembroke Railway, which may be familiar to people today because of the K & P Trail that follows the old railway line.  In its day, the “Kick & Push” Railway ran 180 kilometres from Kingston to Renfrew and offered an abundance of opportunities for entrepreneurs in the late 1880s. Over on hundred years later, the Kick & Push Festival works to provide an abundance of opportunities for artists and audiences alike to be transported in a different way.

Historic Image of Kick and Push

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kingston - Turning of the First Sod of the Kingston and Pembroke Railway, Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith,1879. Art Collection Society of Kingston, City of Kingston Civic Collection.

Details about the Kick & Push Festival can be found online here and tickets for the Festival and for the Storefront Fringe can be purchased online through the Grand Theatre website.

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