Toronto heritage group grapples with height issue

The Queen Street West Heritage Conservation District welcomed a new kid on the block, but not without some downtown grumblings.

On Thursday, the Toronto Preservation Board met with city councillors at City Hall. Discussion focused on a motion to approve the demolition and replacement of the derelict building at 226 Queen St. W., located within the Heritage Conservation District (HCD).

Coun. Adam Vaughan, who represents Ward 20 where the building is located, believed the motion to approve the new structure is a step in the right direction.

“This is the first demolition request since the implementation of the Queen Street West Heritage Conservation District,” Vaughan said. “This building is badly needed to replace the eyesore that sits there now.”

The HCD community and city planners have spent the last year and a half negotiating. Vaughan said the community has maintained that preserving the building’s characteristic integrity makes the HCD unique. Most of the debate lies in the new building’s proposed height.

The height restrictions, which the Toronto Preservation Board insisted remain absolute, require any building within the HCD to rise to a maximum height of 16 metres. The proposed structure, at five stories of brick and glass, would rise to a height of 19.5 metres.

The Toronto Preservation Board proposed the complete removal of the fifth story to keep the new building within the zoning bylaw. Mary Louise Ashbourne is a member of the Toronto Preservation Board.

“If we allow the fifth story to be completed as planned, it will open a door and cause a chain reaction of height issues across the community,” she said.

Those at the city hall meeting struggled with the visualization of a power-point presentation of the proposed structure. Chair Robert Saunders did his best to keep the height debate moving.

“It is very difficult for us to do a design on the run here during our meetings,” Saunders said. “We are not all architects.”

Overall the meeting expressed a sense of renewal for the HCD community. With a few tweaks of the structure’s design and more discussions on the aesthetics, Coun. Vaughan said differences could be resolved.

“I’m sure what was there (on the site) way back when, was much more interesting than the empty building that sits there now,” he said. “But this is less about the building itself and more about maintaining the character of the surrounding community while also moving forward.”