Site Plan Application for 99 Beechwood

On May 12, a site plan application for 99 Beechwood is scheduled to be considered by the Planning Committee.

Councillor King provided following comment in the application report:

“In a previous iteration, the Applicant had revised its application through Site Plan Control to remove all the commercial space at grade from its proposed building development on Beechwood Avenue.

Given that approval of Site Plan Control is typically issued under delegated authority to City staff and considering community dissatisfaction with the revised application, I was willing to withdraw delegated authority of the previous application iteration in order to elevate this file to Planning Committee to facilitate more in-depth public consultation.

My discussions with City staff, along with a large amount of correspondence from the community led the Planning Department itself to rescind their delegated authority and send the application to Planning Committee. Consequently, City staff held a public information session for residents in September 2020 concerning the revised proposed development.

Having taken the time to examine resident comments concerning that new iteration of the proposal, I agreed with adjacent residents and community associations that removal of commercial space on Beechwood Avenue at grade was unacceptable. I concurred with the assessment of many residents along with the Beechwood Village Alliance that “the elimination of street-oriented commercial space contravenes the City’s Urban Design Guidelines for Traditional Mainstreets; ignores the terms of reference for development along Beechwood Avenue as articulated in the Beechwood Community Design Plan; and contradicts the conditions which staff recommended to Council in 2016 upon which Council approved the rezoning changes.”

As I made clear in an open letter to the community on August 5, 2020, I am not opposed to additional units proposed, as I believe densification will contribute to the viability and sustainability of Beechwood Avenue. I however do share residents’ belief that we cannot aspire to a revitalized Beechwood Avenue if an entire block of our traditional main street loses commercial space. As a result, I worked during the Summer of 2020 to attempt to reach a compromise with the developer through a robust conversation involving both City staff and the community.

The Applicant did present a revised “live/work” concept for the ground floor at the public meeting in September 2020. During that meeting, Claridge did shift their position from one “live/work” unit that was only accessible from inside the building to a “live/work” concept that includes three units with street accessibility. While I think “live/work” suites are a potentially innovative concept, I shared community concern that the concept was not substantively demonstrated at the public meeting with any detailed research or serious depth concerning its successful application to the street.  As a consequence, it would still be my preference to have full commercial/retail animating the ground floor.

I am therefore still disappointed by the Applicant’s position to offer a few “live/work” units at one corner of the building while sharing the ground floor with a gym and a common room, rather than full-fledged commercial space on the entire ground floor facing the street. I, however acknowledge that the current zoning does not require ground floor commercial on this property.  The zoning by-law does not have any tools for the City to compel the Applicant to build commercial space in particular. At grade, the only zoning by-law requirement is for "active frontages". In terms of the ceiling height, Claridge indicated they were not willing to change the height from 3.1 metres to 4.55 metres.

I also recognize that this is a site plan application, and that there is no authority in site plan control to address this issue.

I however have not reversed my withdrawal of delegated authority on this site plan application and wanted this matter brought before the Committee because there is a need to have a larger, if not brief, policy discussion concerning what tools the City can employ to insist that proposed developments in a main street setting such as this offer commercial space on the ground floor and facing the street.  Questions of interest to both Planning Committee, Council and the community include:

  • Can ground floor commercial space be a requirement of Mixed Use zoning in the New Zoning By-law?
  • Do we need inclusionary zoning to address the provision of commercial space or other community needs, besides affordable housing?
  • Should we create a CIP that incentivizes the provision of commercial space in certain circumstances? 

Perhaps the provision of ground floor commercial can also be a part of the equation when examining the:

  • preservation of the future use of rights-of-way on traditional main streets;
  • and when examining more comprehensive planning tools to address comprehensive reconstruction of traditional mainstreets.  

 I also wish to take this opportunity to indicate that obtaining retail space will only work if suitable tenants can be found for the space. There are other examples where retail has been incorporated into design yet, the spaces stubbornly remain empty. Here, I encourage the neighbouring community associations and the Beechwood Village Alliance to work with the Applicant to find tenants who could work in this space. It is not enough simply for the space to exist – it must be filled, and with high quality retail vendors that will compliment the neighbourhood. Subsequently, it is critical for everyone to support those businesses. I was heartened that the Vanier BIA has also taken steps to reach out to the Applicant and will assist in anyway they can to find suitable tenants. Ultimately, everyone wants the same thing – a vibrant and walkable main street that will contribute to the neighbourhood’s overall quality of life. All parties can play a part in making this happen.”

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