Queen and Portland

The large parking lot at Portland between Queen West and Richmond is one of the last major undeveloped sections of Queen Street West, and as such holds great potential to contribute or detract from this vibrant street.

Rumours have swirled around this site for years, but this Tuesday (August 29), there was a meeting at the back of the Cameron House organized by long-time local activist Deanne Taylor where we finally heard some hard information.

The lot has been purchased by RioCan, a large commercial developer. They have been in talks with various types of retailers, probably including Home Depot, about building a store there. The as-of-right zoning for the area is, on the Richmond side, 23 metres (about 7 storeys) plus 3 meters set back; on the Queen side, 13 metres (4 storeys) plus 3 metres set back. The probable plan would be two storeys of retail along Queen (cheaper to build than 5 storeys) and a residential tower along Richmond.

The good news is that there is a city-owned laneway (a continuation of graffiti alley) that bisects the property east-west, separating it into two lots. The city has, fortunately, not yet sold it off. This laneway gives the City and the community some real leverage in making sure that the developer builds something that enhances rather than detracts from the neighbourhood. The key is making sure the city does not sell it off for a quick buck, but rather uses it as leverage to make sure the development is a postive one. (Three candidates for local councillor — Adam Vaughan, Helen Kennedy, and Chris Ouellette — were at the meeting, and all appear to be onside with this idea, which is promising).

Another potential lever is the Queen Street Heritage Conservation District Study, which has just been published and is up for approval this fall. This is an excellent study, and if implemented it could be used to push developers to build something that fits into Queen Street (such as narrow storefronts that encourage independent businesses).

One idea that was discussed in the lead-up to the study was to make this strip of Queen West a well-designed wide-sidewalk zone, amenable to patios and sidewalk displays, like the very successful strip on the north side of Queen between Soho and Spadina. Such a plan would create a focus and destination area for this section of Queen West. (The area would be shaded on hot summer days, but would receive the evening summer sun, so it could well be attractive). There could perhaps be a little plaza at the corner of Queen and Portland. It would be a reasonable tradeoff for the city giving up the public space of the laneway, and it would create a new and vibrant public space in Toronto.


  1. There were 2 petitions at the Cameron House that night. One was advocating that the city does not sell the alley, and use the leverage to ensure something good was built there. The other was to pass the Heritage District thing and enforce it (I got there a bit late, but I think this was to limit the floor space of the future business that is put in there).

    I don’t know who would have the petition, but Adam Vaughan was doing most of the talking that night. He has a concerned citizens list set up onn his website: http://www.adamvaughan.ca/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=67

  2. I think it is important for the city to retain that laneway and not sell it off at all. Laneways are important to keeping builings to scale, and improve traffic on Queen St. They are good for businesses and residents.

  3. The problem with the laneway at the moment is that it dead-ends – there are a couple of small buildings that go through the laneway space in the middle of the block and prevent it from joining up to the laneway from Bathurst. However, RioCan has apparently purchased at least one of these buildings, and if it purchased all of them, it might be possible to re-establish the laneway through the whole block as part of a large development.

  4. I live a hundred metres from queen and portland so it’s interesting to hear what might happen. There was a ‘big gig’ in the car park a few weeks ago, a free sponsored concert, which brought to my attention how great that space could be if it was used as a community place.

    I understand the realities of development though and from what you say it doesn’t sound like it will necessarily be something atrocious that goes up, if something has to go up at all. There are quite a few buildings being renovated in the short space between portland and bathurst, including a large one that hasn’t been used in years. It will be interesting to see the clash of cultures there. It’s really the only ‘grungy’ block left between spadina and trinity bellwoods.

  5. A parking lot “used as a community place”? Is that meant as a serious counterproposal, Miles to intelligent development on what you pretty much admit is a sorry-ass stretch of road?

  6. Obviously I didn’t mean use a parking lot as a community space… come on. I said I thought it highlighted how well the *space* could be used as a community place. It’s a sorry ass stretch of road sure, but it has a lot of character and a lot of independent businesses nearby. There was a great buzz when the Big Gig was on, a lot of people coming out and having a good time. People don’t really think of that area as a place where the community comes out, but it could be.

    Again, obviously no one is going to spend a few million dollars turning that space into a community area, it’s just not going to happen. But that doesn’t mean we can’t express our thoughts on it.

  7. I’ve been at nearly the meetings, including the ones 5 years ago with the developer (Canada Life) who provided the $ for the Heritage Study of Queen Street – after much fuss made by the residents supported by the local media.

    The petition gathered about 400 names — first was filed at the Preservation Board – about 80 names, and the second at the Community Council with about 350 additional names – in support of the district.

    Details on the process will be in an upcoming article (this week) in the Grapevine, the local community paper.

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