How to prepare a 5-minute presentation to the Committee of Adjustment
From time to time, residents from Long Branch and elsewhere contact me to get help with getting organized for an appearance at the Committee of Adjustment, on the occasion of an Application for Severance that has been submitted for the street on which they live.
I’ve prepared some notes for a document that a committee of the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association has been working on. The document will serve as an information package for residents who are faced with a Severance Application at a property close to where they live.
These days, many people are in a position to offer advice in such cases. We can help you to get a package of information, that is currently available, regarding preparations for a Committee of Adjustment meeting. We can also help you to get in touch with key people who can offer advice.
Here’s a brief overview of key points from the text that I have posted below
The approach that has worked well for us in the part of Long Branch where I live was that we put together a standard letter, and asked all of the neighbours to use that as a starting point for writing their own letter of objection.
We found it effective to have people write letters, and for us to make sure that the letters arrived at the Committee of Adjustment – by personal delivery to the C of A offices or by email as attached PDF letters, or even as email letters.
We made sure that all of the letters were included in the file folder devoted to the particular severance application.
We met as a group of neighbours, and prepared a speakers list. We then had each speaker prepare a five-minute statement, with each person addressing an entirely different aspect of the objection. That is, we ensured that there would be no overlap of points, no repetition of a point by one speaker, after another speaker had already made the point. We also met several times to rehearse, as a group.
We also prepared an information package, with photos showing the plan and elevation of the proposed houses, and we used Photoshop (other software can also be used) to give accurate and “to scale” representations of what the proposed houses would look like on our streetscape. It’s important that such images are accurate and to scale; otherwise, the information may be discounted.
You don’t need eight presenters, as was the case in the case study mentioned below. We’ve seen great (and successful) presentations featuring three people, even fewer. The information package does not need to be as many pages as the one that I describe below.
In our planning for the Committee of Adjustment meeting, we referred to a number of documents including a valuable overview from the Glebe Community Association (in Ottawa) entitled: Guide for Objecting to a Minor Variance and/or Land Severance.
The point is: Make good use of your time, in the two or three weeks that you have from the time you get the Notice in the mail, to get organized as a group of residents. Have as many people as possible turn up as your supporters at the meeting. If the Committee of Adjustment sees no-one has turned up to object, you know what the outcome will be.
If there are other ways I can help, by way of offering support for your efforts, such as by attending a planning meeting or two, I would be pleased to help if I can work it into my schedule.
Below is a draft version of notes on how to get ready for a Committee of Adjustment presentation
Once you are aware that an Application for Severance has been made for a property close to you, and assuming you are opposed to the application, you and your neighbours typically have two or three weeks to prepare your response.
Considering what’s at stake, it’s worth our while to make the best possible use of the limited amount of time, and do what we can, to keep the severance from happening.
The first thing you are likely to do is get together with neighbours and write letters, to let the Committee of Adjustment know of your opposition to the Application for Severance.
The message that the letters will convey will ensure the Committee is aware of your views. However, even a large number of letters are unlikely, by themselves, to keep a severance application from being accepted.
If nobody turns up at the meeting, to say they oppose the severance, and explain why, the application will go sailing through.
Five minutes to speak
Each resident, who wishes to speak at the Committee of Adjustment meeting, has five minutes to speak.
How do you go about preparing for such a speaking task? Some people are used to public speaking and some are not. Even a person, who is not used to making a presentation, can do a great job if they have enough time to rehearse their talk. Rehearsal – especially short periods of rehearsal, spread out over many days – is very helpful, even for experienced public speakers.
The residents that are of particular interest, for the Committee, are the ones living next to, or very near to, the property for which an application has been submitted.
The Committee of Adjustment has established, in the past, that if there are several speakers, and each has the same message, then they do not want to hear from all of them.
On the other hand, if the lead speaker makes it clear that each speaker will address an entirely separate aspect of the community’s opposition to a severance, then each such speaker usually gets to speak for five minutes.
The key to the planning process, for speakers, is to start with the letter, that they have written to the Committee, and then to reduce that to a text that can be delivered in five minutes.
It’s helpful if each speaker spends plenty of time rehearsing on their own, and it’s also a great idea for a group of speakers to get together and to do several rehearsals, as a group, in the time that is available before the Committee of Adjustment meeting.
With practice, by way of many rehearsals, involving small amounts of practice spread out over many days, even individuals who hate public speaking, can perform highly effectively at a Committee of Adjustment meeting.
A summary of a letter makes for a great presentation
Typically, once people on a street are aware of an Application for Severance, they start to get in touch with each other. Typically, a meeting of concerned residents takes place, and a plan of action is agreed upon.
The earlier we start planning, the better. From the initial meeting, people will typically develop the draft of a letter – a template – that residents can copy, and add their own name and address to it. It’s helpful if each resident starts with such a letter and then modifies it to speak from their own, unique vantage point as a resident.
Each person will have slightly different ways of expressing their opposition. Such variety is helpful in developing a strong message on behalf of the street.
As well, there’s no problem with just taking the template – the standard letter that the residents have prepared – and just add your signature, name, and address.
At the initial meeting or meetings, people usually decide who will be speaking at the Committee of Adjustment meeting. People will also usually decide, pretty early, who will be the lead speaker for the group of speakers who will be at the meeting.
By way of making the story easier to follow, we will outline a case study of how residents of one street prepared for a Committee of Adjustment meeting that was held in September 2014. Eight speakers, each with a five-minute talk about an entirely different aspect of the residents’ reasons for opposition, were all set to speak. As it turned out, however, the developer decided that, in the circumstances, it would be wise to request a deferral of the application. The request for deferral was granted.
In this case, the story ended happily for all concerned. Owners of one of the smaller houses on the street met with the developer, in the weeks after the Committee of Adjustment meeting, and arranged for the purchase of the property for which the Severance Application had been made. The house in question remains intact, on the original 50-foot lot.
Not every story will have such an ending. Every group of residents can, however, learn from the steps that the residents in this case, the one that I’m most familiar with, followed, in preparing for the September 2014 meeting.
Planning the opposition to the Severance Application
Residents on the street received letters in late August 2014 announcing the Severance Application. They began to talk among themselves at once, to plan a course of action. An initial meeting was held, at the home of one of the residents, to plan strategy. David Godley, a retired urban planner who lives in Long Branch, was involved with the discussions from the outset. David Godley is at 416-255-0492. His email is: email@example.com
A draft of a letter, based upon David Godley’s analysis of the many ways in which the Severance Application went against the intent and wording of the relevant urban planning legislation, was prepared at once.
Ninety-five percent of residents on the street, along with numbers of residents on nearby streets, wrote letters and sent them – as PDF files, emails, or hand-delivered printouts – to the Committee of Adjustment. Residents checked regularly with the Committee, to ensure that each letter was added to the file, for the application, at the Committee’s offices. They wanted to ensure that no letter went missing.
One person served as coordinator for the team of speakers who developed presentations for the September 2014 meeting. The coordinator played a key role, by ensuring that deadlines were met, and meetings were held, to ensure that each speaker, and the group of speakers as a whole, was ready to go at the meeting.
First, the eight speakers prepared, in accordance with a deadline agreed upon by the speakers, the initial drafts of their remarks. The drafts were sent to the coordinator by email. Thereafter, people met for one round of rehearsals. Based on discussions at the first set of rehearsals, people refined their texts and then met for a second round of rehearsals.
At the rehearsals, people could tell at once if a second speaker was repeating what some other speaker had already said. Steps were taken to ensure there was no overlap in content, from one speaker to the next. At the final rehearsal, a few days before the Committee of Adjustment meeting, the order of the speakers was changed, as it was noted that one speaker had content that would make for a great ending for the series of speakers.
Information package, handed out to each member of the Committee
At the meeting, the lead speaker informed the Committee that the eight speakers would be speaking on entirely different aspects of the community’s opposition to the application. The lead speaker also handed out a 31-page information package, to each member of the Committee.
The package featured many colour photos of the streetscape, and portrayals of what the proposed two proposed houses, on the severed lot, would look like in the context of the current streetscape, as viewed from many different angles, including from the rooftop of a nearby building.
The speakers were all set to go, at which point the developer asked for a deferral. The residents did not support the deferral request, but it was granted.
Outline of the content of the eight presentations
Speaker 1, from the residents on the street in question, provided a summary of key features of the City of Toronto Official Plan. Speaker 1 also served as the lead speaker for the group.
Speaker 2 addressed the character of the street.
Speaker 3 focused on comments related to size.
Speaker 4 focused on topics related to privacy.
Speaker 5 focused on the adverse effect on view.
Speaker 6 addressed adverse effects related to parking.
Speaker 7 addressed the adverse effect, of the Severance Application, related to flooding.
Speaker 8 focused on the question of Necessity: That is, the argument was that no evidence was available regarding a necessity to tear down a house that was in excellent condition.
The following overview will include highlights from each of the eight, above-noted presentations. There was no ranting or raving in any of the presentations, and each presentation was backed up by evidence and reason.
Speaker 1: City of Toronto Official Plan
The lead speaker spoke on behalf of 95 percent of the property owners on the street in question.
Residents on nearby streets had also expressed opposition to the proposals.
Letters of opposition from the Ward 6 Councillor and the Community Planner were also on file with the Committee of Adjustment.
According to the Official Plan, neighbourhood development is intended to be sensitive and gradual, with little visible change, and with the neighbourhood density and character remaining intact.
The Official Plan specifies that impacts, by new development, on light, shadowing, and privacy are to remain minimal.
The key message was that the proposals for the Severance were not in accord with the Official Plan.
Speaker 2: Character of the street
The speaker notes that the proposals are not in keeping with the character of the neighbourhood as outlined in the Official Plan.
Neighbourhood development, according to the Official Plan, is intended to respect the neighbourhood character, and the density within a given neighbourhood.
The Official Plan requires that development will respect and reinforce the character of a community. Key variables, in this regard, include height, scale, massing, and dwelling type of all residential properties.
Development is intended, as well, to reflect existing and planned streetscapes.
The above-noted requirements are not respected, and are not reinforced, in these proposals.
Speaker 3: Comments related to size
The speaker has lived at current address for 64 years. A neighbour across the street has lived on the street for about 73 years.
The speaker lives directly to the west of the proposed Severance.
The speaker notes that the proposed structures will be out of place, not fitting in with the existing homes and properties on the street.
Speaker 4: Topics related to privacy
The speaker lives immediately to the east of the proposed structures.
The speaker notes the two dwellings would be about three times the height of her bungalow, higher than many of the existing trees.
She notes the first floor is 5 feet 9 inches above grade, which is equivalent to the base of the proposed house starting at the top of her existing shed.
The proposed deck extending off the back of the proposed structure will affect the speaker’s enjoyment of her backyard – especially her enjoyment of her backyard swimming pool. She also discusses the effects of shadowing.
Speaker 5: Adverse effect on view
The speaker refers to the pleasant view that she enjoys from her living room window and back porch.
From that vantage point she can see the open sky, overlooking the backyards of the present houses on the street in question.
Currently her household has an unobstructed view of the horizon, and beautiful mature neighbourhood trees.
The proposed buildings would have a strongly negative impact on the speaker’s view looking to the west from her house on the street that runs perpendicular to the street in question.
Speaker 6: Adverse effect related to parking
The speaker describes current challenges on the street related to parking. She notes the two proposed structures will exacerbate existing parking problems on the street.
The speaker refers to a recent photo (September 2014) indicating that, on some days, it is difficult to find a parking spot on the street.
Speaker 7: Adverse effect related to flooding
The speaker notes that the Etobicoke Creek watershed has a history of exposure to extreme weather events.
She notes that several buildings were affected by extreme weather events on July 8, 2013.
She adds that permeable land is a key ingredient in moderating the effects of water runoff in the neighbourhood.
Speaker 8: The question of Necessity
The speaker notes that property, for which the Severance Application has been made, has been extensively and tastefully renovated in recent years, as currently available real estate photos indicate.
She notes that the proposal to tear down the building does not meet the test of Necessity.
A final note
Members and resource persons connected to the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association are available, who can (depending on available time and resources) assist other residents in the planning of their presentations. Please contact the Association at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like help in this regard.
Please contact me by email at email@example.com if you have any questions or if I can (time permitting) be of assistance in addressing the challenges you are facing.
I wish to close with an overview of the mission of the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association; the mission is the outcome of an extensive survey that was conducted during the steps leading to the launch of the Association:
To protect the physical character of Long Branch.
To celebrate the neighbourhood and its history through events and community gatherings.
To enhance the public realm of the neighbourhood and the quality of life in the community.
Also of relevance: I am aware of an anecdotal report that one of the employees, involved with a June 2017 demolition, was alleged to have threatened some nearby neighbours. I would suggest that such incidents be reported to the Toronto Police Service, 22 Division Non-Emergency Number: 416-808-2200. You can also contact 22 Division by email.
It may also be noted that the 22 Division Community Response Office is at 416-808-2219. The Officers assigned to Long Branch are:
Const. Matt Steele #10460
Const. Mario Kulina #90056
Please refer to the 22 Division website for further details.
It’s important to document threats or property damage. Write down, as soon as possible, what has been said, and the circumstances including names of witnesses, if any. If there are no witnesses, share with another person or persons what has happened, and make a note of when you have shared the information.
Written documentation, created at once or as soon as possible after the event, has much more value than vague recollections. In the case of property damage, take photos at once.
Local Planning Appeal Support Centre is closing. Here are some resources that have been found to be helpful for residents with planning process and appeals.
Some resources that have been found to be helpful for residents with the planning process and appeals include:
- The Citizens Guide to Land Use Planning – (https://www.ontario.ca/document/citizens-guide-land-use-planning)