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.

Image image from sample information package, described at the post you are now reading. Source: Jaan Pill

Image from sample information package, described at the post you are now reading: Artist’s Impression of approximate appearance of the proposed buildings, as it relates to streetscape highlighted in the case study. Photoshop overlay by Ryan Hryciuk

I’ve prepared some notes for a document that a committee of the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association has been working on. The document, when it’s completed, 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.

Artist's Impression, based on drawings from the 13 Villa Road file available at the Committee of Adjustment, of the approximate appearance of the proposed buildings, as it relates to the Villa Road streetscape. Source: Jaan Pill

Artist’s Impression, based on drawings from the 13 Villa Road file available at the Committee of Adjustment, of the approximate appearance of the proposed buildings, as it relates to the Villa Road streetscape. Photoshop overlay by Ryan Hryciuk

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.

View from deck at back door of nearby house, looking toward the west. Source: Jaan Pill

View from deck at back door of nearby house, looking toward the west. The overlay provides an approximate representation of where the back of the proposed east-side house would be located. Photoshop overlay by Ryan Hryciuk

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.

Case study

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: mhairig@pathcom.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 longbranchnato@gmail.com if you would like help in this regard.

Please contact me by email at jpill@preservedstories.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.

Update: Threats

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 are:

I wish to refer you also to a previous post entitled:

How to prepare a 5-minute presentation to the Committee of Adjustment

3 replies
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Here’s a sample letter of objection; we are hoping this will serve as the starting point for the creation of your own. Please contact me if you’d like help with details related to the letter, given the particular circumstances of the Application for Severance that you are dealing with.

    [DATE HERE]

    Committee of Adjustment
    Etobicoke Civic Centre
    399 The West Mall
    Toronto ON M9C 5A3

    Attention: Ms. Susanne Pringle, Manager and Deputy Secretary Treasurer

    RE: ADDRESS [Severance ####, Variance ####, ####]

    I am an owner and resident of _______, located on the ___ side of the street. We are __ houses away from _______ to the _____(n, w, e, west). I have lived here for ___ years. I am very concerned about the proposal to split the above property and build two large new houses.

    I oppose the severance and requested variances and request that these applications be refused.

    [DESCRIBE STREET-SCAPE & CHANGES PROPOSED]

    ____ is small quiet street with only ___ houses, most of which are either bungalows or story and a half in height. The south side of the street has the largest lots, the majority of them are 50 feet wide. If the severance of ________ is allowed, the two new houses will loom over all other houses on this side of the street. We will be looking at garages with two story houses on top rather than down driveways and between houses toward trees and the sky.

    _______ is a special street with residents of all ages and backgrounds. It is the kind of street where you find fresh baking, baby clothes or garden vegetables on your doorstep with a note from your neighbour. New neighbours are welcomed. The children play on the large front lawns or street hockey under the watch of both their parents and the other residents. This proposal would replace the front lawn at _______ with two driveways.

    I am very concerned that the size of the proposed houses (almost twice the size allowed under the bylaws) will change the nature of our street in a very negative way. The current on-street parking will be reduced by ____%, while the demand for it will increase by that same amount, resulting in a ____% decrease in parking availability. The increased traffic resulting from the additional household will negatively affect our safety, particularly that of our children and seniors. The mass of the proposed buildings will limit our morning sunshine as well as destroy our clear view of trees through all the back yards to the east.

    The variances that are being sought are also not minor in nature. Severing the lot into two undersized lots and building two large houses are major variances from the zoning bylaw as they are almost double the current permitted density.

    [IF APPLICABLE]

    We are also concerned about the water table as it is very high along _______ resulting in frequent basement flooding. The addition of two new houses and the deep excavations needed for the basements will increase the risk of future flooding. The new houses would have the eaves troughs running within one foot of the neighbouring properties, yet there will be less garden and grass to absorb the water.

    Overall, the proposed severance and plan to build two 3 story dwellings does not keep with the character of South Long Branch, or of __________(street name). it has major variances, it will affect our views, increase our risk of basement flooding, and reduce our sunlight. It does not conform to the Official Plan, zoning, intent or purpose.

    As stated previously, I respectfully request that the Committee of Adjustment refuse the application to sever the lot and build two dwellings. I wish to receive a copy of the Committee of Adjustment Notice of Decision for this property.

    Sincerely,

    Resident Name
    Address

    Reply
  2. Richard MacFarlane (former Secretary and Director, Oriole Park Association, 2003-2013; former secretary and director, FoNTRA, 2009-2012)
    Richard MacFarlane (former Secretary and Director, Oriole Park Association, 2003-2013; former secretary and director, FoNTRA, 2009-2012) says:

    Greetings Long Branch residents association executive and residents:

    I had lived for 20 years in the Oriole Park – Chaplin Crescent district, just west of Avenue Road and Eglinton Ave. West. From 2003 to 2013, I was secretary and director of the Oriole Park (ratepayers) Association. I attended numerous Committee of Adjustment hearings at City Hall, and I have handed out very similar advice to area residents regarding the fight against C. of A. applications.

    “Strength in numbers – the more who attend, the better the impact.” And I used to collect letters of objection, in person, and make sure by delivering them to City Hall, ground floor, and witnessing the clerk actually stamping them as received! I’ve won a few battles but, by and large, people get what they want these days. Awful. The GFA has increased from 0.69 to 0.80 as a benchmark for additions, tear downs, etc.

    I have complained. I have sent letters to Jennifer Keesmaat, Chief Planner, who lives in the Oriole Park district! No answers. I invited Jennifer to an annual OPA meeting, Nov. 7, 2012, only a month or two after she started her work as Chief Planner. I was one of the first to invite her. I worked really hard to attract 100 residents, including reps. from 7 area ratepayer associations. I also typed my own transcript of a two-day conference she co-hosted with David Crombie at TIFF Bell Lightbox, May 2013, over 100 pages of discussion about CityAge planning.

    I have downsized and moved from Chaplin area to Don Mills, as of November 2013. But I am still occasionally involved. Keep battling those lawyers and developers! My favourite target is developer lawyer Adam Brown. I fought him at the OMB appeal for a monster home at 33 Tarlton Road. My typed transcript, almost word for word, 9 hours, was 118 pages!

    Brown was ruthless in his remarks but he wrongly referred to a 1990 severance at St. Clement’s Ave. He said there was virtually no opposition. But when I researched it at the OMB archives, York University (Ontario Archives has those records), I discovered that such was the EXTENT OF OPPOSITION that the owner had a heart attack and they had to postpone the OMB Hearing! So Adam Brown was out of line and incorrect in his closing remarks! But the OMB Member was fooled and believed everything he said.

    That one day OMB Hearing amounted to $21,000 for lawyer and planning consultant fees. I’m hoping for the Local Appeal Body (LAB) to be established and no more OMB for the City of Toronto. It’s such a rigged ceremony in favour of developers. Please feel free to correspond if you wish. My very best wishes!

    Richard MacFarlane

    Reply
  3. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    We much appreciate your overview, Richard!

    I have passed your message along to the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association.

    We are dealing with a severance application at 14 Villa Road right now, on the street where I live. I’ll be posting a video and a template letter, that people can send in. We’re also working to get a good turnout at the hearing, which is scheduled for Nov. 3, 2016 at the Etobicoke Civic Centre.

    Reply

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