A previous message is entitled:
The following message is from David Godley of Long Branch
Dear Mayor John Tory,
I am aware of the many excellent projects you are pursuing and would like to bring one more to your attention.
The severance/variance situation has changed rapidly in the last couple of years and now threatens to bring with it harm to the entire community.
All I am asking is that you give general support to reform of some factors listed in more detail in the attached letter [please see below] and background information.
It will be then the responsibility of the newly appointed person in the newly created job of Secretary Treasurer of the Committee of Adjustment.
All the best.
[End of introductory text]
[Please note: The text of David Godley’s above-mentioned attached letter is included at the end of the post you are now reading.]
62 30th Street, 3 storey house 0.35 to 0.95 density, hearing 3 November
11 32nd Street, 3 storey house 0.35 to 0.72 density
9 32nd Street, truly minor
13 Elder Avenue, 3 storey house with secondary suite, density from 0.35 to 0.80
14 Villa Road, Severance and Variances for 3 storey soldier houses, density from 0.35 to 0.80
24 33rd Street, Severance and Variances for 3 storey soldier houses, density from 0.35 to 0.58 and 0.61
34 37th Street, 3 storey soldier house, density from 0.35 to 0.75
5 Ramsgate, 3 storey soldier houses, density from 0.35 to 0.60
40 37th Street, Severance and variances for 3 storey soldier houses, density 0.35 to 0.69
(note some densities are estimates as figure no longer supplied by Building Dept)
Applications at Thursday 1 September Committee of Adjustment
82 27th Street, Severance and Variances, 3 storey soldier houses. Refused unanimously.
48 Elder Avenue, Severance and Variances. Approved
This kind of application is new to Long Branch semis – in a detached houses zoning in conjunction with a severance. There is no intention to have semis in a block of detached house zoning and to prove it there are no standards for semis in this zone e.g setbacks, heights, density. Therefore it does not pass mandatory test for the intent of zoning. This is also a change of opinion from the Planning Department previously. I have discussed this matter with Planning Staff and the rationale was that it had merit. What they did not seem to realise is that the properties once built have not control on expansion so they will be able to build to any height and density and to the boundaries. So I still challenge their interpretation and hope they revise their thinking.
9 26th Street, Variances, Double Garage. Approved
11 Walnut Avenue, Variances for new house. Approved
4 41st Street, Variances, Adding a second storey. Approved
Applications for Thursday 29 September Committee of Adjustment
20 Elton Crescent, Severance and Variances, 3 storey soldier houses.
5 31st Street,Severances and Variances for soldier houses 0.35 to 0.59 and 0.60 density
22 33rd Street, Severance and Variances for soldier houses 0.35 to 0.59 density
9 Meaford Ave, Severance and Variances for soldier houses 0.35 to 0.70 density
This application [9 Meaford Ave,] was incorrectly evaluated by the Planning Department because they used the circulation list (within 60m) as nearby properties.
This makes no sense in urban design terms and is directly contrary to standard practice and OPA 320 which clearly identifies both sides of Meaford as being the block to be analysed as nearby properties. As noted in my letter to Planning
“Policy for Neighbourhood Character Analysis.”
These principles were not as clear as they could have been in the 2006 Official Plan but were always the intent. They have been clarified in OPA 320 now City Council policy and approved by the Province but appealed to the OMB.
The key point is that the block on both sides of the street is the area for analysis to ensure a flowing rhythm for the street. The nearby policies are defined as “the physical characteristics of the properties in the same block that also face the same side of the street as the development site.” I was involved in the finalisation of these policies. They were based on a hierarchy of evaluations from the most important being the abutting houses through to the row in which the proposal sits, then the whole street which can be seen clearly from the front of the house and finally the neighbourhood beyond which is the least important. The first three evaluations were lumped into one and the priority of the block over the rest of the neighbourhood was removed politically against technical advice. I have discussed this issue with Planning Department staff and am awaiting a response.
35 36th St. truly minor
Submissions should be made by 4pm Thursday 22 September to be in the Committee of Adjustment member’s package.
Other outstanding Applications
33 42nd Street, Severance and variances
9 38th Street, Severance and variances
Ontario Municipal Board Hearings
80 23rd Street, October 6 postponed sine die
2 Ash Crescent, October 17 postponed sine die
20 Garden Place, November 7
30 36th Street, November 14
93 Lake Promenade, new house, 0.35 density to 1.90.
Len Ford Apartments
The numbers of units proposed to replace the existing 500 rental units are 600 rental units and in addition there would be 1000 condominium units.
Nine 12 storey blocks in a truly uninspirational design is the current proposal.
The owner will be requested by the Planning Department to consider having an information session on the proposal and process prior to submitting an application accessible to anyone who is interested.
An open house format would be appropriate. People are more frightened of what they do not know than what they know.
Feedback from the community would help the applicant and Planning Department gauge what is appropriate.
It may be months before the community meeting is held.
Ontario government wants to hear from you — twice
The Ontario government will release a consultation paper in the fall that will ask for comments, but in the meantime, it’s looking for residents’ views on the following topics:
- Jurisdiction and powers: What matters can be appealed and who may appeal them? How much deference should given to council decisions?
- Meaningful citizen participation and local perspective: How can the public more easily, and affordably, participate in this process?
- Hearing procedures and practices: This could include the formality of hearings, how expert evidence is heard and what evidence should be allowed at hearings.
- Alternative dispute resolution: Could other mediation processes be used to deal with planning issues other than OMB hearings?
- Timely processes and clear, predictable decision-making.
You can send your thoughts on the OMB to the government at OMBReview@ontario.ca.
Lake Promenade Speed Restriction
The Community Council has approved the reduction of speed limit from 40 kph to 30 kph along the full length of Lake Promenade.
Signage will be changed in October.
Interim Chair of Long Branch Neighbourhood Association
Brian Liberty and family have been dealing with some serious health issues with Andrew, their newborn. We wish them all well.
I received the following replies from Toronto Water and Planning staff regarding your intensification and basement flooding questions:
- At this time, the Basement Flooding Environmental Assessment (EA) Study for Area 53, which includes the Long Branch Area, remains on track for 2020-2022.
- The Basement Flooding EA study will involve a comprehensive capacity assessment of the sewer system in the Study Area to investigate flooding and recommend infrastructure improvements, where necessary, to reduce future basement and surface flooding during severe storms.
Chief of Staff (Acting)
Office of Councillor Mark Grimes
Ward 6, Etobicoke-Lakeshore
100 Queen St. West, Suite C48
Toronto, ON M5H 2N2
I am an independent retired planner who is trying to achieve an equitable planning process.
I have been helping residents in Long Branch and elsewhere with planning issues pro bono since 2006 when my Committee of Adjustment terms were finished.
I am not a member of the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association or for that matter the Lawn Signs group.
Please keep me in touch with anything that you think my 100 or so recipients might wish to know.
Text of letter from David Godley to John Tory
Dear Mayor John Tory
9 September 2016
Severances/variances; an opportunity for City Hall
This paper highlights how Toronto is losing the unique character of its wonderful neighbourhoods and what measures are needed to enhance distinctive neighbourhood character for the benefit of the electorate.
City policy in the Official Plan is based on the fact that a successful city is one where the economic advantages are protected. The prime principle is the conservation of character of neighbourhoods. While we have a system to ensure implementation what happens on the ground is often exactly the opposite.
Development which maximises profit for applicants, mostly small time builders, is generating mass produced designs which are alien to the locally distinctive character of Toronto neighbourhoods and reduces the tree canopy. Quality of life is being impaired for neighbourhood residents and investment in job opportunities curtailed through diminished attractiveness of neighbourhoods. Good design boosts economies. There are many great things happening in Toronto and improvement of this particular situation could be another. This is not about money or taxes but fair administration.
We have a situation with great potential thanks the Local Appeal Board starting soon and the appointment of a Committee of Adjustment (COA) Secretary Treasurer to a newly created position. Staff involved in COA has been so inundated with applications that they have not, in the past, been able to keep the ever expanding and changing system up to date.
I would like you to respond in writing that (1) you recognise the importance of the concerns I bring to you on behalf of City neighbourhood residents and (2) to give full support to the reform of local level dealings with the severances/variances and the like that are being proposed in this document in general terms. That is what your able Chief Planner did when the matter was brought to her attention over a year ago (see last item in black). I would ask you also to (3) ensure that immediate and urgent information sessions be held for the Etobicoke York COAs on their role and (4) give a commitment that all COAs have ongoing skill and information training as is normal in civic government. All these matters can be assigned to the new COA Secretary Treasurer.
I spoke to you at the beginning of your term about eroding character of unique neighbourhoods. I have updated you on the issue with emails. Most of what I have written is on the blog site “preservedstories”. A visual illustration of the issue is here.
Long Branch is used as an example as it is the area with which I am most familiar. Below in colour are pieces “Summary of Issues” (green), “Planning Process for Review of Severances and Variances”(brown) and “The Death and Life of Long Branch.” (blue) It is typically the splitting of lots with narrow frontages which create twin “soldier houses” (usually 3 storeys tall) in one of the lowest density neighbourhoods in Toronto that create the discordance. Variances on single lots can also create soldier houses. Monster houses are another aspect of harmonious fit and we have some of these too.
Long Branch is the centre of a “blitz” by part of the development industry on a historic (formerly cottage area) and green and pleasant neighbourhood. Ward 6 had the most severances in 2015 compared to the rest of the City wards. The greatest concentration within Ward 6 is in Long Branch. (These figures should be published and be widely available so we can proceed on in evidence based manner.) The issue is City-wide. It is just more pronounced here! The whole of Toronto should be concerned.
The erosion of distinctive character of neighbourhoods has gained pace over the last year or so despite initiatives from Council, Councillor Grimes (Ward 6) and the Planning Department. Included in these constructive innovations is the future creation of a Local Appeal Board, community forums to discuss applications face to face with the proponent, Urban Design Guidelines for Long Branch and Willowdale and more information exchange between the Planning Department and the community. The Planning Department have been helpful, courteous, professional and open to dialogue. The community is grateful for all of these things, especially knowing how stretched Planning staff is.
The situation started with the OMB where hearing officers in Long Branch (and other communities) had little grasp of urban design (planning in the third dimension as opposed to land use) and neither had the development planners unless they were hiding it well! Development planners were, in my opinion being given expert status without being experts. It was the blind leading the blind! That had dire consequences for the City in that their planners were tied up in hearings when they should have been taking time to evolve a better process. It also was costly for the City and exhausting and depressing for helpless citizens. It also encouraged many more applications which should never have seen the light of day.
At this point I should point out that citizens almost entirely rely on the City to defend their point of view. They are prevented by huge costs (perhaps more than $30,000 to hire planner and legal professionals to compete with Bay Street lawyers and highly paid development planners) from influencing the future of their neighbourhood at OMB hearings without the City acting in unison. The City and Community sometimes have different views.
This lack of being able to shape their own neighbourhood is itself is an injustice. I have discussed this with Bruce Krushelnicki the new(ish) superboss of the OMB personally. Those in the building industry in Long Branch are abusing the system to maximise their profits and appear not to care what visual damage they leave in their wake or in fact how they treat residents while building. I have worked with larger developers who are more ready to discuss and implement improvements. I should also note that the OMB seems to be on the road to reform through the Province’s review and Bruce Krushelnicki’s commitment to this through his proactive approach and to getting agreement between parties.
The 2006 Official Plan has strong conservation policies. Pretty well all the issues with severances and variances are about urban design. The Plan recognises the economic advantage of having beautiful neighbourhoods and directs density away from them while according with all Provincial policy including the latest densification move. In fact the Province has recently added in the Planning Act that a sense of place must be one of the basic considerations in all planning decisions.
The problem is that the exact opposite of the Official Plan’s intent has taken place and is continuing with greater intensity in Long Branch and elsewhere. Applications are increasing. To put this in perspective, the Province had the chance to prevent uneconomic urban sprawl but never had the will to enforce it. Now we are reaping all the negativities this brings. I imagine the same will be said of losing the character of neighbourhoods unless action is taken to reverse the current trends. To cater to demand is not planning.
The purpose of Planning is to ensure City development works in the public interest.
Although the Official Plan is heavily urban design oriented, there seem to be a lack of people who are trained urban designers involved in the development review process of severances/variances. The Urban Design section of the Planning Department is not formally notified! While the planners who prepare comments have a feel for urban design they do not appear to follow the subtleties of evaluating a harmonious fit with neighbourhood character. This was only recently discovered through a community forum because the Planning Department does not provide analysis or background information on context in their comments. Nor do they provide rationale.
This is hard on the COA because they are left without a basis to judge situations (they do not follow always follow advice anyway). Just recently they ignored all recommendations from Planning, other Departments, the Councillor and the Community and in the process allowed the destruction of 3 healthy mature trees and threatened trees on an abutting property. More information about process could have avoided this scenario.
This is a repeat situation where a similar case was considered by the OMB. The hearing officer managed to outdo the COA by destroying 2 healthy trees on a property and 7 magnificent healthy pine trees on adjacent properties. The manager of Urban Forestry observes “We are aware of the devastating effect upon the urban forest by intensification.”
I have provided the COA and Planning Department with a checklist of items which I, as a broad-based planner, believe are needed to be considered in all the subject applications (see below in brown).
The COA is a good source of local democracy. They respond well to large turnouts objecting to applications but usually approve anything with minimal or no opposition. Thus they give the Official Plan little weight or perhaps have little knowledge of it especially in the realm of urban design and particularly how to evaluate it.
The appearance is that they make arbitrary decisions based on the maximum number of approvals moderated by how many people attend in objection. They seem to think that precedent is not part of a consideration when, because of Official Plan policies, precedent has been a reason for all severance approvals in Long Branch. In addition there seems to be a notion that aesthetics or urban design is not part of their mandate.
In my experience the public notice is meaningless to the average person receiving it. Most are simply ignored by recipients. Most people also have no time to comprehend the complex issue and until recently had to visit the Civic Offices during working hours to obtain information. Another smart initiative by the Planning Department is the digitisation of applications so people can get more information on line.
Even now if a next door neighbours is away for a couple of weeks they can come back and find that approval of a development with major impacts on quality of life (sunlight, light, privacy, views, etc) has been approved in their absence. The notice was fine when the variances really were strictly minor in accordance with the City’s definition of the Minor Variance: “small changes or exceptions to existing land use or development restrictions contained in the zoning bylaw are called minor variances.” Very few citizens have the time or inclination to spend hours waiting for their item to come up at a COA hearing, an intimidating forum for most people.
The point is that these applications are the equivalent of zoning applications and should be treated in a similar manner. This means having a community forum prior to the application going to COA and prior to Planning reaching a position. At any rate there is a need to think through how citizens can be engaged more effectively in accordance with the intent of the Planning Act.
Recently the COA approved an application at an earlier time than stated in the notice and would not rehear when objectors arrived. The Committee have also started approving semi detached houses in detached house zones, another example of the development planners pushing the boundary, which the Planning Department previously opposed. There are of course no standards for semi detached houses meaning no variances are needed. The view of Planning is that they have the freedom to look at the merit of the application. But this does not tally with the Planning Act where the test of the zoning bylaw is its general intent.
This does not include semis in a detached house zoning. This will encourage more similar applications so that the resident’s protection is broken down and effectively removing their property rights. It also leaves the undesirable complication that the two semis can be added to without density, setback or height limits.
What rankles the community is that the greed and maximisation of profit of the small time builders is removing the protection resident’s have under current zoning and supposedly have in the Official Plan. And they despoil distinctive neighbourhood character not only with inappropriate housing but by removing the tree canopy. With more flexibility on the lot for detached houses many more trees can be saved. From the overall City point of view the identikit soldier houses and similar (which might be quite acceptable in new subdivisions or other portions of the City) have a detrimental impact on the economy. Toronto’s business advantages according to the Official Plan are reduced. To continue the allegory “residents are up in arms!”
Long Branch has been “bombarded” with inappropriate decisions for far too long. The main reason is that the type of applications envisaged under the Planning Act has changed dramatically. Now major development is being pushed through the overstretched and inadequate COA system. It is a common view that the severance/variance process is systemically unfair with the development interests having all the advantages. In fact it is the development industry which is creating policy rather than following City policy.
The City and City Hall have achieved a great deal but there are still ways to give greater enhancement to citizen’s quality of life. I think it is an intolerable situation here in Long Branch and suspect it is in many other neighbourhoods. If it is not halted in Long Branch other areas of the City will be affected. Some already have been. Ratepayers are fatigued and frustrated with having to attend so many meetings and not having their concerns given credibility. The Civic Offices and 665 Bay (OMB offices) are almost like second homes to some people in the neighbourhood! It is overwhelming just to keep track on what is happening.
The Local Appeal Board should be an improvement on the OMB. The Urban Design Guidelines study should help. More analysis of each application supplied by applicants (something applicants can easily afford for a complete application) could improve the situation immeasurably as could a more effective public engagement process. The process needs to be a level “battle” field not one where power and money win the day. The whole system is far too adversarial.
Preferably both sides would work together to come up with reasonable solutions within the mandated legal and planning framework. Agreement among parties has had some success in community forums but is often difficult to find a solution to severances without contextual data and with a development oriented COA and OMB.
I have been promoting detached houses with secondary suites which give flexibility to the owner and offers affordable housing. There are other initiatives up with which the creative Planning Department could come! The ideas would flow directly from Official Plan policies which were carefully thought out over a long period of time with stakeholder input and has recently been updated.
I have been dealing with these matters on a pro bono basis for 10 years since I finished my terms on the COA and have been involved with this type of planning all my working life. I have never experienced such a rapid and radical change to an issue.
All anyone is asking for is orderly development and sound planning.
I look forward to quick and positive response. We are stronger if we work together. Please acknowledge receipt.
Yours truly, David Godley
401 Lake Promenade, Toronto, M8W 1C3. 416.255.0492
Summary of Issues
Long Branch Neighbourhood is a historic distinctive community which has been converted from cottage country to permanent residences over the last century or so.
The chief feature is variety of low density detached housing of no more than 2 stories on larger lots often 50 feet wide and 1 storey on smaller lots.
There is an intermingling of other residential uses as well as smaller lots. The area is well treed.
Soldier houses have been introduced which are typically 3 storey detached houses on 25 feet wide lots at around double the density permitted. They are uniform and alien modern suburban designs based on maximum profit and are similar to modules found across the GTA. They are generated by outside forces not local.
About 4 years ago the OMB started overruling the Committee of Adjustment and the community and approving soldier houses.
Long Branch has been the centre of soldier house approvals in Toronto.
This has this resulted in a clash of building styles, distinctive and varied vs uniform and dense. It has also pitted those wanting to develop against the community who generally wish to keep the character into which they bought.
The entrepreneurial building industry and some individuals naturally wanted to cash in on this bonanza.
If some applicants sever large lots and can build soldier houses it seems reasonable for all – so many new applications were submitted.
A community meeting was held in May 2015 to discuss the issue. The Urban Design Guidelines and Community Forums to discuss individual applications were initiated.
This year the Committee of Adjustment has started approving soldier houses and now the Planning Department is supporting some too.
Individual soldier houses and “walls-of-townhouse appearance” soldiers with the concomitant loss of trees are replacing the semi bucolic streets.
The intention of City policy is harmonious and sensitive development and gradual change. The zoning bylaw reflects this.
Recently the OMB, who started the battle for whatever reason, now appear to be reforming and have made important decisions refusing similar development based on the test of parameters ie not exceeding the features of those houses nearby.
The Committee of Adjustment, for whatever reason, have lost the plot on certain applications. Likewise the Planning Department, most notably, on 9 Meaford where incorrect analysis was done.
Planning Process for Review of Severances and Variances
The public interest in these types of applications is defined by a legal and planning framework. The Planning Act deals more with process. The Official Plan is the key policy document and Zoning and Severance are the key control documents. If proposals do not meet the matters to be considered the applications should be turned down. The 12 tests are not equally weighed so planning is not an exact science. It is up to the applicant to prove suitability in accordance with Official Plans and Zoning Bylaws which have to be interpreted as to their intent at the time they were passed, as well as other matters on a suggested checklist provided below.
A brief check list of matters to consider for these applications are:
1) Why cannot development be built under current zoning. (Application Form)
2) Does the proposal comply with the City’s definition of minor.
“Small changes or exceptions to existing land use or development restrictions contained in the zoning bylaw are called minor variances.”
3) Are the variances small in size (De Gasperis) as well as impact.
4) Is the development desirable for the appropriate use from the public interest point of view.
5) Is the general intent of the zoning achieved particularly the ordinance to limit first floor height to achieve 2 storeys and a sense of scale and massing similar to both existing and that permitted in the zoning.
6) Does the proposal conform to the general intent of the Official Plan.
a) Does the proposal reflect “respect and reinforcement of character” as repeated in the OP a dozen times.
b) Is change gradual, harmonious and sensitive and does it fit the existing physical character.
c) Does the proposal meet the OMB’s Parameter test (see below)
d) Does the proposal reflect Policy 2 of the OP that conservation of character trumps density and demand.
e) Does the proposal reflect policy 3 of the OP (see below)
f) Does the proposal reflect policy 4 specifically 4.1.5c – to respect and reinforce existing physical character “heights, massing, scale….of nearby residential properties”. Are the densities, storeys, and frontages of the nearby properties reflected in the proposal. Is the property right protection of neighbourhood character built into the Official Plan and zoning bylaw still intact
g) Is the Official Plans clarification in OPA 320 (Provincial and City Policy) that conservation features are prevailing, predominant and most frequently occurring particularly 4.1.5c “prevailing heights, massing,, scale, density… of nearby dwelling residential properties.”. As Urban Design experts know the there is a hierarchy of areas which need addressing for urban fit.
In order of importance they are 1) the abutting houses, 2) the row of housing 3) the block of houses on both sides of the road and 4) the area of neighbourhood beyond. This may be included in the Urban Design Guidelines. A more general policy is contained in OPA 320 adopted by the City and approved by the the Province but appealed to the OMB.
7) Will the proposal set a precedent which could lead to a radical change of street or neighbourhood character.
8) What is the opinion of the most severely impacted residents, the nearby residents and the neighbourhood as a whole. Section 5 of the Official Plan includes “A fair and accessible public process by encouraging participation by all segments of the population and promoting community awareness of planning issues and decisions through use of clear, understandable language.” Without this consultation a planning position is premature. Without those affected being part of any negotiation a planning decision is premature
9) What is the opinion of the various Departments consulted including the Urban Design Section and Urban Forestry, TRCA, Traffic, Engineering etc. Without these inputs a planning review is not complete.
10) The Planning Act includes a provision that a sense of place is required to be considered.
11) Is there a need for the type of housing eg affordable, accessible
12). Are there better alternatives to the proposal.
The applicant has provided no contextual information. So it is difficult for lay people to understand the issues. The facades of the proposal and adjacent properties need to be shown at scale, a three dimensional birds eye view and plans showing nearby properties lot frontage, density and 3 of storeys.
An outstanding issue in Long Branch is that there has not been a study to evaluate ground water capacity. All properties south of Lake Shore are subject to significantly increased insurance rates to allow for basement flooding damage. This has not been taken account of by the Engineering Department. Continued reduction of rainwater absorption and removal of mature trees will only exacerbate the situation. It is understood this issue will be addressed in 2020.
An Urban Design Study for Long Branch which stemmed from concerns about inappropriate development is intended to clarify local interpretation of appearance.
Extract from Urban Design Policies of Toronto’s Official Plan
Supporting text: The Plan demands that both the public and private sectors commit to high quality architecture, landscape architecture and urban design…
New development will be massed and its exterior façade will be designed to fit harmoniously into its existing and/or planned context, and
will limit its impact on neighbouring streets, parks, open spaces and properties by:
a) massing new buildings to frame adjacent streets and open
spaces in a way that respects the existing and/or planned street proportion;
b) incorporating exterior design elements, their form, scale, proportion, pattern and materials, and their sustainable design, to influence the character, scale and appearance of the development;
c) creating appropriate transitions in scale to neighbouring existing and/or
planned buildings for the purpose of achieving the objectives of this Plan;
d) providing for adequate light and privacy;
e) adequately limiting any resulting shadowing of, and uncomfortable wind
conditions on, neighbouring streets, properties and
open spaces, having regard for the varied nature of such areas;
f) preserving and enhancing the urban forest by increasing the tree canopy coverage.
g) significant heritage resources will be conserved and development adjacent will respect, their scale, character and form.
(23) Extract from OMB file PL151145, 284 Hounslow Avenue, To.
I also cannot overlook the 15 m frontage requirement of the existing bylaw. Although some approvals have permitted frontages of less than 15 m, none have countenanced 9.14 m. Approval of the relief sought would, in my view, give rise to a significant risk that lots similar in size to the subject property will be eliminated going forward and that such elimination would, as a result, potentially lead to a transformational shift in the character of the area.
(17) Extract from OMB file PL150665, 151 Airdrie Road, Toronto
A compelling case was not made by the planner why the subject property should have the status of the tallest home in the neighbourhood. The Board was not persuaded
that the building height is not discernable to a passerby, or why the
Applicant merits another increment in height above that earlier granted by the COA. The Board is also mindful that the approval of variances must rely on Official Plan policy as one of four tests. In this respect, returning to the policy referred in paragraph 9 of this decision, “No change” will be made by variance (or by other means) which are out of keeping with the physical character of the neighbourhood”.
In the Board’s opinion, approval of the variance which permits the tallest house in the neighbourhood is not compliant with that policy.
A policy which begins with the word: “No” cannot be ignored in association with an application which would establish a new benchmark for residential building height. When measured against this policy, the case for compatibility cannot be made.
The Death and Life of Long Branch
It is over a year since the May 4th Community meeting where strong concerns were expressed about the desecration of Long Branch. Certainly there have been some good initiatives (including the Urban Design Guideline Study) but the court-like COA and OMB processes are not conducive to sound planning.
Long Branch is the poster child for planning failure. The excellent Official Plan of 2006 has been routinely undermined or ignored. The development industry has had far too much sway and the neighbourhood is suffering.
Historically agricultural land has been sacrificed to lower density residential. New urbanism is twice the density and produces attractive walking neighbourhoods and was touted 30 years ago. But developers were allowed free rein. We are now paying for the lack of commitment to planning.
Currently the undue influence of the building industry is destroying the enjoyment of neighbourhoods into which residents bought. It is also creating an intolerable burden on the Long Branch community. Citizens are continuously trying to fend off inappropriate development. Recently Long Branch has had by far the most severances according to Planning Department figures and stats. in Ward 6.
The main problem is the OMB, an arms’ length creation of the Province which has become more development oriented and more rigid in its operation than previously. This partially appears to be because the development industry funds over 50% of party coffers for both Liberals and Conservatives. 70% of the time the OMB overrule the COA, the City, City staff and the public in our community according to stats. at the May 4th meeting. This is despite a Planning Act requirement that requires the OMB to take account of local decisions.
Ken Greenberg is a well respected and leading planner in Canada and was formerly head of the City of Toronto’s Urban Design group. He says the OMB is the worst possible way to achieve orderly planning.
Citizens are routinely dismissed by the OMB as irrelevant. COA’s, City planners and the public view are overruled based on conflicted development planners whose evidence is used to follow the development industry’s wishes. Beautiful neighbourhoods are being sacrificed to the greed of developers both in terms of alien development and loss of tree canopy.
There is unlikely to be a fair hearing at the appeal level. This influences lower level decision makers and advisers negatively. To participate in the planning process fully at the OMB, citizens have to raise $20,000 to $30,000 to hire legal and planning expertise and also expose themselves to costs as well as loss of appeal.
The effect of the all this is that the rich and powerful become richer and more powerful. This reflects the inequality of our times.
The appeal system favours those with resources, discourages exchange of information, dialogue and consensus. The system is highly adversarial encouraging underhand strategies and frustration and anger in the community. It hurts the fabric of society when there are an abundance of applications encouraged by the Board especially in such places as Long Branch. Objectivity and circumspection is replaced by emotion.
The situation at the application review level is also adversarial especially at the COA. However the COA is more open to pleas to save neighbourhoods than the more remote and elitist OMB. Without community presence at meetings the COA are inclined to approve anything as happened with 2 27th Street the most disastrous decision for the destruction of character so far.
The community did not realise they had to repeat their objections at a second COA hearing. The tree issue was not considered at either level other than applying a condition. The OMB perversely removed the condition.
9 mature and healthy trees destroyed in one go. Two of the trees were lost because the COA allowed large increases in density leaving Urban Forestry no chance of saving them. The others were illegally removed on an adjacent property so that the developer could build close to the side lot line.
The legalistic nature of both bodies is another impediment to well thought out decisions.
The majority of the COA members do not seem to observe the Official Plan never mind Divisional Court rulings such as De Gasperis. There is a tendency to apply their own values rather than those of the City’s. This is illustrated by the 80 23rd decision which cannot be further from the intent of the plan and zoning without being risible. Two members voted for approval.
Members seem to take little notice of advice from Staff on deferrals especially Urban Forestry. Flexibility is diminished. This risks the valued tree canopy which the City is trying to expand. The large number of trees lost to inappropriate development in Long Branch is community vandalism.
32 27th STREET CASE
In another case the 32 27th Street application exposes difficulties with the Etobicoke York COA system. First residents had little basis on which to judge the application. They have to work hard to get any meaningful material. They have to go to the COA offices, (where they are always co-operative and cheerful,) to get details of the proposal.
Elevations (showing the sides of the house to scale) are not sent out so the material that is circulated means little to the lay person. The notices and variance list is gibberish to most people and discarded. Others have no time to deal with such stressful matters. There are no plans to give perspective. I have produced plans as attached to fill this gap. There are no plans to show the front elevation in relation to the nearby houses or potential outline under the zoning bylaw. There are no bird’s eye views that were so useful for the 11 Lake Promenade application to show impacts on adjacent homes. All these are essential to interpret the Official Plan. And the development industry is awash with money gained from unfair approvals.
With the lightening rod application of 32 27th people were made to wait 4 hours before proceedings started. These included people with mobility issues and children. Two other major applications were 4 hours behind schedule. People were testy and fed up and filled with emotion. This is not the right atmosphere to make any planning decision. Such delays should be avoided. People also could only exit by the back door of the Civic Centre and had to make their way in the dark to the front parking lot.
Since the applicant had told both the planner and the COA that they would seek deferral this should have been dealt with much earlier. Using ruses to allow the application to be heard should be dealt with firmly. For some reason the COA seem duty-bound to follow whatever the applicant wants. This represents another inequity within a system biased towards development when it is the applicant that has the burden of proof.
The Planning Department is the bright light on the scene flowing down from the Chief Planner to her planning staff. They have seen the process is not working and their Official Plan is not achieving the desired effect. They have embarked on a process to try to create a made-in Long Branch solution. This involves deferring to have a round table discussion called by the Councillor with owner, agent, planning staff and those impacted. All should have access to helpful information. Wants and needs can be freely discussed and issues identified. Lots of options can be generated to reflect these. With dialogue there is a greater chance of consensus. Both community meetings I have attended were able to resolve issues.
The applicant had agreed to revise the drawings with less density, less impact and in a traditional manner. With the undertakings from the applicant this looked like a suitable candidate especially as the drawings were uncommonly poor and needed to be upgraded. The COA followed the applicant’s retraction of wanting to proceed and we now have the opportunity for full discussion. However there are many problems which need to be solved along the way for the future. The community meeting for Long Branch should have revised plans to complete the application.
First: Provide readable plans where the details have not been lost due to reductions and ensure that all elevations are circulated with the notice package. The latter is a basic requirement used by all other Toronto panels.
Second: double the time residents have notice of new builds and major additions. Residents may be away for the full time of notice. Often citizens have not been involved with such processes and need time to absorb the information, understand issues and formulate opinions as well as contacting neighbours outside the circulation area that are also impacted. The discordant nature of most proposed new builds affects the whole street and because precedent is the main reason used by the OMB, the whole neighbourhood is impacted. The nature of minor variances no longer reflects the City’s definition ““Small changes or exceptions to existing land use or development restrictions contained in the zoning bylaw”.. A different approach is needed for these neighbourhood changing proposals, something more like the Zoning Process.
Third: ensure that the street elevations of at least one house either side of the proposal are shown together with the zoning envelope outline as well as a bird’s eye view.
Fourth: have explanatory material. The Long Branch Neighbourhood Association are working on a package which could be used as guidance. It is never explained that the Councillor’s Office has to be contacted to ensure City provides legal and planning representation or to launch an appeal. Citizen’s views against a qualified planner do not count for anything under current OMB practices. Currently as a pro bono planner I do many requests for appeals or City staff myself or advise people it should be done.
Fifth: Ensure that it is the building drawings which conform to the Official Plan. If the severance and variance allow a building which does not conform, then approval does not meet the Planning Act requirements. There are strong Urban Design OP policies which are never cited.
Sixth: Treatment of all members of the public as customers. This includes by the COA and the OMB. The City is supposed to serve the electorate not the whims of developers. Propaganda from the building industry has created the delusion that refusals are bad form rather than good planning.
These reforms have been discussed actively for over a year. They could be implemented immediately. It is not enough to follow the letter of the law. The spirit needs to be followed too. The system is out of step with reality.
Planning Staff are to be congratulated on their outside-the-box thinking. I believe the community will be supportive in their efforts. I also hope that they together with our helpful councillor will see the way to have community meetings prior to COA consideration. This would put the various interests on an even keel at the start of the planning process.
David Godley May 16 2016
May 2015 Message from Jennifer Keesmaat
May 8, 2015 message from Jennifer Keesmaat, MES, MCIP, RPP. Chief Planner & Executive Director, City Planning Division, City of Toronto to David Godley of Long Branch
Date: Fri, 08 May 2015 17:00:13 -0400
From: Jennifer Keesmaat <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Reply-To: Jennifer Keesmaat <email@example.com>
Subject: Long Branch
To: firstname.lastname@example.org [that is, David Godley]
Thank you for your earlier correspondence. Following City Council over the past three days, I have spent a good part of today in meetings with Neil Cresswell reviewing in detail the history of Long Branch, its ongoing development activity, current issues, and notes pertaining to Committee of Adjustment hearings as well as outstanding matters (such as illegal tree removals).
I’ve also reviewed your comments in detail. Many of the issues you identify are consistent with pressures we are experiencing in other parts of the City that are also facing growth and change. However, it seems to me that the aggressiveness of the applications and the activities of the developers in Long Branch is acute.
I have reviewed with staff a series of strategies that we could potentially employ to address these planning and development issues. At this point in time, I will need to review these options with your Councillor, Mark Grimes, in order to consider how best to proceed.
I understand that you have had extensive correspondence with local planning staff. My Director, Neil Cresswell will continue to be your best point of contact as we go forward. I will be working closely with both Neil and your Councillor to determine next steps. I recognize from your meeting notes regarding the public meeting on May 4th that you and others felt frustration that tangible strategies to address the problem at hand were not forthcoming. I want to assure you that working with the local Councillor, I am seeking to expedite advancing a way forward.
Jennifer Keesmaat, MES, MCIP, RPP
Chief Planner & Executive Director City Planning Division, City of Toronto
City Hall, 12th Floor East