Key considerations when preparing for a Committee of Adjustment or similar presentation

From time to time, I get inquiries from residents in communities outside of Long Branch – sometimes quite a distance from this community, in fact – asking for advice regarding Committee of Adjustment presentations.

I always seek to reply at once, linking up inquirers with other residents in Long Branch, as there are many people in our community who have more experience with such presentations than I have, and who are also great people to speak with.

A key post, that many people have read, regarding this topic, is entitled:

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

Also of relevance is one entitled:

Handy documents to refer to when preparing for Committee of Adjustment hearings

I will today write just a few notes to outline some key points, that occur to me when I think about such presentations.

In general terms, three key themes come to mind for me, when I picture the presentation or presentations that residents anywhere in Ontario may be planning:

  1. Quality of the presentation(s)
  2. Mindset and track record of the local Committee of Adjustment
  3. Specified details related to the applications in question, in relation to the existing character of the street and neighbourhood

Avoidance of libel and defamation lawsuits

Based on what I have observed over the years, I strongly recommend that all communications from residents – written as well as spoken messages – be at all times strongly evidence-based, devoid of personal attacks of any kind, and expressed in language that is cordial, moderate in tone, and businesslike. Things can be stated directly, and with passion, while keeping within the parameters that I have outlined.

For residents associations or community groups, liability insurance, to address potential expenses associated with the hiring of legal counsel, in the event of defamation lawsuits that may be directed your way as a way to limit public participation, is also highly recommended.

Also of relevance regarding this topic is a post entitled:

Media Law for Canadian Journalists (2018) is a good book – I recommend it highly

Quality of presentation(s)

There may be just one presentations or there many be many, in the event there is eventually an appeal to (a) the OMB, or (b) the Local Appeal Board, under the new OMB Reform legislation that has been enacted in Ontario. By way of background, a useful overview about the latter legislation is available at:

Change will come slowly despite OMB reforms: Toronto Star, Dec. 18, 2017

The previous post at my website, that I have referred to above, provides details about one particular approach, on a particular street in Long Branch, at a particular time.

Every situation will be different. A key point, however, is the same in each case: It’s a great idea to be thoroughly prepared, when going into the presentation. That is key.

As well, as I have noted, the following post at my website may be handy, in the event you have not already seen it:

Handy documents to refer to when preparing for Committee of Adjustment hearings

In recent years, local residents where I live have organized a neighbourhood association – the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association – to represent neighbourhood interests.

If there is a local residents/neighbourhood association in your community, it would be good to get them involved. If there is not such an association currently in place, it’s a great idea to start one up.

There are many people in Long Branch, and elsewhere, who would be pleased to help you to get up to speed, regarding the steps required to launch a strong and solidly representative community association.

For the initial organizing meetings, and in fact for all meetings, many people have learned that it’s best to avoid devoting time for venting (about the problems a neighbourhood may be facing); it’s much more productive to devote time to practical next steps, that are involved, in  the founding and operation of a neighbourhood organization.

Much depends upon the culture of the organization; it’s easy to establish a strong culture through good planning during the phase when the structure is being set up. Changing the culture in later years, if that is necessary, can be done but takes a lot of work. The best approach by far is to establish a strong, collegial, cooperative culture for the organization right from the start.

Having a clearly defined and closely followed procedure for decision making is essential.

Among the key points is to ensure, as well, from the outset, that there’s a strong leadership succession plan in place, so that succeeding generations of new leaders are prepared to take over, and keep the association going, as the years go by. It’s good to always keep in mind the long-term interests of the community, from one generation to the next. The years go by quickly.

As well, it’s important to listen closely to all the members of the association, and to seek out their input. In that way members have a strong sense of ownership of the organization, and there’s a diversity of input which, at least in my anecdotal observations over the years, generally gives rise to great plans and decisions.

From what I’ve observed, I would add that an association that addresses a wide range of topics, based on well-designed, extensive surveys of members, may be more representative of a neighbourhood than an association that is concerned solely with a single issue.

With regard to presentations, it’s good to use visual materials – such as Photoshop images – to show a “Before” and “After” representation of the proposed application, whatever it may be.

In the regard, it’s good to (a) get the work done to the highest possible standards of accuracy and professional competence and (b) ensure that the person who creates the visual materials attends the Committee of Adjustment (or similar) meeting, in order that that person in particular will be able to answer questions regarding how the materials have been prepared.

Mindset of Committee of Adjustment

Each Committee of Adjustment is going to have its own way of going about doing things, and its own way of assessing what is and is not important, from the Committee’s perspective, when planning decisions are made.

Thus it would make sense to become thoroughly familiar with online and archival documents related to past Committee decisions. It would also be a good idea to attend some Committee meetings, to get a good sense of how it goes about its work.

If you have the opportunity to speak to your community’s planning staff, to get a sense of where they are coming from, and what they take into account, that may also be helpful. The more you can learn about how planning decisions are made, including details related to planning by-laws, in relation to the kind of application you will be dealing with, the better.

Details related to the applications in question

Much depends, in any planning decision, on how the presentations by residents and developers relate to the specific details of a given application. Factors such as the physical character of neighbouring properties including Floor Space Index (FSI) as explained, for example, at are key elements.

In Long Branch, we’ve had the good fortune (well, we are hoping it will turn out to be good fortune) to have in place what are called the Long Branch Neighbourhood Character Guidelines. These will (it is hoped) serve to guide future development in the community.

I do not know if other communities have anything similar in place. At any rate, the planning language associated with the Long Branch Guidelines serves as a good way to think about, and in some cases express, what the physical character of a neighbourhood entails. There are many posts at my website regarding this topic:

(You can do a search for any such topic, at this website, by using the search engine located at the top left corner of the landing page.)

Of particular note:

On Wednesday, January 31, 2018, Toronto Council adopted the Long Branch Neighbourhood Character Guidelines with amendment by Councillor Grimes

You are doing the right thing, for sure, if you are reaching out to people elsewhere, as part of your research. Research and planning are essential ingredients working in favour of a good outcome for residents.

Just a reminder, as well, that it’s important to take care that whatever statements are made, about any aspect of development, are accurate; this is a point that I’ve had reason to attend to just recently:

Correction regarding a letter which had been published by the Toronto Star, related to Long Branch development topics

So long as what we say is accurate and balanced, we are always on the right track.

And, as many have noted, networking, collaboration, and good preparation are the name of the game.


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