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‘It’s all about what appellants want’

Leaside’s getting known at the Ontario Municipal Board, and will soon be better known because there are several Leaside appeals involving applications for minor variances being adjudicated in the next several months. These are mainly appeals by the owner following Committee of Adjustment rejection of variance requests.

One case coming up again is 73 Donegall Dr., on Oct. 5.

At a hearing on Aug. 25 OMB Chair Reid Rossi remembered when we won last year.

“That was amazing,” he said to me. “How did they expect to get a car down that driveway?”

We remember him as being extraordinarily efficient in his management of the hearing, and a quick study in his comprehension of the information presented to him. 

The case heard on Aug. 25 by Rossi involved a property on Bessborough  Dr. in North Leaside, where the Committee of Adjustment (Committee) denied the requested variances, but the owner appealed the decision to the OMB. The appellant  was proposing to demolish the existing, solid masonry, modest two-storey dwelling, and re-construct a house that in our and the neighbours’ opinion would be too high, too close to the neighbours, and too deep for the lot.

At the OMB that morning we had six neighbours opposed to the variances (and no neighbour was present in support).

While the Committee refused the current request for minor variances on May 7, a previous minor variance application, in Sept. 25, 2013, by a different owner, was approved by the Committee. The variances refused and now under appeal were significantly in excess of what the Committee previously approved.

So what evidence did we present in opposition?  My evidence for the LPOA was based on the neighbourhood context of the property as a cultural heritage landscape.

Stephen Otto, the architectural historian, said of Leaside in East/West: A Guide to Where People Live in Downtown Toronto (2000):

“…Street after street is flanked by handsome boulevard trees and tidy single family homes in stripped down Georgian or Tudorbethan style, each set back from the road an identical distance, on a comfortable lot with a private driveway….”

No street in Leaside exemplifies this description more than Bessborough Dr., in both North and South Leaside. Bessborough is the premier residential street, with generous boulevards, and large homes set on the largest lots in the town, allowing for expansive lawns and abundant landscaping.

If you do a streetscape analysis of the Bessborough block in which the subject property is located, you will find that the houses are largely intact original homes, on the west side mainly Cape Cod style, one storey and a half, and on the east side mainly Georgian style, two storeys.

There are variations, like the Art Moderne style house at 325 Bessborough, the first house built on the street in the 1940s, in similar style to Agnes Macphail’s house at Millwood and Donegall. Unfortunately the one replacement house in the block does not “fit in” and in our opinion represents an outlier to be avoided, not a precedent to be emulated.

As laid out in the Planning Act there are four independent tests of a minor variance:

  1. The variance applied for must be minor.
  2. It must be desirable for the appropriate development or use of the land, building or structure.
  3. It must maintain the general intent and purpose of the zoning bylaw.
  4. It must maintain the general intent and purpose of the Official Plan.

Regarding 1: The variances applied for are not minor. They are numerous, they involve  large amounts (for example Floor Space Index  20 percent greater than permitted). And they are significant in their impact.

Regarding 2:  The mass of height and length of the building is excessive, which has negative impacts on the streetscape, on shadowing and on privacy.

Regarding 3: The development does not maintain the general intent and purpose of the zoning bylaw. The development is based on creating a maximum amount of usable floor space while skirting the restrictions. The LPOA believes that the integrity of the zoning bylaw needs to be maintained, not undermined, one property at a time.

Regarding 4: The property is in the Neighbourhood land use designation. Neighbourhoods are special and are not intended for intensification.

Finally we stated that this application was not in keeping with Leaside’s Residential Character Preservation Guidelines, which are intended to preserve the character of the neighbourhood. We believe that planning in Ontario exists to serve the public interest and minimize adverse impacts rather than to accommodate individual life style ambitions.

The neighbours who appeared each described their concerns, the impact on their property and their privacy, and the process. I was struck by their eloquence and wisdom, and no surprise, given their education and standing, which included university professors, engineers, and a judge no less.

The latter was crystal clear: “The appellants and their designers knew what the bylaws said before starting to draw up the plans….” he said. “There is no reason put forward why the plans could not have complied with every aspect of the bylaws. Instead a set of plans was produced that pushes the envelope in all directions. The appellant then went to the Committee of Adjustment to seek relief and a stamp of approval. That failed (5-0) and now, on this appeal, the appellants seek a stamp of approval from the OMB. The plans are all about what the appellants want and nothing about what the bylaws require and allow.”

As I said, the chair was efficient and we all were finished by 1 p.m. We await the decision with interest.

Meanwhile, we also await the hearings on these cases:

  • 317 Laird Dr., Nov. 3.
  • 228 Rumsey Rd., Nov. 24.
  • 151 Airdrie Rd. (request for retroactive approval), Dec. 9.
  • 31 Killdeer Cres., date to be scheduled.
  • 35 Fleming Cres., a case where a neighbour appealed the Committee of Adjustment approval decision, Oct. 15.

Watch for more on them.