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Nightmare on Donegall Drive — will it ever end?

73 Donegall under construction today

73 Donegall under construction today

For the unhappy neighbours of 73 Donegall Drive, the four-year nightmare goes on and on and on. They live beside, or look at, an unfortunate building, slim but towering over the neighbours and lacking street fit.

Exactly the same issues that resulted in the prior partially reconstructed house’s demolition? Similar, but with two differences – the newly constructed house has no integral garage, and the ground floor is lower. But the big difference this time around is that “it’s staying” because “it’s built to the bylaws,” according to Diane Damiano, the chief building official for North York District, in a meeting with City staff arranged by Councillor Burnside on May 15.

A new structure has been built, which (as no variances were approved) had to be built in compliance with the zoning bylaws. Applications for minor variances were refused twice by the Committee of Adjustment, and twice by the OMB, the latest in October, 2015, after which the partially framed house sat for over a year, until it was finally demolished in December, 2016. The owner presented building plans to the Toronto Building office that conformed to the zoning bylaws, and construction began in January 2017.

Since then there have been numerous calls to Toronto Building and Councillor Burnside about everything from driveway and eavestroughs issues to basement and dust concerns.

How 73 Donegall looked for over a year

How 73 Donegall looked for over a year

At the end of the day, it is clear the neighbours have little information and even less power. Who represents our interests? Should the City consider the rights of the neighbours as much as it does the rights of the developer? The City says they are available to negotiate, but cannot enforce in these cases. What about those who live across the street, and those farther along the block who are discomfited by this new build in their neighbourhood? Do they have the right to demand that a house “fit” the neighbourhood?

Given its height and the fact it does not reflect the character of the street, but is declared “legal,” what changes are required to the planning rules under which this structure was built? Unfortunately, the planning legislation does not allow questions of “character” to be addressed; as long as it meets the zoning bylaws, any design is allowable. Residential areas do not have “site plan control.” Only the heritage legislation allows for control of demolition. Leaside is already an authorized potential Heritage Conservation District, but awaits funding approval. However, Heritage Preservation Services Manager Mary MacDonald said at the same meeting that the nominated area is too large, and she committed to do a “walk through” in Leaside this fall to determine the “core heritage area.” Beyond that we need the Leaside Character Preservation Guidelines1 to be updated and implemented. And we need an overhaul of the zoning bylaws.

You witness these things happening in Leaside, but never think to get involved until the development is right beside your property. Suddenly you are thrown into a world of permits, variances, bylaws and legalese where no one is really looking out for your interests or those of the neighbourhood. The proposed structure beside your home now towers above you. The backyard is overtaken by a garage and you have lost the green space you once enjoyed. You have lost the sunlight which streamed into your house and garden. The developer is just getting ready to add a deck which will devoid your property of its privacy, and yet, the house is being built according to zoning laws and the building code. What are your rights in these situations? Not many. This is a community-wide issue. Please help preserve the character of Leaside. Offer support to your neighbours when you see this happen. Get involved, for the sake of a community which has long embraced the concept of neighbours taking care of each other.

Thanks to Barbara MacDonald for her neighbourly leadership in the 73 Donegall case.

1 Residential Character Preservation Guidelines for House Renovations, Additions and In-fill Development in the Community of Leaside, City of Toronto Urban Development Services, City Planning Division in consultation with The Leaside Character Preservation Advisory Committee, 2003. (See Article Here)