Monsters in our midst

Plenty of attention has been paid to soaring house prices in Toronto but teardowns that turn into monster homes are somehow below the radar. In my neighbourhood there’s been at least one teardown in each of the last half dozen years. Let me tell you the bad news up front: developers and individuals almost always get want they want, despite neighbours’ objections.

The first step for approval is the Committee of Adjustment. Plans are shared with neighbours who can appear before the three-person board but might as well stay home. I’ve been to two such hearings. At one of them, the chair actually said: “We’re here to give relief from the rules.” That means builders’ plans for new houses that are as much as one-third larger than the density allowed are called “minor variances.” Invariably, they get waved through.

The one area to which the committee pays heed is tree protection. In practice, however, trees are in peril. At a site two doors from me, equipment was parked beside a Norway maple, the front lawn was raised (sure death for a mature tree) and the trench dug for a new fence destabilized a 100-year-old apple tree that now has to be removed.

Has the builder or owner suffered as a result of these tree calamities? We don’t know. The file remains closed because there’s been no response to an “order to comply” sent last August. Can the city do anything? Even they’re not sure. We neighbours were told, “The Contravention Bylaws came into effect in June 2015 and staff are uncertain as to what this permits them to do legally and practically.”

As for the fence, the concrete and wood structure on all four sides of the property is not only taller than allowed, the front portion is on the city’s right-of-way. Although the fence was not in the original plan, we’re told that it may be retroactively approved.

Councillor Justin Di Ciano invited half a dozen neighbours to meet with him and three city officials last November to hear our longstanding complaints. To date, nothing helpful has happened. Future developers will almost assuredly continue to flout the rules. The entire oversight apparatus of the City of Toronto might just as well be dismantled for all the good that it does.

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