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2007 May » Our Sustainable Home
Archive for: May, 2007

Committee of Adjustments decision revision

May 30th, 2007

I went down to the Committee of Adjustments desk at City Hall to discuss the parking pad stipulation on our variance and it was suggested we contact the Manager of the Toronto East York Panel to discuss the issue.

I sent her an email describing the issue and received a phone call in reply. She patiently explained that the committee’s decision actually indicated we must obtaining a parking pad permit before being approved for our plans to build a parking pad, but that our request to provide no parking was approved on its own. (This seems different than what we thought we heard at the meeting, but it’s hard to say for certain. Regardless, that’s how it was noted in the official decision.)

So we are not blocked to build the house as it is, providing we remove the parking pad and plan to provide soft landscaping across 75% of the front of the yard.

However…

She also made clear that the city will tolerate no shenanigans. If we go ahead with no parking pad and no legal parking, cars parked on the existing driveway in front of our house would be ticketed, our curb-cut across the sidewalk would be raised to normal height and cars could park in front of it.

She indicated that they prefer we do this because every parking space added back to the street “adds parking for 4 or 5 other people and is for the greater good.” (I don’t see how this can be true but she seemed quite adamant on this point.)

We’re not sure if the city is just talking tough on this issue with no intention of enforcing the bylaws, but it’s got us thinking very seriously about finding a new layout for the house; One that includes enough room for a legal parking space. We’re discussing our options with the architect and hope to come to a decision reasonably soon.

Posted by Colin
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Committee of Adjustments meeting

May 23rd, 2007

Today was the big day for obtaining our variances. There were about 30 people presenting their cases to the committee, and we were the 2nd variance in the first group (the group with no really complicated variance requests).

The committee first asks if anyone is present to speak against the project, and if they are, both groups are asked to step outside and first try to come to some agreement about the situation (even if they’ve tried before).

No one was present to contest our variances, so we were offered our 5 minutes to present any information we felt the committee should know (there’s even a big clock on the wall). We just gave a quick overview of the project (which was probably also unnecessary as all this information was already submitted with the application). They quickly voted to approve, with the small stipulation that we obtain pad parking since we would not have “a legal parking space behind the front wall of our house.” Since we were planning on getting a pad-parking permit anyway we claimed victory! The whole process took under 5 minutes (not including the months of waiting to see the committee).

However…

Upon returning home and contacting the Off-street Parking Office, we discovered we are not eligible for pad-parking because permit parking is available on our street (by-law 918).

So: the city won’t let us put a car on an existing driveway on our property because it’s possible for us to get a permit to cram the car onto the overcrowded street where it will be available for small children to dart out from, get in the way of snow plows, etc.

Adding to the frustration is that bylaw 918 only went into effect on April 16. If we had gone through this process a few months earlier (as was initially planned) we’d be all set. Apparently this crack-down on pad-parking permits comes and goes every few years, and we just missed the window.

We do have the option of appealing the Off-Street Parking Office’s decision. However, we’d have to pay $285 to apply (and be instantly rejected) and then file an appeal for $685. The appeal process is lengthy and at the last meeting most appeals were rejected. (I should mention that the folks at the Off-Street Parking Office were really nice and understanding about our situation, though their mandate from the city clearly doesn’t offer them much wiggle room.)

Alex believes that the councilor who made the pad-parking stipulation may not have known about bylaw 918, and may be happy with the de facto equivalent: that we get a street parking permit. We’ll need to make another trip to the permit office to find out.

Posted by Colin
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Paperwork received at Urban Forestry Service

May 18th, 2007

Yesterday I called the Urban Forestry Service to check on the status of the application to remove the unhealthy tree next door.

The inspector at our local UFS office called today to let me know that the paperwork was only marked as received by their central office today (though it was dropped off on Monday). It will now be forwarded (via letter mail) to the local office and someone will come by next week to inspect the tree.

Once again I should mention that you should count on ‘the system’ to take longer than you might expect to do everything it needs to do. I don’t mean this as a dig towards the government agencies that regulate all the different aspects of a construction project, only that you should remember to allot sufficient time for each group to complete the due diligence required by their mandate.

In speaking with the inspector today we also found out that even though our neighbours authorized the arborist to manage this process with the city, they will still need to sign the final paperwork authorizing the removal of their tree. We had hoped our build would be of as little inconvenience to them as possible, but it looks like we’ll have to impose a little more paperwork on them yet.

(Sorry guys!)

There is also some good news as far as the timeline goes though: In the case where one is applying to remove a tree that the city considers to be unhealthy, there is no 2-week public appeal process. It makes sense now that I think about it: there’s no reason to preserve a tree that is dying and therefore could fall, no matter who would like to see it stay.

Posted by Colin
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Sign of the times

May 12th, 2007

You know you’re really getting close to getting your project underway when the city gives you a sign to post! Woo hoo!

Our notice to the neighbourhood of our intent to build (and request ‘minor variances’) is up in our front window, and we will (hopefully) clear our last hurdle with the city on May 23rd! Right around this time we should have our Urban Forestry Service clearance, and we can proceed with applying for our building permit.

I was so excited about the sign being up that I took a photo, but sadly both my media card reader AND the cable for the camera have gone missing. I’ll try to update this post with the photo a little later.

Posted by Colin
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Committee of Adjustments mailing

May 11th, 2007

We received a notice from the city telling us about our meeting with the Committee of Adjustments on the 23rd. It included a slightly different description for one of our variances however, but hopefully that won’t affect our letters of support.

They describe the section of our house that exceeds the 17m boundary as being in violation not because of the length of the house (as we thought) but because the section that exceeds the 17m boundary must be 7.5m away from the sideyards. This means we would have to be on a lot at least 15m wide to have a section this far back (at which point the structure could be the width of a hair).

But presumably this amounts to the same thing: on a property of our width we are slightly over the length limit, regardless if whether it’s because the house is a little long, or just that the rear portion of the house is too close to the sideyards.

[Update: It seems all our neighbours received the same mailing. I guess the city must send out notice to all other homes in the vicinity when one is going to apply for a variance with the committee of adjustments.]

Posted by Colin
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Further delay in contractor tender

May 9th, 2007

We’ll be waiting a little bit longer to get the most important question about this project answered: what will it cost? More than anything else, this will inform us about our ability to actually proceed with the build.

Unfortunately, at this time of the year everyone involved in the building trade is insanely busy, so it’s been difficult for the general contractors to get numbers from their trades & suppliers.

As such, the date for return of the bids has been moved to May 20th.  You might think it would have been worthwhile to start the bidding process earlier, but there is then an added problem for
the general-contractor: what if prices change between the time the bid is submitted, and the time the work is ready to be done.

Quotes are often only good for 30 days but because of our timeline with the committee of adjustments (when the documents were initially drawn up) we had to ask that they be good for 60 days. With luck, perhaps we’ll have actually broken grown by June 19 after all.

Posted by Colin
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Replacement tree options

May 8th, 2007

The city of Coeur D’Alene in Idaho has a great reference guide to trees suitable for urban settings. I’m not sure if all these trees would be approved by Toronto’s Urban Forestry Service (though it would be nice if they offered a similar guide for Toronto).

One of the ‘front runner’ candidates we are looking at planting (as suggested by my Mom) is a Crimean Linden tree. They apparently grow very quickly (great for carbon sequestration), grow to a size of 60′ high and 30′ wide, and (are rumoured to) naturally repel mosquitoes. Sounds like a great backyard tree, to me!

Posted by Colin
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Committee of Adjustments documentation

May 7th, 2007

As I think I have previously mentioned, we’ll be applying for a few ‘minor variances’ to Toronto’s building by-laws. These are:

  1. A by-law requiring new construction to provide a parking space “behind the front wall of the house.” Because we’re building a very high-efficiency, clean/green house, we’d rather not have a garage inside the structure. Our plan is to just continue using the current driveway area in front of the house as we do now, but a variance is still required if we do not want to add a garage, side-carport, etc.
  2. City by-laws suggest that the “gross floor area” of the floors of a new home be no more than 60% of the lot size but allow for ‘minor variances’ up to 100% of the lot. Our house will be 27.2 sq.m (293 sq.ft) over the 60% limit. 204 sq. ft. of this is caused by a 1-storey extension we wanted to add to the back of the house at the last minute (a kind of indoor / outdoor room that is insulated but not heated).
  3. City by-laws suggest a house should extend no more than 17m (56′) behind “the average of the fronts of the two neighbouring properties.” Because of the 1-storey indoor-outdoor room (which is 3.7m deep), our new house would wind up being too deep by 1.93m (a little over 6′). Of these 6 feet, 4 feet are the result of not starting the house as far forward as the city would like. The house will only be 58′ long, but it starts 4′ behind “the average of the fronts of the two neighbouring properties” (in line with the house to the south of us). This helps us receive more passive-solar heating from the sun in the back portion of the house. We’re still not sure if this addition will be built at this time, but it seems worthwhile to get the variance for it now.

Last week I submitted some additional documentation for our file at the Committee of Adjustments. This included:

  • survey of the land, including trees
  • photos of the neighbourhood showing our house in relation to its neighbours, up, down and across the street.
  • letters of support from our neighbours next door, across the street and behind us. (Actually the letter from our backyard-neighbours just arrived yesterday so I’ll be dropping that off today.)

So we now have ‘letters of support‘ (pdf) from our neighbours on all four sides of our property, which is great! They have all, thus far, been really helpful and enthusiastic about our plans to build. (Hopefully that enthusiasm holds through a few months of hammering. )

Posted by Colin
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