Browsing Topic: Permits

Plans in hand!

May 28th, 2008

I picked up the final plans from the Architect this afternoon and signed over a final cheque for their services. We started our contract with them as a variable rate with the cost of the project, but with the plan to switch to a fixed-rate contract somewhere along the way.

Since we decided not to have the architect oversee construction (our Project Manager is an architect himself and we decided it would be a duplication of effort to have them both overseeing the project) it made sense to close the contract with them at this stage. We may still bring them in (just paid on an hourly basis) to look at the project if we encounter any unforeseen issues.

After leaving the architect’s offices, I tried to submit them to the city today, but ran out of time.

I arrived at the City Planning office shortly after 3pm and the appointment sign-up book was already removed from the counter; There were more people signed up than they felt they could see by the time they closed at 4:30pm.

But if I chose to wait, I was second in line for a ‘stand by’ appointment. My patience paid off.

While there wasn’t enough time to complete an application when I was seen at 4:20pm, but the clerk there reviewed what I had brought. He provided me with the 4 forms for the demolition permit and 5 forms for construction and mechanical permit that I had not brought with me. I also only had 2 copies of the site survey, but needed 4 (2 for construction, 2 for demolition).

AND, I didn’t have additional copies of the tree-removal permit or the Final Binding Decision from our visit to the Committee of Adjustments in 2007.

I completed most of the forms this evening, but the Plumbing form was fairly confusing. I completed it about 3/4 of it based on what I could discern from the plans and with some feedback from the Project Manager. I hope to ask for a little more guidance from the city clerk when I submit the plans tomorrow.

Posted by Colin

Minimal building standards

July 25th, 2007

Because of our restricted budget on this project, we plan on completing a lot of the work on our own. As such what we want the builder to complete is different from what most people would want (i.e., a finished home).

We consulted with the city’s building inspector for our area to find out what minimal building standards existed and found the following:

  • All floors must, at minimum, be 5/8″ tongue & groove plywood. No other flooring is required, in general (see below).
  • At least one bathroom must be completed with a functional toilet, sink and shower. The floor cannot be just subflooring, and must be waterproof (e.g., tile). Other bathrooms in the house can just be left at the rough-in stage.
  • The city does not actually issue an occupancy permit for single-family dwellings. They will not stop you from moving in any time. However, we do need to check with our insurance company as they may not cover us if we are living in a partially completed house.
  • He will want to meet with us to review the building plan before we begin, but after we get our construction permit from the city.

NOTE: I am not a lawyer. This is just my interpretation of what I was told. If you need the answers to these types of questions for your own project, you should definitely ask the question of your own local inspector.

I should also emphasize that while we are trying to some degree to meet minimal code requirements, this is only for what needs to be completed not how it should be completed. Those items that we are completing should significantly surpass building code standards.

Posted by Colin

Revising tree removal documents

July 19th, 2007

Because of the complex arrangement we have regarding our neighour’s tree, Toronto’s Urban Forestry Service had to write up a legal agreement between the three of us (the city, us, and our neighbour) describing what would be happening with the tree.

After a couple of attempts at correcting the language to reflect the situation, the documents were still coming back from the UFS without an accurate description of the agreement. (In short: we will remove a tree from our neighbour’s lawn and put the replacement tree on our lawn, and be responsible for it. That wasn’t so hard, was it?)

In the end I wound up rewriting the agreement myself, using all the legalese I could muster. Hopefully this will be good enough.

Posted by Colin

Revising architectural plans

June 9th, 2007

Today we met with the Joanne at her office in Hamilton, along with Alex and a prospective contractor.

The purpose of the meeting was to try to identify the portions of the house which were causing it to be so expensive. We made some good progress and identified the following items:

  • The ‘c’ shape of the house introduces 4 additional corners to the foundation. It would be cheaper/easier to build a rectangular foundation. This means our ‘cold room’ would be inside the foundation, but if it is well insulated from the house interior and unheated, it should provide us with nearly the same effect.
  • The stairs to the basement are quite expensive and could be added at a future date.
  • According to the energy modeling team, the radiant floors on the ground floor and 2nd floor are excessive for our needs. The house’s structure is going to be so efficient, that it simply isn’t going to take much heat to keep the house comfortably. It’s felt this amount of heat can be easily distributed through the ventilation system. Radiant floors should apparently still be used in the basement because, as Alex pointed out: we’re pouring concrete anyway. It’s hardly any extra work to put the tubing down before we do that.
  • Move Stacey’s writing garret inside the roof of the house.
  • And other smaller changes.

That last point is the hardest one on the list. We think that part ads a lot of character to the house and we’ll be quite sad if it has to go to appease the budget gods. Alex is working on an analysis of what savings we might find from each of the features taken away from the house and we’ll make our choices once we know what we’re saving for each item we’re giving up.

We still haven’t settled on a solution to resolve our parking dilemma, but have mentioned the issue to our neighbours to see if they would be interested in creating a shared laneway to the back yard for parking to be set up there. The other option we’re exploring is narrowing the ground floor to leave enough space for a full parking space at the side of the house.

There is a major difference between these approaches as the former only requires 2.2m of space between the houses, whereas the side-parking requires 2.6m of space between our house and the property line. It also leaves the 2nd floor overhanging the first floor. (I can’t say we really understand why the city wants us to make one of these choices instead of just parking in front of our house as we, and as many others on our street, do now.)

Posted by Colin

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.


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

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).


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

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

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

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

Trees near the construction site

March 15th, 2007

Growing out of the front of the foundation of our house, at an angle of 45 degrees, is a tree. We always knew that tree could not be saved when the new house was built, but we have plans to plant a new tree further to the front of the property when the house is completed.

But it turns out, you can’t just take down a tree if it’s in the way. Any tree with a diameter of more than 30cm (measured 1.4m from the ground) is protected by Toronto’s Urban Forestry Service whether it is on public or private property. In our case this tree is just shy of 30cm, but if it weren’t we would have to apply to the city for a review (at a cost of $200) to decide whether it can be removed.

As with property demolition, there is a 14-day public notice period where the public can object to the removal of a tree. In some cases that can be followed up by a 90-day review period while city council decides the matter (but my impression is this doesn’t apply to most situations).

There is a second tree that is next door to us and it’s close enough that the city has asked for a formal Arborist’s report to determine what impact construction will have on it. There are many things that may need to be done, including erecting a fence around it for protection (though in our case there is a fence between the properties and the canopy is so high as to be pointless).

The city of Toronto requires that the Arborist who prepares the report be certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) or registered with the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA).

We’re hoping to have the report back from the Arborist as soon as possible so it does not interfere with our permit application. If you have any trees within 6m of your construction site, you would be well advised to find out if they will be at risk and start planning around them early.

Posted by Colin