It is one thing to contemplate proposed changes in our community, to argue, to organize, to attend hearings, to raise concerns, to write to the Committee of Adjustment, to write to Urban Forestry, to write to our City Councillor; it is quite another to see the neighbourhood under construction, to see those changes coming to life.
The first address to be affected on the lower part of the street was 2 Twenty Seventh. The Consent to Sever was approved by the Committee of Adjustment. I appealed this decision to the Ontario Municipal Board with the support of a group of neighbours, but the decision was upheld. Since that time, contractors destroyed half a dozen mature trees on the property by excavating very close to the trees. One of the trees was left tottering, and the residents to the south were asked to leave their home until the top of the tree was lopped off, reducing the hazard. We have been told the owner of the property has been charged for destroying the trees, but we do not know if the case has been to court yet. This is particularly frustrating to the community, as we heard at the OMB hearing how the trees would be protected, and parts of the foundations of the new homes would be on piers to avoid harming trees that required protection.
Now the structures are up. The typical designs for these severed pairs have a ground floor garage with two stories on top. They add considerable height and depth. I feel bad for the folks who live on Lake Prominade just to the south of this address. They used to see a modest bungalow through a screen of spruce trees out back. Now there is a huge solid wall with no trees.
A builder has since bought two properties just to the north of 2 – the homes at 4 and 6 Twenty Seventh. At 6, they have successfully applied to build an over-sized bungalow. Although the home to be built there will be significantly bigger than the existing bungalow, it is a single family home, rather than a severance, and that adds some stability to the street. There was no appeal the OMB on this application.
Urban Forestry has allowed this builder to remove trees from the property. You can see the remains of them in the front yard. The builder has torn out all the smaller trees and shrubs in both the front and back yards to prepare for construction. A temporary fence has been erected around the property and we understand the modest bungalow that was there will be torn down very soon.
Next door to the south at 4 Twenty Seventh, the builder applied to sever the property. The severance was denied by the Committee of Adjustment. The builder appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board, and though a group of neighbours opposed this application at the hearing and voiced our concerns at that hearing, the Adjudicator chose to overturn the City’s decision and grant the severance. He did not share the concerns of the neighbours that having two severances next to one another – and 4 oversized tall and narrow homes side by side by side by side, where previously there were two small bungalows – was a planning concern for the community.
Next door to our home, to the south, the property has been bought by someone who initially wanted to sever the property but has since decided to build a single family dwelling. The new home will be considerably bigger than the existing modest bungalow but it will be one home and not a severance and will be a stabilizing influence on our part of the street. This builder wants to run a driveway all the way to the back of the property and put in a garage a the back. He is challenged by the existence of a row of spruce trees on our property, which he has to protect. He’s told us he has proposed to Forestry that he build the garage on piers so as to not excessively harm the roots of our trees, and will create a porous drive that does not require excavation to protect the other trees on our property, including the massive Norway spruce that fronts our row of spruces. We have received an initial letter from Forestry but we have not yet been advised of any decision. The builder has also applied to Forestry to remove a spruce and a larch from the front yard of his property.
Change is coming swiftly to our street. I think we can reasonably expect our neighbourhood to evolve. Many of the homes are from the 40s and 50s, and we’re seeing many of the owners of these homes moving on. Builders and developers have been snapping up these properties, and property values in our community have soared. Some of these homes are in need of a good deal of work to update them. It is the larger lots – many are 50 feet – that have captured the interest of builders looking to make big bucks. Turning one lot into two increases potential profits substantially.
The problem is there is no planning process to guide such sweeping change. The idea of a Committee of Adjustment representing the City and an Ontario Municipal Board handling appeals from the provincial level may have worked for the long period of stability in our neighbourhood but it doesn’t work very well when the community is under development pressure. There is simply no process to manage the broader change. Applications are made to the Committee on an ad hoc basis, and builders are fully aware that they have a good chance of success on appeal to the OMB.
Residents are faced with a process seeped in technical language. Between the Committee and the OMB, there is not even agreement on what is a minor vs major change, much less agreement on interpretation of the Official Plan. The City has become more responsive to public concerns over the past year, and in the spring, Councillor Grimes organized a public meeting, at which the anger and frustration of residents in our area was brought forth emphatically. However, at the OMB hearing for 4 Twenty Seventh, the City sent a planner who had never before actually appeared before the OMB, who was up against a planner for hire who has given evidence at numerous hearings.
I have reached the opinion that the Ontario Municipal Board cannot be relied on to protect the interests of our community. I have heard from a few people that there are City Councilors at work on a plan to take the OMB out of the piece, and replace it with a municipal appeals body of some sort. Although it is not clear to me how this would work, it has to be better than the current situation in which the OMB appears to give little weight to the decisions reached by the City’s Committee of Adjustment, and even less weight to concerns from residents.
I am also aware that our area will be the pilot area for some sort of community design code. I’m not sure just what this might look like, nor how it might affect the ability of the OMB to continue to overturn Committee of Adjustment decisions on severances.
We need to find a way to manage the future of our community that looks at the bigger picture (call this planning) and takes into account all the stakeholders. Right now the pace of change is very fast. I’ve said before that it feels as if a gold rush is on in Long Branch. Although our community is becoming better organized and we have learned how to better argue at Committee and Board hearings, it seems as if the deck is stacked against us.