Many residents have experienced receiving a notice from the Committee of Adjustment that a nearby house is being renovated or torn down, with new construction proposed that doesn’t quite meet the Zoning By-law requirements, and the owners are asking for “minor variances.” Some of the most common variances are:
- Excess building height
- Excess height of exterior main walls
- Reduced setbacks, particularly side yard setbacks
- Excess lot coverage (i.e. footprint of all buildings)
- Excess floor space index (i.e. density)
- Non-conforming deck size or height
In certain cases, these notices are for lot severances.
As we’ve all seen, some variances are not “minor” but have significant effects, often negative, on immediate neighbours and the streetscape. So, what can you, as a local resident, do? We’ve prepared some guidelines to help you figure that out.
As a residents association, we routinely depute at Committee of Adjustment opposing variance requests that we believe are not minor or are not in the neighbourhood’s best interests, as well as certain lot severance requests. However, input from neighbours is crucial. If you receive a notice, you are advised to review the notice carefully and consider the implications for your property and the neighbourhood. If you have concerns, we would encourage you to:
1. Write to the CofA with your concerns;
2. Attend and speak at the hearing if at all possible;
3. Contact the Councillor and ask them to support your concerns;
4. Contact your neighbours to discuss their concerns, if any;
5. If the owner/agent contacts you about the application, consider carefully before signing a letter of support or a letter of non-opposition;
6. Let us (i.e. your residents association) know your viewpoint and what your concerns are, as we write and attend hearings where an application is deemed to have a negative impact on neighbourhood character or is otherwise undesirable, and there is community opposition.
Please feel free to contact us with questions or if you want advice or want us to review letters. We attempt to notify residents who are located near properties going to the Committee of Adjustment, and especially residents who live just outside the limited 50-metre City notification zone. (Subscribing to the LRA email list will help with that.)
Committee of Adjustment Mandate
Minor variances must satisfy the four “tests” set out in section 45(1) of the Planning Act.
- Must maintain the intent and purpose of the Official Plan whose policies are directed to ensuring that new development in a neighbourhood respects the existing physical character of that neighbourhood.
Objection example: The proposed dwelling is not within the physical parameters of other residential development comprising the character of the neighbourhood;
- Must respect the intent and purpose of the zoning by-law (City By-law 569-2013 and Leaside By-law No.1916), wherein restrictions on setbacks, building and wall heights, floor space and integral garage provisions ensure that the massing of new development is appropriately scaled to other existing development.
Objection example: The proposed dwelling exceeds a size that is consistent with other homes on (your street);
- Must be “minor”:
Objection example: Negative impacts of the proposed dwelling are significant;
- The variances must be desirable for the appropriate development of the property:
Objection example: The proposal represents significant “massification” not necessarily intensification of the housing stock. It is neither consistent with the prevailing character and policies of the community nor reinforces the stability of the Leaside Community.
- Conform to the policies of the Official Plan;
- Demonstrate the suitability of the land for the purposes for which it is to be subdivided; and
- Demonstrate the suitability of the dimensions and shapes of the proposed lots.
The Committee of Adjustment meets during the day on alternating weeks, usually on Thursdays, though recently sometimes on Wednesdays as well. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, these have been held virtually. In-person hearings are held at the North York Civic Centre Council Chambers at 5100 Yonge Street. Paid parking is available on Beecroft Ave. For subway, use North York Centre station (line 1).
The schedules and agendas are available on the City of Toronto website.
Hearings commence at 9:30am and/or at 2:00pm. The items are listed in order, but they are first divided into two (“triage”) based on opposition being present or not. The Chair goes through the agenda for the respective session (9:30am or 2:00pm) and asks whether there is anybody there in opposition. Applications where there is NO opposition are dealt with first. The ones where IS opposition are dealt with afterwards. So if you are not there at 9:30am or 2:00pm as appropriate for your item and there is no one else present to oppose, the Chair will assume that there is no opposition present for that item and will proceed on that basis. (The LRA is on record as opposing this “triage’ process as being unfair to the residents who attend. However, it is the current procedure.)
If in person:
- Sit in the North York Civic Centre council chamber until the item is called.
- When it is called, move forward (using the right hand stairs). Those who plan to speak should go forward to sit at the table on the right side. Those who do not plan to speak should also go forward and sit in the row behind.
- Speakers speak from the podium at the left of the floor.
- There is an overhead projector for showing photographs. Use of photographs helps to explain the nature and character of the streetscape.
The procedure for the hearing is as follows:
- The applicant or agent describes the request; the Committee can ask questions.
- Other stakeholders (neighbours, residents asocations, etc.) describe their concerns (maximum of 5 minutes per person, trying not to duplicate the points made by others).
- The Committee can ask questions but this is the only opportunity for the neighbours to raise concerns – they do not get a second chance
- The applicant or agent speaks to the concerns raised.
- The Committee discusses, a motion is made, seconded, and voted on.
You can receive a mailed copy of the Committee’s decision by taking and completing a card at the hearing. The applicant and all persons making a written request will be notified in writing of the Committee’s decision within 10 days of the decision being made.
The Committee’s decision can be appealed to the Toronto Local Appeal Body (TLAB) within 20 days (cost of $300), either by the applicant (for a negative decision) or by a resident or residents association (for a positive decision). The City sends the package to the TLAB, copying those who requested to be kept informed of events. The TLAB will notify about the time and place of the hearing and any intermediate deadlines.
- The street/neighbourhood context of the application is of course very important and it is advantageous to bring photographs and illustrate your comments by pointing to the photographs – they have an overhead projector that works well with printed images.
- The hearing is a tribunal that hears evidence and makes a decision. It is important to be respectful to the members of the Committee.
- The Committee is concerned only with “planning matters”, i.e. not with any personal concerns that you may have about the applicant or their behaviour. In addition, do not raise issues such as property values.
- Notwithstanding the above, residents may wish to make comments about broader environmental and/or social matters such as impacts on trees, ravines, flooding etc.
- Letters to the Committee of Adjustment should be submitted via email prior to the hearing (we recommend a minimum of a full day before).
- Attending and speaking at the hearing is important, as the Committee seems to pay more attention to those who make the effort to appear in person, rather than those who just write letters. If a number of neighbours are objecting, it is suggested that you choose several speakers who will speak to different aspects of the proposal. Try not to repeat each other.
Advice to Applicants
Applicants and their agents who are considering minor variances for properties in Leaside should consult the LRA’s Residential Character Preservation Guidelines, prior to preparing plans and/or requesting variances. Updated in 2020, these Guidelines set out best practices for house renovations, additions, and in-fill development in Leaside.
Although the LRA considers each application on a case-by-case basis and is guided strongly by community voices, the LRA will, as a general rule, not oppose (and may in fact support) applications for minor variances that conform to the spirit of these Guidelines.