It’s not necessarily your decision!
As a recent participant in a Committee of Adjustment hearing, I was reminded of how important it is to take your short and long term needs into consideration when buying a home.
I witnessed a family being declined approval to put on a small addition with several neighbours in opposition. The hearing made pretty good material for reality television, and I don’t imagine they’ll be having any street parties soon.
There were many other home owners who didn’t have opponents yet they were still were declined because their plans imposed one kind of variance or another.
Here are some things to consider to save you time, money and heartbreak…
1. Find out if you need to go to the Committee of Adjustments.
Before you buy…
While no one can guarantee the outcome, a good architect can tell you if your wish list will require Committee of Adjustment approval or if it falls within standard building permits. Beware of the contractor who says ‘no problem’.
When looking for an architect or designer, find someone with experience in committee applications who has fought and won for their designs. Many come up with incredible ideas that may never have a chance of being approved.
When you submit your plans for a building permit, they will advise if you need to do a Preliminary Project Review, the step prior to a Committee application.
2. Talk to your neighbours.
Sneaking past them won’t work…they will get a letter detailing your plans and an open invitation to voice their opposition at a hearing! The most effective thing to do is to write up a petition in support of your plans with signatures and addresses.
If you find neighbours who oppose your plans, be as open as possible – show them your plans, find out what their exact concerns are and get creative as to how you can resolve them. For example, if you are extending a structure that will affect their view, you might consider offering to do some landscaping to make it a pleasant change rather just a brick wall in their face.
One thing I learned is that although the board is very understanding of people who are nervous, they have little tolerance for those who are unprepared.
If your plans are complex, it may be best to have your designer or architect represent you in the hearing. Especially if you’ll have to defend your plans against opponents.
If they are relatively simple, make sure you understand what variances you are affecting and the history of your street. For example, a homeowner who wants to put an addition on the back will have a stronger case if they can list the addrress of neighbours who have already done so.
4. Don’t do anything ugly 🙂
Common sense prevails here. If you are proposing a castle-style stone monolith with 5-car parking in a sea of board and batten homes then chances are, your neighbours are not going to be all that supportive. Consider what your neighbours on all sides are going to be looking at. Your view might be great but if they are suddenly looking at a 2-storey wall instead of trees you might want to revise your design.
5. Go Metric
We learned this the hard way. After finally getting every single element of our plans together, and several trips to city hall later, we proudly put forward our application to the committee only to be told that they had just hired a new manager who decided to enforce the requirement to have all measurements in metric.
A few swear words later, I called our designer right then and there and he did not believe me. They just started enforcing it the day before we submitted our application after decades of accepting imperial. Back to the drawing board.
Try to come up with plans that do not trigger a trip to the Committee of Adjustments, for if your intentions cause major variances to by-laws and building regulations, you’ll be spending a lot of time and money for no reason.
If your plans do take you there, make sure you give yourself at least four to five months prior to when you want to start construction!
For more information, check out www.toronto.ca/building/building_permits.htm