CanadaLot severance requests divide neighbours in Long Branch

15:25  02 may  2019
15:25  02 may  2019 Source:   thestar.com

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Vibrant Long Branch activist David Matoc says his is less an association than a collection of about 100 people who signed a petition against a document called the Long Branch Neighbourhood Over the course of the last seven years, only 12 severances per year have been approved in Long Branch .

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Lot severance requests divide neighbours in Long Branch © Nick Kozak Robert Thompson wants to tear down his leaky bungalow in order to divide his lot and build two homes. His request is currently before the Toronto Local Appeal Body.

Rob Thompson’s 1939 bungalow has a sweet, cottagey facade befitting its position across the street from Lake Ontario. You can’t see the water from his west-end window but the houses across the road — mostly newer and bigger with a few veering to mansion-like proportions — have the lake in their backyards and are fronted by large, leafy trees.

The 1,000-square-foot interior of his house is just the right size for its single occupant, Thompson says. But the home’s comfort is fading. The front steps need replacing, cold air seeps through the windows and there are boards tacked to the dining room ceiling to prevent its collapse under a roof that has been leaking since 2016 after a windstorm blew away the shingles.

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The fix doesn’t entirely mask the spreading damp. It was designed to be temporary, to keep the place habitable while Thompson rebuilds — something many of his Long Branch neighbours have done.

“I’m not ashamed of the fact that I have the worst house on Lake Promenade. This house needs a lot of money to make it right, which is not going to happen. This house is going to get torn down if it doesn’t fall down,” Thompson says.

Instead of building one new house Thompson, an engineer, wants to sever his 150-foot deep lot and replace the little old house with two taller, modern homes. He would live in one and sell the other.

But that won’t happen any time soon. After more than two years and about $80,000 for legal, architectural and planning experts — even a private arborist — Thompson’s application to divide his property and rebuild remains unresolved.

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Severance pay is an amount of money that an employer agrees to pay an employee upon termination. Generally, an employer does not have to offer severance . However, if you have been terminated, then you should ask for it.

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“I’m not going to be building this year whatever happens,” he says.

He stands on one side of the lot-splitting issue that has divided the Long Branch community.

He is part of a loose-knit group of residents called Vibrant Long Branch. They argue that outdated zoning restrictions and neighbourhood opposition are subverting their property rights and thwarting intensification at a time when the city and province are trying to house more people in neighbourhoods served by higher order transit, such as the streetcars and GO trains that stop in Long Branch.

On the other side, backed by Councillor Mark Grimes, is the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association. It is fighting the redevelopment of residential lots saying it threatens their community’s character and trees.

Grimes (Ward 3, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) refused interview requests from the Star but in a statement cited “intense development pressure” in the community.

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Thompson, who moved there in 1997, calls his location “the best little block on the street.”

“Everybody who goes by to the (Colonel Samuel Smith) park goes by my house,” he says. “Long Branch’s charm and character is the goofy irregularity of what is here. You’ve got all these trees, lake, parks.”

Vibrant Long Branch activist David Matoc says his is less an association than a collection of about 100 people who signed a petition against a document called the Long Branch Neighbourhood Character Guidelines adopted by city council in January 2018. It prescribes the frontages, building heights, setbacks and heritage concerns for the neighbourhood. He believes the guidelines were developed to stop lot severances.

“Long Branch has about 5,000 properties. Over the course of the last seven years, only 12 severances per year have been approved in Long Branch. Before 2012, severances were relatively rare. Yet large developers have recently easily received approval for over 1,000 stacked townhouse units on Lakeshore Blvd.,” he said.

Long Branch is the only community that has such guidelines, according to the city. A pilot for Willowdale — another area that sees an unusually high number of severences applications because of its bigger lot sizes — has been approved by council but hasn’t been launched.

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In his fall/winter 2015 newsletter to constituents, Grimes welcomed the idea of guidelines as “a tactic that has been used in other areas of the city and I believe it will go a long way toward ensuring any future developments are in keeping with our vision for the community.”

Matoc says it is not his vision. Driving through the neighbourhood, he points out the diverse types of housing there. Many homes date back to the 1920s and ’30s. In some places, duplexes, triplexes and small apartment buildings rub shoulders with detached houses. It is easy to identify the lots that have been split and redeveloped. It is also an area subject to residential detached and residential mixed zoning.

“What’s better — one huge home or two 2,000-square-foot homes? Surely a lot split on a large property is a fairly benign form of intensification,” Matoc says.

Christine Mercado of the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association would not comment on Thompson’s case or any of the 11 cases in the neighbourhood now before the Toronto Local Appeal Body, which has replaced the Ontario Municipal Board for land-use appeals.

“We won’t be getting any rulings before the end of July I expect. I can confirm that we are continuing in assisting residents in participating in the Toronto Local Appeals Body (TLAB) process,” she said.

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TLAB is the appeal body for applications rejected by the city’s Committee of Adjustment. Thompson’s application is at that stage.

But in a previous interview with the Star, Mercado stressed that the city has designated areas for intensification mostly near busier avenues. She also said that despite all its old trees Long Branch hasn’t met the city’s 40 per cent tree canopy target.

“When you talk about maintaining a 40 per cent (canopy), you can’t do that by planting new trees. You have to retain what you’ve got. Our canopy has actually declined,” she said, citing the emerald ash borer infestation, ice storms and booming development.

Matoc says Long Branch’s population overall has remained about the same since 1955. Though it’s difficult to calculate given Statistics Canada’s changing boundaries over the years, he says Census figures show that Toronto’s population grew by 75 per cent between 1966 and 2016, but Long Branch’s population, which peaked at about 13,000 in 1966, has actually fallen by 22 per cent.

“The bylaws for the neighbourhood were written in 1964 and haven’t changed. (They) are reflective of what the needs were in 1964,” he said.

Thompson applied for variances to sever his lot and rebuild two homes in March 2017 at the city’s Committee of Adjustment. In February 2018, the committee rejected his plan — even though he modified the design slightly in an effort to overcome neighbours’ objections.

Testimony from assistant city planner Olivia Antonel documents 16 variances that were refused by the committee, ranging from the undersized nature of the new lots that would each be 7.63 metres under his proposal, compared to the 12 metres prescribed by the zoning bylaw, to the permitted 7-metre exterior main walls that Thompson says need to be 7.69 metres. Reversed sloped driveways are not allowed so garages need to be built at ground level.

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After reviewing the proposal and visiting the site, Antonel concluded that there is redevelopment potential on the lot but it should retain its 15.26-metre frontage — in other words, there should be only one house.

“The proposed development would alter the look and feel of the established streetscape in this area and would create an undesirable condition,” she said.

As soon as the committee rejected his application, Thompson filed a TLAB appeal. The process was supposed to take 120 calendar days. Instead, his first hearing was scheduled for September.

“That’s seven months. By now the 2018 building season is gone,” he says.

Two more hearings were scheduled in January 2019.

“We blew through both of those hearing dates,” Thompson says. Each one cost him thousands of dollars so his private planner, arborist and lawyer could be there. His neighbour came to give evidence.

The arborist Thompson hired reported that the development plan would require the city to permit the injury of two of 11 privately owned, permit-sized trees on the property and one city-owned tree. Both the privately owned Siberian elms — considered to be an invasive species — were expected to survive. The city-owned tree, a silver maple near the curb, has “no potential for long-term survival,” said the report from Tree and Ravine Inc. of Mississauga.

Since he applied to the city, there have been two major changes to the regulatory environment — the neighbourhood character guidelines and Official Plan Amendment 320 has been approved. That amendment, which came into effect this year, essentially dictates that new developments must conform to the prevailing character of the interior of a neighbourhood. Thompson describes it as freezing the neighbourhood in time.

Although the city, which is opposing his development application, requested the character guidelines and official plan amendment be admitted for consideration, it says those rules should not be “determinative.”

Last Tuesday, Thompson says he received notice the TLAB will use the new regulations to determine his appeal’s outcome.

If that ruling stands, Thompson says his application is sunk.

He is appealing, insisting a civic body can’t change the rules in the middle of the game. He and his lawyer have until fall to prepare an argument but Thompson says it is wrong that he has to pay to determine the parameters under which TLAB operates.

“We’re on hold until September. I won’t have a decision until October. That would be about 19 months of time between my application to TLAB and a decision. They promised four months,” he says.

Thompson says he doesn’t know what he’ll do if his appeal is rejected.

“I’m not going to replace this little dollhouse with another dollhouse to satisfy the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association or anyone else,” he says.

But he is committed to keeping his fight civil. “I was cognizant this was going to be controversial. I’ve seen this stuff with redevelopments and people get entrenched. Before I even started filling out forms I told myself these people are my neighbours, I’m going to be polite, civilized, stick to the facts and we’ll still be neighbours when it’s over,” he says.

“The losers here,” Thompson says, “are the people who can’t find a place to live in Toronto.”

Tess Kalinowski is a Toronto-based reporter covering real estate. Follow her on Twitter: @tesskalinowski

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