In June, City Planning staff began conducting virtual Committee of Adjustment (CoA) hearings for the first time since March, when all in-person meetings were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I have since heard from residents across Ward 15 – including Leaside – about various public participation issues resulting from the new, virtual format. In addition to reducing the timeframe that neighbours are given to submit written comments, technical problems have prevented many residents from verbally sharing feedback with the Committee during hearings.
In some cases, neighbours have reported receiving their Public Notices in the mail only one or two days before the new comment submission deadline. This situation leaves our community with very little time to review the requested variances and complex site plans, determine how the proposal might impact their property or neighbourhood, ask questions of City staff and the applicant, and compile the resulting feedback into a written submission.
At the December City Council meeting, I tabled a series of recommendations to address the many issues with virtual CoA hearings. The recommendations include: moving the comment submission deadline closer to the hearing date so the community has ample time to review plans and write letters, ensuring that Public Notices are delivered well in advance of the hearing date, and implementing a standardized protocol to address audio-visual issues so residents can reliably speak before the Committee.
This motion was informed by the feedback I have received about virtual CoA hearings from community organizations across Don Valley West, including our very own Leaside Residents Association (LRA). Community engagement has always been central to my approach at City Hall – no one knows our neighbourhoods and local issues better than you do.
Throughout my tenure as a City Councillor, I have fought to make the CoA process more transparent and accessible for residents. While the system is far from perfect, we’ve made significant strides toward these goals, including live-streaming CoA meetings on YouTube, assigning dedicated staff to review minor variance applications, improving Public Notices, and harmonizing hearing practices across the four City districts.
There is no doubt that virtual meetings will remain a part of our lives for the foreseeable future, but this is not an acceptable reason to sacrifice public engagement in City processes. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many employment sectors have successfully shifted their operations onto virtual platforms – there is no reason the CoA cannot do the same while also maintaining public participation.
I look forward to advancing this strategy with the Chief Planner in the New Year. If you have any feedback about how we can improve virtual CoA hearings, please do not hesitate to contact my office by phone at 416-395-6408 or by email at email@example.com.