Across the city, Committee of Adjustment (CoA) application volume has increased by 96 per cent over the past eight years. With almost 200 applications considered in 2020, Don Valley West is among the busiest wards in Toronto for minor variance applications. Throughout my time at City Hall, reforming and improving the CoA to give our communities a real voice in the process has remained one of my key priorities.
The CoA has the power to make important decisions that can alter the prevailing character of our neighbourhoods and have significant impacts on adjacent properties. I regularly hear from Leaside residents who are concerned that new applications – which can deviate substantially from the bylaw – may affect their access to sunlight, privacy, drainage, and tree protection.
In past Leaside Life articles, I’ve written about the work I’ve done in the Council Chambers to advocate for our communities and improve Toronto’s local planning processes. My motions have resulted in a number of important changes to the CoA, such as process improvements to encourage dialogue with neighbours earlier in the review process, redesigned public notice signs and improved communication tools for residents, and livestreamed hearings.
In June, 2020, the Committee of Adjustment began conducting virtual meetings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, many neighbours have reported that the shift to a virtual format has exacerbated existing participation issues and created new ones. In response to ongoing concerns, I tabled a series of motions in December, 2020 calling for a review of the newly implemented comment submission deadline, a strategy to ensure neighbours receive public notices well in advance of this deadline, and a real-time protocol for dealing with technical issues during hearings.
I was admittedly disappointed that City Planning’s staff report in response to my motions did not recommend any meaningful steps to address these serious public participation issues. Fortunately, a group of engaged neighbours from Divadale Drive appeared before the Planning and Housing Committee on April 22 and made impressive deputations on their outstanding concerns with the process.
As a result of our community’s advocacy, the Planning and Housing Committee made a recommendation for an independent public review – including substantial consultation – to address these issues. At the ensuing City Council meeting, I also directed City Planning staff to explore the feasibility of accepting written submissions and requests to speak at virtual CoA hearings after the respective deadlines in cases where residents do not receive their public notices in time, as well as interim strategies to improve accessibility and transparency that can be implemented in the short term.
However, I was disappointed that City Council amended the Planning and Housing Committee’s recommendation and narrowed the focus of the consultant’s assessment to the findings of the End-to-End Review of the Development Review Process undertaken by KPMG in 2019. While I would have much preferred an independent public review as requested by the neighbourhood, I look forward to the consultant’s findings and will continue collaborating with our Ward 15 communities to make the Committee of Adjustment work better for everyone.