If you walk through Leaside in the springtime, you will likely pass by several homes in various stages of the construction process. In some cases, these new builds deviate significantly from the prevailing form and character of the surrounding neighbourhood. A vast majority of new residential infill projects require approval from the Committee of Adjustment (COA), the citizen member board that holds public hearings on minor variance applications.
The COA is responsible for approving or refusing variances to the zoning by-law to permit the construction of new residences, additions on existing homes, and severances to divide existing lots. During a hearing, the COA will consider evidence provided by the applicant, City Planning, and local residents living in close proximity to the proposal. Unfortunately, the hearing process can be complicated and frustrating for concerned neighbours to navigate. In fact, I was inspired to run for office after experiencing first-hand how difficult it can be for residents to advocate for their neighbourhoods through the COA process.
Across the City, COA application volume has increased by 96% over the past 8 years. This year, the City received a record-setting number of minor variance applications for properties in Don Valley West, with more than 40 applications filed in Leaside alone. Since my election, I’ve worked closely with residents to oppose applications that adversely impact the surrounding neighbourhood. In Leaside, I’ve opposed 10 developments at the request of the nearby neighbours and local residents’ association.
Inspired by both my own experiences and feedback from Don Valley West residents, I’ve made planning reform a top priority throughout my tenure as a City Councillor. Beginning in my first term, I successfully moved a series of motions to make the COA more transparent and accessible for residents. As a result, local neighbours can now access application materials earlier through the City’s online Application Information Centre, and Committee hearings are now video-recorded. City Planning has assigned dedicated staff to review minor variance applications and implemented enhanced, specialized training for appointed Committee members. I’m pleased to report that North York hearings will soon be live-streamed on YouTube – a practice that has already begun in Toronto and East York.
In response to the initiatives we spearheaded as a community, City Planning has implemented several new service enhancements at the COA over the past few years, including: the implementation of a formal process to encourage dialogue with neighbours earlier in the review process, redesigned public notice signs and improved communication tools for residents, and the harmonization of hearing practices across the four city districts under the leadership of a coordinated City staff team. In addition, City Planning staff will now be hosting multiple COA information sessions each year – stay tuned for more details.
Although we have made significant progress, we still have a long way to go. As your Councillor, I will continue to advocate for much-needed improvements to the COA and would welcome additional community feedback. If you have any suggestions, please contact my office at 416-395-6408 or firstname.lastname@example.org.