Newmarket council on Monday faced its first test of the temporary, one-year building ban it placed on monster homes and other developments deemed inappropriate after two residents turned up to plead their cases for an exemption.
The Town of Newmarket adopted what’s known as an interim control bylaw Jan. 21, 2019, which freezes new home building on single or vacant lots and includes most larger additions to existing homes in many established and emerging neighbourhoods.
Vacant lots that may be suitable for subdivision development also fall under the ban, while building projects approved prior to Jan. 21 continue as planned.
It did this to put a pause on most new housing construction while consultants carry out a $150,000 study to identify the unique character of Newmarket’s many neighbourhoods and recommend planning policies that complement and are compatible with existing streetscapes.
But as council heard Monday from two separate residents who got caught unwittingly in the new rules, not being able to proceed with their home building plans leaves them and their families vulnerable on many fronts.
Lawyer Catherine M. Callaghan of Newmarket’s HHL Law Firm, who spoke in support of residents Peter and Bernadette May’s wish to demolish their existing home on Lydia Street and build a modest-sized bungalow in its place, said she believes interim control bylaws are not intended to outright prohibit various additions and new builds in a community.
“I know municipalities in Ontario, when such interim control bylaws are passed, include in their notice to the community an actual protocol about how to apply for exemptions, with the understanding that exemptions throughout this process would be very much the norm,” Callaghan said.
“I also note from cases I’ve skimmed that the power to enact an interim control bylaw has been aptly described as an extraordinary one, typically exercised in a situation where an unforeseen issue arises, perhaps as a response to an unwanted development or change, thus providing a breathing space for a municipality during which it can study the problem and determine the appropriate planning policy and controls.”
'Displaced at the moment'
The Mays are retired and their family has moved away. It was the couple’s intent to downsize from their former home on Lydia Street with the purchase of a smaller dwelling across the street.
A planned renovation turned out not to be feasible due to the home’s condition, so a demolition and rebuild was recommended by the project’s consulting engineers — a project banned under the current interim control bylaw.
The Mays have been living temporarily in Northern Ontario since December 2018, when their original home sold, and had hoped to start building their new, 1,900-square-foot Crossman-style bungalow by May 1 or sooner.
“All our furniture, everything is in storage, so we’re kind of displaced at the moment, you could say,” said May. “Our proposed home fits the area, it’s not a mega-house, it’s strictly downsizing.”
Meanwhile, Quaker Hill resident Paulo Carvalho, who purchased his Hodgson Drive home in 2011 and has outgrown it as his family of four now includes two energetic young sons, said rising real estate prices in Newmarket precludes buying a larger home.
The town’s temporary bylaw on additions that expand a home’s square-footage by more than 25 per cent bans the expansion the Carvalhos hoped to begin May 1.
“With our oldest son in kindergarten, we wanted to proceed with the project in late spring or early summer to minimize disruption to his education and our family life,” Carvalho said. “We went to great lengths to coordinate timelines, including making alternate living arrangements and requesting vacation time to ensure the work would be completed between May 1 and Sept. 1, 2019.”
The Carvalhos have already invested significant financial resources in their proposed addition, including $5,600 for architectural building plans and a $22,600 non-refundable deposit to the contractor.
“My family and I have made a substantial financial and emotional commitment to improving our current home and improving the quality of life for our family,” he said. “Given that we did our research and due diligence when we embarked on this project over a-year-and-a-half ago, we cannot see how we could have possibly avoided our current situation with the new interim control bylaw. Having to postpone our project will have a huge impact on our family.”
Like the Mays, Carvalho said he first learned of the new interim control bylaw when he applied for building permits in early February.
The residents’ plights set off an in-depth discussion around the council table about tweaks that could be made to the temporary building ban until it expires Jan. 21, 2020.
“I don’t think the interim control bylaw was focused on folks such as yourself and, unfortunately, you got caught into it,” Councillor Bob Kwapis said. “I can totally feel your pain in the amount of financial and emotional impact on your family.”
Councillor Grace Simon expressed concern about the town exerting too much control.
“We’re open for business, we’re open to new ideas, we’re open to transformation,” she said. “If somebody has a bungalow and wants to make it into a two-storey, that’s quite common in the older areas of Newmarket.”
Exactly how to approach exemptions to the bylaw received the lion’s share of debate.
Councillors Victor Woodhouse and Christina Bisanz suggested council should have a clear framework from staff about what kind of construction would and wouldn’t be allowed during this transition period, and that it be communicated to residents. Councillor Jane Twinney agreed, saying that should happen sooner rather than later, given the residents’ hoped-for timelines.
Mayor John Taylor said the point of an interim control bylaw “is strong and sudden to stop inappropriate development”, although he admitted tinkering with it in its current form is “tricky”.
“I think we should try to define this a little more finely than just one exception,” Taylor said. “We’re trying to address the issues of compatibility, such as people splitting lots, trying to create multiple houses, or tearing one down and filling it in. And there was concern from the community about whether it was appropriate or not.”
Council decided to put forward a motion that would grant the Carvalhos an exemption to build their addition, subject to a 60-day appeal period. As well, council referred the Mays’ exemption request back to staff to determine if the proposed new build is inline with town bylaws.
Staff have also been directed to explore and recommend an exemption process to the interim control bylaw that residents can use until the ban ends next January. It is expected to come before council for approval in April.