New Edinburgh insist the city should be forced to inform them if it plans to re-open a long-unused laneway behind their homes, a position put forward during a community meeting on Dec. 20.
Residents in the block bounded by Ivy Crescent, Bertrand Street, Vaughn and Putnam avenues only discovered there was a plan to re-instate their overgrown city laneway when they encountered surveying crews assessing the boundaries of the lane recently.
After tracking down more information, they found out that the new owner of 169 Ivy Cres. had been issued a building permit that allows them to use the backyard lane for vehicular access to the property.
The news that the city legally has to allow access through the laneway came as a surprise to residents on the block, many of whom have fences and mature trees in the laneway as encroachments to the rear of their backyards.
“It was only by sheer accident that we found out about this,” said Martha Markowsky, who owns a rental building on Vaughn. “It really aggravates me that I’m paying taxes and I don’t have a right to know.”
The issue has highlighted the complexity of the city’s approach to dealing with lanes, particularly since adopting new infill design guidelines earlier this year that encourage builders to use lanes for vehicle access rather than front-yard parking.
Approximately 30 residents gathered in a church hall on Dec. 20 to discuss the issue and hear from city staff.
The new home’s owners, Tobias Lütke and Fiona McKean, were not at the meeting, but they sent a letter for Mennier to read aloud.
In the letter, the couple wrote that they knew their two-storey house likely wouldn’t be well-received by current residents, but they are looking forward to moving in and they will be good neighbours.
“We made a conscious decision to not push the limits of what’s allowed,” the letter stated. “We can’t make everyone happy, but we can promise to be good neighbours.”
Alain Miguelez, program manager for zoning, intensification and neighbourhoods in the city’s planning and growth management department, said the city is in a “rather unique situation” with this issue.
Miguelez has been working on a broader laneway policy for the city, but it’s not quite ready so he couldn’t comment on what the policy will include, but he said there is a need to create a framework for how the city deals with these situations.
“Really, what we’re looking at are the owners of this new home making a private driveway,” said Lori Brethour, who lives in a building on the corner of Bertrand Street and would be affected by the laneway.
Ivy Crescent Adrian Di Giovanni said re-opening the laneway would likely create a “conduit” for petty thefts and robberies.
Miguelez said there is no hard data to show a correlation between backyard lanes and crime. An alternate opinion is that activity in the lane helps deter crime more than isolated, protected backyards.
The Dec. 20 meeting was organized by Vaughn Avenue resident Dave Mennier, who also conducted a questionnaire by polling block residents.
Seventy-five per cent of people who responded to his survey said they also knew there was technically a lane in their backyards. No one was informed it could be re-opened at any time.
Ninety per cent said they were opposed to re-opening the lane. But only 37.5 per cent of people said they would be interested in considering purchasing the sliver of laneway that connects to their property if the city were to close the lane. More than half the residents did not respond to that question.
All residents on the block completed the questionnaire except the new owners of 169 Ivy Cres. and their next-door neighbour on the corner of Bertrand.
Mennier said residents have generally agreed to fight the laneway re-opening and they’ve been looking at a few different options.
Step one will be gathering signatures of property owners on the block to apply for a laneway closure.
But during the meeting, Miguelez said that won’t be possible.
“We can’t withdraw a building permit that was issued based on existing conditions,” Miguelez said.
Another possible avenue is the environmental impact, Mennier said. A resident in the area said he believes there is a protected species of woodpecker living in one of the trees that would have to be cut down to re-open the lane, so pushing for some kind of environmental impact study is another option.
A last resort would be looking into the legal options of enforcing “squatter’s rights” based on the city’s neglect of the laneway for so long, Mennier said.
Besides fighting the re-opening, Mennier expects the residents will also write a joint letter to politicians and bureaucrats at city hall requesting changes to the public notification and consultation process in similar situations regarding untraveled laneways.
“We understand it’s a building-permit issue, but to us, it’s not,” said resident Mary Grainger. “It’s changing the fabric of the neighbourhood.”
“The spirit of the responsibility of the city hasn’t been fulfilled in a larger sense here,” Mennier said.