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Laneway house notebook (5)

March 4, 2019, email to Peter Raynes

we met when I came down to City Hall on Feb.4 ask about getting a permit for our laneway house at 242 Havelock Street. That was a month ago now. You scanned our survey and said you would be sending it to Fire Prevention Chief Doug Babcock, because of our missing 16 cm of walkway width.

Could you let me know when I can expect a response?

March 4, 2019, email to Tim Ashton

I got an auto-reply from your colleague Peter Raynes, saying he'd be away for another week. Since it's already been a month since I spoke to Mr.Raynes about the matter below, would it be possible for you to follow up for me? The issue is my desire to build a laneway house, essentially a granny flat. I'm getting pretty old, so my time might be a bit short :)

March 4, email from Tim Ashton

Peter did send your site plan to Toronto Fire Services for review and they replied that it does not meet the requirements for laneway suites. Also, TFS told Peter that they had already spoken to you about this issue which is why Peter may not have replied.

March 4, 2019, from Jutta

Thank you for your prompt response.

Peter Raynes said he would reply within 2 weeks so that's why I asked. Doug Babcock, when I met with him, said it was up to Buildings.

So far, the only written response I have from Buildings is yours.

It sounds to me like, despite what Chief Babcock told me about Buildings making the final decision, it's Fire who says no. So that means I will need to apply to Fire, not to Buildings, to get the reasons in writing, i.e. more than just "because I say so" -- since the decision is based not on the building code nor the fire code nor in the bylaw -- am I right?

New bylaws take a while to work out, and there are problems with the grounds for permit refusal here. (E.g. that a great many people in the central area are ineligible despite our ample properties and wide laneways.)

Please confirm that I can quote your response when I speak to my neighbours, to the councillors who are on the Planning and Housing Committee, and to any media who may get interested. If I have misunderstood you, clarifications are welcome.

March 4, 2019, from Tim Ashton

Please call me if you would like to discuss this issue.

March 4, 2019, from Jutta to Fire Prevention Chief Doug Babcock

Dear Chief Babcock, After you and I and the Lanescape architects had our meeting in January, I went to Buildings as you suggested. Today I got their answer about our Laneway house -- namely that even though they have the last word on permits, if Fire does not agree, they will not give a permit.

So it's really Fire that's the block for permit requests from most of the houses in my neigbourhood despite our long properties and wide laneways. I remember some of your explanations, but I need them in writing because I want to go to the Planning and Housing committee and ask them to put the issue up for more discussion.

It would help to focus public discussion to see your department's cost-benefit analysis regarding the Laneway housing restriction of 1 meter walkway space to the back.

If such a document exists, could you send me a link?

If none exists, I could send you specific questions (width of EMS equipment, currently accepted widths of doorways into houses, laneway parking enforcement and snow clearing, etc.) that would focus the issues affecting citizens. Please let me know if that would help.

March 4, 2019,to Chief Babcock

Sorry, I meant 90 cm, not one meter. But my request for the cost/benefit analysis is otherwise the same.

March 10, 2019, post to the dufferingrovefriends list, from Jutta

I just read Councillor Bailao’s ideas about the Dufferin Grove park plan. I was much encouraged to see that she writes it’s desirable to understand the “potential cost, benefits and implications” of this plan.

I hope the councillor also wants that excellent cost/benefits standard applied to other city plans, not only for the park. One good issue would be laneway housing permits. At this moment, most properties in this neighbourhood are not eligible because of

(1) a Fire Chief decision that although the width of existing doorways of the many century-old houses is considered reasonable access for firefighters, the same width of walkways between houses is not enough, i.e. grounds for permit refusal.

(2) the fire chief says that laneways cannot be used as firefighter access, but at the same time he says that houses with no laneways, but ample access from the front – even with a (rare) driveway or a wide walkway – are not eligible for a permit.

The one-meter walkway width that the fire chief requires is not in the bylaw or the fire code or the building code. I don’t know if the no-laneway prohibition is there. (In other cities, such back-of-the-property houses are sometimes called garden houses).

I have written to the fire chief with a request for him to send me the COST/BENEFIT calculation involved in his decision. There are certain to be good reasons on both sides – fire safety versus places for people to live – but they need to be made public.

The fire chief has no yet answered my request, but since Councillor Bailao is the chair of the Planning and Housing Committee, I bet she could encourage him to put his cost/benefits calculations re laneway houses out there for public discussion.

I copied the councillor on my request to the fire chief last week. I didn't get a response from her office either, but fingers crossed that she can help.

March 19, 2019, email to Fire Prevention chief Doug Babcock

Dear Chief Babcock,

I've had no response to my March 4 request for more information, so I'd like to try again, restated.

Could you let me see any reports, analyses or other documentation that you used to make your 1-meter fire access requirement for laneway houses?

March 19, 2019, response from Fire Prevention chief Doug Babcock

Sorry for the delay in responding, we are in the process of sending an internal memo to buildings outlining our minimum requirements allowed in lieu of Article of the Ontario Building Code which addresses fire department access.

Also met with building department and the councillors office last week along with the gentleman that accompanied you during our meeting, who may be able to provide you with the additional information you are requesting.

March 20, 2019, email from Robert Cerjanec, office of Councillor Ana Bailao

Just as a heads up our office has been working on this over the last while and we are seeking a process change in order to hopefully adjudicate the fire access requirements early on in the process to provide certainty for individuals. I would note that the Ontario Building Code requirements are out of Council's control but we are working with Toronto Fire and Toronto Buildings with respect to these challenges on how to make this as easy as possible for people to construct a laneway suite.

March 20, 2019, email from Jutta to Robert Cerjanec

Thanks for your email, and I'm glad to hear you're working on this. It would be nice to be included in the process, get an idea of the timeline, etc. I'm gathering more people, because the Centre for Local Research into Public Space (CELOS) considers laneways to be public space. I've begun an archive about laneway houses here.

The AODA is an important element for us.

Re my email to the fire prevention chief -- I still do need the documentation I asked for. He wrote back that you or Tony may be able to provide you with the additional information you are requesting. I had asked for "any reports, analyses or other documentation that [he] used to make [his] 1-meter fire access requirement for laneway houses." It doesn't sound like he plans to send me anything -- do you have the documents he may be referring to?

If not, don't worry, I'll just go through FOI. P.s. that was a really interesting committee meeting today, I'll follow up.

March 20, 2019, email from Robert

My understanding is that the requirement has to do with the Building Code. Sorry I don't know what he is referring to. However, we will discuss the issue of fire/emergency access to see if anything else is possible at our internal meeting with the appropriate senior City staff. I don't have anything with respect to timeline at this point. We need to meet and discuss any process changes that could take place.


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Content last modified on June 10, 2019, at 07:21 PM EST