By Sheri Selway
More and more changes are happening in our downtown neighbourhoods. Houses are being sold and work is being done. Houses are being torn down and replaced, sometimes with more than one house! A single story house was torn down across from St. Lawrence Church, and two 3 story houses have been built. The lot will be severed (become 2 lots), maybe even duplexed?
Our neighbourhood is going through changes. You might have gotten a notice about a change happening close by. If you are within 60 meters, you will be informed of a Committee of Adjustment (COA) meeting. The paper might be confusing, so talk to a friend and go over the items. There is usually a drawing of the building, and a list of the changes that need “adjustment” because they don’t fit into the Zoning By-law. The COA is a City committee made up of residents.
When an owner/developer wants to build or change a building, they have to get City approval for changes. All development proposals have to meet the terms of the Zoning By-Law. “ The purpose of the Zoning By-law is to manage land use and development, ensure development occurs in a responsible manner, and determine the kind of use that is suitable for that area.” (City of Hamilton website) We also have a Secondary Plan in effect – Setting Sail, which further guides land use plan for the West Harbour (and our neighbourhood).
If a property owner wants to develop, build, or make changes that are different from what is allowed, the owner must apply for an amendment and has to pay over $1000 for the application fee. When small changes are made that do not fit into the plans, they often apply for a “minor adjustment” to legalize the situation. For example, parking pads in the front yard may need to be smaller than in the “Zoning By-law”. The owner may ask to have less than the 50% “green” front yard.
As a resident, you know what works, (and what doesn’t) in your neighbourhood. Parking is often a big concern because so many of our homes do not have parking and rely on street parking. Height of a new building might also be a concern. Maybe the new structure blocks the sun from your backyard. Maybe you think it needs a fence.
Look at the plans and look at the site. Talk to your neighbours. Get help if you need to.
I have been to Committee of Adjustment (COA) several times, and never alone. Together we (my neighbours and I) decide what to say, and who will say it. Sometimes we take photos to help the committee visualize. We TRY to argue for benefit of the neighbourhood and of the larger community, calmly, and give examples. We don’t always agree, and that is also OK.
Here are some suggestions: go to the COA once first as an observer and see it in action. It is VERY fast! Talk over your concerns with your neighbours, send your comments and photos by mail or email so they already have them. Be early or on time, so you are not nervous. Take your notes or photos with you. Be brief. You will sit at a table with the owner/developer and the committee. Good Luck!