Committee of Adjustment: Friend or Foe?

You have a brilliant idea for this new renovation project (that you almost feel genius!). The client wants to create a new lot for a fairly large detached house on a prominent residential street in this growing, hot real estate market right here in Toronto. Everything seems perfect, but does the City agree? Well, the Committee of Adjustment will give you the answer.


1) What is Committee of Adjustment?

Development Application Sign

Committee of Adjustment if a quasi-judicial body comprising citizen members appointed by City Council that considers applications for planning matters such as minor variances, permissions and consents. Working as an architect, the Committee of Adjustment is our friend AND foe. With growth and development constantly reshaping our city, architects and the City have mutual interests in improving communities, meeting the needs of our neighbourhoods, while always seeking opportunities to grow. The Committee act as an overseer that ensures that Planning Act is maintained.


2) How to prepare for it?

Yonge-Eglinton, the fast growing area in Midtown Toronto

Aside from having Preliminary Project Review revised by the City, an appropriate application submitted and all documents ready, there are four important questions to be answered (a.k.a. Four Tests):

Does/Is the minor variance…

  • maintain the general intent and purpose of the Zoning By-law?
  • maintain the general intent and purpose of the Official Plan?
  • minor in nature?
  • desirable and appropriate?

These questions often relate to the type of zoning (commercial? residential? mixed-used?) or nature and characteristics of neighbourhood and community (e.g. size). For instance, a street full of bungalow houses may not welcome a three-storey house. Communicating with neighbours about application prior to the hearing and having enough support from the neighbourhood (or City staff and even City Councillor) helps defending your position, although approval is not based just on supports.


3) How to accept the result?

308-314 Jarvis St (Image Source: BlogTO)

There is absolutely no bittersweetness in the CoA result. It’s either really sweet or really bitter, for many reasons including $$$. Of course, if the application is approved, good for you! But if refused, there are realistically only two options (if you haven’t given up yet): come up with different plan, or go to the mighty Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) to appeal the decision. Many are not aware that OMB is very unique to Ontario and in North America, which is why it’s become an issue of the real estate market and planning politics, related to housing crisis. 


So, what do you say? Friend or Foe? Or, Friend and Foe? Having OMB reforms proposed, Ontario is expecting some future changes and improvements that will either bridge or widen the relationship gaps between the City and architects (and stakeholders). Hopefully, any decisions and changes are for the best, for the people and city.


(Featured Image Source)