Committee of Adjustment Virtual Hearings prompts concerns from Residents Associations

Michael Mizzi
Director, Committee of Adjustment and Zoning
City Planning Division

RE: Committee of Adjustment Virtual hearings

Dear Michael,

This is further to your June 30th email to Sheila Harrison (SAHRA), in response to her email of June 26th. Your email may also be in response to the LRA’s Requests for Review of CofA decisions regarding the 67 Sutherland and 83 Glenvale applications at the June 23th virtual hearing (attached). LRA’s Requests for Review have not been acknowledged or responded to by North York Planning.

As you know, we supported virtual hearings for applications based upon your commitment that these hearings would be used for applications with (truly) minor variances. We have been increasingly concerned that complex applications with many variances, and multiple community objections are being heard in virtual hearings. In addition:

  • the revised timeframes limit the opportunity for comments to be submitted both in writing and orally;
  • written comments are not being posted in time for them to be part of the Committee members deliberations;
  • participants who registered to speak to the Committee are not being allowed in/heard from;
  • participant’s objections are being disregarded by the Committee of Adjustment; and
  • members of the Committee are not acquainted with the tests and/or overtly deny the tests as laid out in the Planning Act and in the public notice.

FoNTRA has argued for many years that the CofA process is inherently unfair to residents in opposition (for example, the applicant having the right to respond to objections but this right is not extended to opposing parties). With the virtual hearings, the new procedures increasingly favour the applicant and require opposing residents to appeal the approvals to the TLAB in an effort to get a fair hearing.

We note that the Committee has developed revised procedures that deal with virtual applications. These procedures are briefly documented in the recently updated CofA Rules and Procedures, as follows:

4.11. In deciding whether to conduct an oral, written, or virtual public hearing the Committee may consider any relevant factors including:

4.11.1. the suitability of conducting such a hearing;
4.11.2. whether the evidence is appropriate, including whether credibility is an issue;
4.11.3. the extent to which facts are in dispute;
4.11.4. the convenience of the parties, including any anticipated prejudice to a party;
4.11.5. the avoidance of unnecessary delay;
4.11.6. the fulfillment of the Committee’s statutory mandate; and
4.11.7. any other possible effects on the fairness of the proceedings.

4.12. The Committee shall not hold a hearing on an application as a written hearing if an objecting party satisfies the Committee that there is good reason for not doing so.

4.13. The Committee shall not hold a hearing on an application as a virtual public hearing if an objecting party satisfies the Committee that holding a virtual public hearing rather than an oral hearing is likely to cause the party significant prejudice.

In your June 30th email to Sheila Harrison, you do not describe these new procedures but only mention the operational plan to include such applications at virtual hearings. You state that:

”To provide some general feedback or clarification, we held eight virtual public hearings and heard 166 applications in June. As per our operational plan for resumption of CoA services, we restarted hearings using the Webex teleconferencing platform and initially focused on relatively simple applications, to adjust and gain experience with the new format. With approximately 1200 CoA applications currently in the queue, the back-log is significant, and with no clear date when we might return to a pre-coronavirus hearing format, our plan adds more complex and hearing ready applications with time.”

You do not mention how these new procedures can provide a process for residents to object at these virtual hearings. In order to ensure a fair process, the issues must be addressed immediately. Our suggestions for improvement include:

  1. Document a clear process for objections to an application being heard at a virtual hearing. These objections must be taken seriously, as the process must be fair to all. The notice for the hearing of an item must include information as to how a person can make objections to a virtual hearing. For example, a response to the CofA must be filed by a certain deadline or at the meeting. CofA may need to change procedures such that notices will go out earlier.
  2. In-person hearings need to be scheduled for complex and/or controversial applications, with separate meeting agendas. Minor applications would continue to be heard virtually. Current City facilities are adequate to allow for safe in-person hearings at City Hall – Committee Rooms (Toronto and East York), and North York Civic Centre – Council Chamber.
  3. If in-person meetings cannot be arranged, then the current process that limits the opportunities for objectors to make comments and see full information must be corrected. Changed this as too confusing.

We would be pleased to discuss these important issues at your earliest convenience.

Yours truly,

Geoff Kettel
Co-Chair, FoNTRA

Cathie Macdonald
Co-Chair, FoNTRA

cc: FoNTRA Councillors
Gregg Lintern, Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning Division