Neighbours decide when new patios and parking pads approved
But political reps say polling lists are outdated and flawed
By Kris Scheuer
(Written Nov. 18 for Town Crier.)
Want front yard parking or a patio for your café?
Better hope your neighbours like you, because they’re the ones who vote to approve your application to the city.
But the city’s outdated poll lists mean some ballots are sent to homes of tenants and homeowners who may no longer live in the neighbourhood.
And, if too few ballots are returned you’re out of luck.
Unless you throw yourself at the mercy of community council and appeal, that is.
That’s just what the owners of Il Gelatiere Artigianale at 647A Mount Pleasant Rd. did at Toronto and East York Community Council
The owners’ lawyer, Marc Kemerer, said his client’s story highlights the problems that come from an archaic municipal polling system.
“The polling is meant to strike a balance between commercial interests and residents, but it’s fraught with some problems,” says Kemerer, with White, Duncan and Linton.
“It goes to people who don’t live there anymore.”
In this case, the café owners where one ballot shy of getting their patio licence.
The tally was 19 –18, with three returned ballots and 38 no replies. So, the patio was denied.
Kemerer says a ratepayer poll doesn’t address if a patio fits with the streetscape, or improves the area, it simply asks if people want one.
But the appeal process is not a quick one, much to the chagrin of entrepreneurs trying to get their business off the ground.
Maddalena Gargarella applied for the Il Gelatiere patio in January 2008 and was informed six months later the licence was denied. The appeal was heard just weeks ago.
In the end, community council voted in favour of the Mt. Pleasant café for a 48-seat patio facing Hillsdale Avenue that will serve up gelato Italian ice cream and cappuccino.
St. Paul’s Councillor Michael Walker was agreeable to the patio with conditions including an 11 p.m. close, and that a noise barrier be built.
“In this case a person selling ice cream impacts a lot less than someone selling meals and liquor,” Walker says.
“We will review it in a year. If there are major problems, it will show up in the first year.”When it comes to polling problems, he is not as concerned about it for patios where the threshold is 25 percent of all ballots returned and 50 percent plus one ballot in favour.
It’s a greater issue for when a homeowner wants to build a driveway on their front yard.
The applicant needs a 50 percent return rate on the ballot. Fifty percent plus one ballot replies must be in favour.
“We have huge problems, the poll lists are so outdated, 30-40 percent of the ballots are to people who aren’t (living) there anymore,” Walker says.
The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation updates the list yearly based on assessment rolls, and when a property is sold or purchased.
But Andrew Kerr, supervisor of registry services in the city clerk’s office, says the onus is on landowners to update tenant lists.
“The poll list is based on MPAC and that’s updated once a year. We are able to go directly onto MPAC’s website for monthly updates,” he says. “The poll is sent to every person over 18 who lives in the home – tenants, borders, owners and residents.”
If enough ballots are sent out to the wrong person or people just don’t bother to respond, the poll is declared invalid.
Beaches-East York Councillor Sandra Bussin says the lists are flawed.
“I have complained about this. If people haven’t met the 50 percent return rate, they have to pay $680 to appeal. I think the threshold should be lowered to 25 percent (replies),” she says.