204 Beech

I hate to see the struggles of my friend Geoff and his family.

The article at Open File identifies the closed black box nature that makes this so difficult. If this were a functioning court of law, the Teehans would at least have the opportunity to confront their accusers and see the evidence submitted. However, this backroom politicking leaves the taste of a councillor abusing her power. Ms. Bussin should be removed from office and a formal inquiry called into her behaviour.

Bussin says she has received “a number of emails and calls concerned about the future of that particular house,” as well as an online petition. She said she couldn’t give exact numbers of how many people were concerned.

These concerns led her to get an independent opinion of the property. She consulted ERA Architects, Inc., a firm the city regularly works with for heritage conservation issues.

In the undated document ERA Architects prepared for Bussin, Michael McClelland, a principal with the firm, “confirms” that the 204 Beech Ave. property has heritage value. He cites that it is a “Beach Cottage” type home with “typical elements found in buildings representative of the Cottage style.” He adds that a “recessed fully glazed entry porch, the rendered finish, and irregular pattern of fenestration are important elements of the dwellings character.”

This is a terrible, selfish abuse of power by Sandra Bussin. Jim Graham gets it right, it is not the role of the city or the neighbours to determine what the Teehan’s can do with their home. If Ms. Campbell wants to be upset with individuals for not making this property a heritage property, it’s her own parents who had the chance before they sold the home.  This is a fight for property rights. And we need to make sure as home owners that we do not live in fear of rogue politicians or expatriates or anyone else.

“The more this situation unfolds the clearer it becomes this isn’t about modern vs traditional, new vs old or even about the accessibility requirements. This is about property rights. We did our due diligence, we bought the property and are submitting plans without easements or variances. Now a neighbour who doesn’t want her view changed and a women who lived in the house decades ago and resides in Germany have more control over our property than we do. This isn’t something that residents of our neighbourhood should be worried about, this is something Toronto and many parts of Canada should be worried about.” – comment by Geoff Teehan on Open File

What a disgraceful display and an abuse of power by a Toronto councillor! Ms. Bussin you should be ashamed.

19 thoughts on “204 Beech”

  1. OpenFile is soliciting and tracking comments to Ms. Bussin on their site. They want to compile questions the community might have for her, and make it a part of the record.

  2. Agree completely. It is an arrogant attack on individual property rights. Changing the designation on the whim of a few residents is unreasonable, particularly after the buyers had checked on its status at the time of purchase.

    In a few months, we have a chance to make a change in the ward.

    1. It is mind boggling that so much of the thought process and information is hidden.

      Hopefully residents of the Beaches remove this rogue councilor from office.

  3. The owners of this Beaches home claim astonishment that their ‘NIMBY’ neighbors would place the appearance of their homes and streetscape over the quality of life of this one family. However, they seem comfortable changing the quality of life of a whole street of neighbours to meet their own, unique needs. This seems extremely one-sided. They seem to forget that they are proposing to permanently alter the streetscape not just for their neighbours today, but for everyone who would choose to live there for the foreseeable future.

    Yet what bothers me most about this whole discussion is the way those who would defend the visual integrity of their neighborhood – the feel of it – are labeled selfish ‘NIMBY’s’ at all – as though the idea of coherent, harmonious neighborhoods was something they alone wanted, or was some new, narcissistic idea. This is absurd. There are countless reasons City Councils and Communities the world over have come to place limits on the way individuals can affect their neighbors’ quality of life, and this includes the appearance of the buildings in them.

    Should we allow a family, suddenly ladened with Octuplets, to build a 5 storey house in a 2 storey neighborhood because their circumstances have changed and they need more space on a small lot? In neighborhoods where homes are uniformly 30 feet back from the sidewalk, should we then allow someone to build on their whole lot up to the sidewalk? Of course not, and virtually no one would argue differently. These limitations are a part what makes neighbourhoods work, and one of the reasons people choose certain neighbourhoods over others. This kind of Harmony, this kind of Continuity are a big part of what makes certain areas seem – well – neighbourhoody.

    As communities, we already acknowledge that we deserve to retain aspects that preserve or enhance quality of life for all, as determined by the community as a whole. This is not NIMBY-ism, it is standard practice. We are not islands unto ourselves. We all know well that what we do as individuals often affects those around us. This is no exception, and however much compassion one might have for the owners’ circumstances, compassion is no reason to fundamentally, and permanently alter the character of an entire street, especially when other options exist.

  4. That said,
    The issue highlights the problem of the lack of designation of so many porperties that have heritage value in this city. As the Teehans have said, designation would have put them off the property completely. This is a fair complaint, and they did buy in good faith. I also confess to adoring their new design, and modern buildings in general. However, the building, beautiful as it would be won't exist in a vacuum and one hopes that should the original building be demolished, a new one would better preserve the established visual qualities of the street.

    I sincerely wish the Teehans well as they navigate this thorny issue, along with all the challenges they already have to face, and wish them the very best in their new home, however this all turns out.

  5. Carl,

    You seem to miss the entire premise of property rights. As neighbours you do NOT get to define how the Teehans modify their property to meet their needs. Your comments are beyond comprehension. The border on irrationality. There are zoning and building permits which specify the type of buildings and the rules of construction and safety. You do not get to determine the contents of the Teehan's kitchen, the quality of finishes, or the landscaping.

    The rogue actions of a councillor and an expatriate should not determine the quality of life of Mrs Teehan. Nor should the opinion of non-property owners determine their freedom to alter the property within the zoning bylaws and building code to meet the needs of the family.

    “coherent, harmonious neighborhoods” soon you'll be excluding people because you don't like their nationality or the colour of their skin or their sexual preference. Unbelievable.

  6. That said,
    The issue highlights the problem of the lack of designation of so many porperties that have heritage value in this city. As the Teehans have said, designation would have put them off the property completely. This is a fair complaint, and they did buy in good faith. I also confess to adoring their new design, and modern buildings in general. However, the building, beautiful as it would be won't exist in a vacuum and one hopes that should the original building be demolished, a new one would better preserve the established visual qualities of the street.

    I sincerely wish the Teehans well as they navigate this thorny issue, along with all the challenges they already have to face, and wish them the very best in their new home, however this all turns out.

  7. David, I admire your passion on the subject, but I have to disagree that ' as neighbours you do NOT get to define how the Teehans modify their property to meet their needs”. This is only partly true. Although I am not a Beaches neighbour, I do own property and I know all too well that I cannot act with impunity on my property. There are bylaws by the dozens to guide, influence, or outright stop me from doing things to my property, or the building on it, that would negatively impact other property owners around me. My point is that many precidents exist to limit the way we can express ourselves on private property – the law already acknowledges that we are not islands unto ourselves.

    I agree that it's all happening backwards, and I feel that properties of this kind should be listed en-masse so people like the Teehans can make a more informed choice about their purchases, but the question isn't whether the Teehans have the right to act with impunity in general – you are right that in many regards existing laws already prevent that – the question is: should matters of aesthetics be left entirely to the individual, or not? I think you would say yes, but I say no. My view is that If we did leave such matters entirely to private owners, we wouldn't have Paris, Edinburgh, St Petersburg, Charleston West Virginia, downtown New Orleans, Lunenburg, Quebec City… or Rosedale or Cabbagetown right here at home for that matter.

    It's unfortunate that this has come up for a couple who already clearly have more than their fair share of challenges in life, but the question remains: do we want neighbourhoods defined by stylistically disparate homes determined by individual necessity (or whim), or do we want to preserve or build those neighbourhoods that reflect a more coherent vision?

    I choose the latter. So do many Beaches residents. They do so because the Beaches is one of many places where coherence of building style is one of the major factors that define the neighbourhood.

    My heart really goes out to the Teehans, this is extremely thorny all around.

    1. Carl,

      You’re partially right. Well your logic is right. Zoning bylaws and building codes are their as a communal tool for establishing quality, safety and coherence. They do not allow random neighbours at their whim to determine the property rights of homeowners in Toronto. There is a process to establish and make changes broadly and at a local level. It is not up to an individual councillor, a neighbour or an expatriate to establish, intervene or interpret these rules. This is the fundamental flaw in Councillor Bussin’s actions.

      There is a larger question about who paid ERA Architects? How many other times has the councillor potentially/allegedly misappropriated funding for similar activities?

  8. I live on Beech, and I just want to point out that there really isn't a coherent building style on that strip of Beech. Two doors north of 204 is a hulking circa-1970 public school, complete with a hideous portable in the yard. Across from that is a small townhouse complex that seems to have been built around the same time. And from Pine right down to Queen, new infills and gut jobs of varying styles sit amongst row houses, semis and detached homes of different vintages.

    It had already become more of a mishmash than a cohesive vision before the Teehans bought, so I can understand why Geoff and Melissa would feel blindsided by the backlash aimed at them — and why many suspect that this whole thing started more because of one busybody neighbour's differing taste in architecture than a street-wide drive for heritage preservation.

    From my (very unscientific) poll of my neighbours, the Teehans seem to have the support of most people on the street. I'm glad to hear that there's a petition on their behalf going around the neighbourhood so that we can better capture the true neighbourhood support.

  9. I'm glad to hear of the petition as well as the broader wishes of the neighbours is certainly relevent here.
    The more I think about it the more the timing of the proposed designation is key. I do personally hate the profiligate waste of history and materials that demolition represents: Why are we recycling popcans and newsprint while others toss entire buildings into landfill – doubling or tripling the carbon footprint of the property in the process? Often, the only reason it is more cost effective to demolish is because the true cost of the disposition of waste material is shared by taxpayers in the form of landfill costs. The carbon footprint of the existing building is extremly low, because the materials to build it have already been manufaturesd and have been in continuous use. Nobody thinks about this when proposing demolition.

    However, I can't really see that it's fair to stop the Teehans at this point, given that they bought a building in good faith that had no such designation. This is a legitimate property rights argument for sure… If we really want to save these old buildings and stop the city-wide headlong rush to replace, replace, replace, they need to be designated en masse.

    Also in the Teehans defence, they have proposed a building that sets the bar extremely high for new home design. It's really beautiful.

  10. I have to agree with Carl on this. This particular case has caused such a ruckus because of the accessibility issues involved. Otherwise this would be a case of one property owner subverting the character, quality of life and potentially, the property values of their neighbourhood. I live in Toronto's High Park neighbourhood (on the other side of town). Our neighbourhood's homes are characterized by a more uniform architectural style and feel – largely turn of the century Edwardian homes. Recently my neighbour's house sold in a bidding war, and now our new neighbours, who have not even deigned to show their faces, leave us with a notice of their intent to demolish the house. The replacement, I am given to understand will be of a square flat roof design, and totally incongruous to the surrounding neighbourhood. It will also be 20% larger. If their approvals go through, it would set a dangerous precedent which could potentially see more elegant old houses torn down, and replaced by a modern mish mash.

    Beautiful homes, a century old, would be lost. My neighbours and I, have a right to be upset at such a potential loss, and we have a right to object. No rights exist in a vacuum, they exist because society deems them necessary. Your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose. You have a right to gut the interior, to renovate your home, to improve it, to add or change extensions, but you do not have an unfettered right to ruin the neighbourhood for everyone else.

    I've visited the site at 204Beech.com. The designers didn't even make an effort to incorporate the feel of that neighbourhood in the new house's design. If they did, there would be less to talk about. Ms. Bussin is doing her job; she's standing up for the residents who are unhappy at this encroachment on their community.

    People move to neighbourhoods because they like the environment, the community, and the sense of stability that would not exist if individuals could freely tear down and put up whatever style of dwelling they wanted. Would you buy a home, if you thought that in 10 years some lunatic could tear down your neighbour's house, and build a sphere on a stick? (Or, on the other hand, would you sell the home you grew up in?) Sure, this sci fi masterpiece might meet zoning by-laws, have the right set-backs, square footage, etc. But seriously, would you want to wake up in the morning and see that? Would you want to have to look up at that while mowing your lawn? NO. (And it would lower your property value.)

    Now, I don't want to sound like I hate modern buildings, (except the ROM, I guess) but some areas need to be left, more or less, as is. Toronto has already lost much history; so many old buildings have vanished that the distillery district, of all places, is now perhaps best example of old Toronto we have left. How much did we lose in our rush to modernize? Instead of building on the past we built over it. And how did it happen? One building at a time.

  11. Why does the feel of the neighbourhood matter? This is not a heritage property. The views of 1 disgruntled neighbour and 1 ex-patriate should not determine the impact of the legal precedent for Toronto homeowners and our property rights.

    Whether you like or dislike the house, it is irrelevant. Whether it's a “sci fi masterpiece” or an accessible home, it's not up to you to decide.

    There is a role for hertigage preservation. It was the role of previous owners, or a number of neighbours. But the black box, hidden nature of the work that Councillor Bussin highlights that this is really a property rights issue regardless of the issues of accessibility.

    Plainly put CB – you are wrong and ill informed and are couching your decision based on your perceptions of modern architecture. You have no data to support your comments on property values. You offer no arguement short that you don't think a “lunatic could tear down your neighbour's house about build a sphere on a stick”. This is about the rights of that lunatic to do that. It's equally about the rights of the neighbours to apply for a heritage designation for the street. Which in the case of #204beech happened in 2004, and the house was not designated because at the time the neighbours did not want it.

  12. You’re right about one thing David, I’m not terribly well informed about the beech street incident, and I may have stepped out of bounds in that area. I was only concerned with the parallels with my own situation and the general property rights question. I’d like to think that you are not quite so one sided as you appear to be. For the most part you seem to argue uncompromisingly, that property rights are paramount.

    “Whether you like or dislike the house, it is irrelevant. Whether it's a “sci fi masterpiece” or an accessible home, it's not up to you to decide.”

    “The whole street, i.e., the “NIMBY neighbours” did not purchase the house, perhaps they would all like to own the house together in some commune that would allow them to preserve it. They can buy it from the Teehans at current price + 20% for pain-in-the-ass factor + 2x land transfer taxes. They do not own the property.”

    But, on the other hand you seem leave some tiny wiggle room for compromise as you apparently acknowledge that property rights are not absolute, that the neighbours, and the community at large does have a say.

    “There is a role for hertigage(sic) preservation. It was the role of previous owners, or a number of neighbours.”

    “There are zoning and building permits which specify the type of buildings and the rules of construction and safety.”

    Are those genuine positions of compromise, or a fig leaf of reasonableness? On the whole your writings would indicate that you lean towards absolute property rights, even though this doesn’t square with the existence of these same zoning and building permits.

    Have you never stopped to ask yourself why there are so many varied and arcane regulations pertaining to home construction and renovation in a particular neighbourhood? Laws are passed by society, and these seemingly bizarre regulations are the actions of that same society attempting to regulate how a neighbourhood should be. Sure there are safety considerations, but do you think that is the only reason why a dwelling must be set X number of feet from the front property line, or the back property line? How about the oddly arbitrary restriction of a square feet to lot ratio of .6? Or the restriction of three floors, or the general prohibition against below grade or integrated garages? Politicians cannot legislate for every conceivable outcome, and that is why there are hearings. That is why the neighbours can weigh in. Believe it or not a resident’s quality of life can be affected by what a neighbour builds on their lot.

    For instance, if you want to build a large extension on the back of your house and I, being your neighbour, strongly object given that it will ruin my backyard (by blocking out the sunlight or presenting me with an unfortunate view of your bathroom, or what have you), quality of life, and perhaps even the value of my house, that will be given considerable weight. I would be ill informed, indeed, if I stuck my head in the stand believing I had no right to object. The actions of one affect the lives of the many. It’s not rocket science, and I’m sure you know as well as anyone else that the realities of urban life and urban planning mean you have less freedom. Anyone who has ever received a ticket, for speeding, parking, littering, or even jay walking knows this; anyone who has ever had the police show up to a party and ask them to turn the music down, knows this. And anyone who has ever tried to renovate their home or property knows this. Why? because the more people there are, the harder it is to get them to… well… get along.

    Changing tack slightly, I stated explicitly that I do not object to modern architecture in general, I was just using an absurd example; the proposed house for the lot next to me isn't bad at all, it just doesn't belong on that block, or any of the surrounding blocks. Hell, there are other parts of the city where it would either fit in perfectly, or drastically improve the streetscape. But I guess that falls on deaf ears.

    “Why does the feel of the neighbourhood matter?”

    Haven’t you ever wondered why sub divisions look the way they do? They’re not built the way they are just to cut costs, they are built in imitation of older neighbourhoods, trying to impart the sense of such a community. Anyway, I’m not going to fully reiterate what Carl has already tried to explain. I will just say this: You might feel that words like “visual integrity,” or “architectural congruity,” are a load of horseshit (and, in themselves they are) but they refer to something that does matter a great deal to the people who choose to live in a given place. And again, we are political animals, and thusly the values of those around us, matter.

    —————————————–

    Your responses to my post, as well as Carl’s have been, well… it’s hard to tell with the written word, but I believe I noted a touch of anger, and even condescension. Your accusation that I do not approve of modern architecture is an especially wild stab in the dark considering you are only replying to a solitary post, and have never spoken to me at any length. It would be like me saying: “Wow, this Dave is a pretty angry guy, he must be some Tea-party-psycho-libertarian; and man! Hosting this blog has definitely given this guy a big head!” See? That’s totally uncalled for.

    But seriously, David, among other things, you accused me of not providing any evidence (I’m not actually going to exhaustively research such a concept like the causal factors of property valuation fluctuations to make a minor point on your blog – especially when I was more concerned with a neighbour’s fear of such affects), when you yourself provide none. You attack me for providing a hypothetical example, ignoring the fact that you yourself have put forward no such exercises in reasoning. Your argument amounts to “It’s none of the neighbour's damn business!” shouted repeatedly, followed by ad hominem attacks. I have tried to state simply that property rights are not absolute (and previously, that they exist because society deems them necessary), and that the realities of urban life mean that the community has a say(even if you *believe* that is not right) in individual actions. While these are not complicated ideas, I do apologize if I did not provide enough colourful illustrations to prove them all, but you are the one who has not reasoned anything.

    And, as they say famously put it in Monty Python: “an argument isn’t just contradiction!”

  13. Designation aside, if you want to build a modern box move to the suburbs. The design isn't about accessibility and the complaints aren't about the family's unique needs. There should be a responsibility for builders to attempt to maintain the character of an existing home. I have no doubt that it is possible to build a home that will meet the family's requirements and still maintain the unique character of the home.

  14. But why such a large box? With the budget of the original house plus what it will cost to build that, why not at least try to maintain some of the unique character of that house? There is no question the family has access to funds to build an expensive residence, and they bought a very unique looking property so why not take pride for the whole neighbourhood in incorporating that turret etc. into the new design.

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