Hamilton City Hall Credit: Joey Coleman

Decisions of note from this week’s Committee of Adjustment meeting includes denial of a secondary unit because the owner rents to students and students, in general, ‘pose a problem for the neighbourhood,’ approving variances for a multiple small unit residential renovation which represents a departure from past practice as the CoA states Hamilton needs more housing to address affordability, and approved a secondary suite with a complex situation of unintended implementation of the building code due to the property being a through lot.

In administrative matters, the CoA requested City Council review their remuneration, and discussed if they will continue to meet by video after City Hall reopens.

Hamilton CoA members are paid $100 for each meeting date they attend. This rate has been frozen since 2001, and is a fifth of the remuneration paid to CoA members in Mississauga and Toronto.

Finally, the CoA held a non-public “business meeting” in violation of open meeting laws, ending their live stream prematurely. The CoA is not subject to oversight by the Ontario Ombudsman.

Voting Down a SDU Because It Will Be Rented to Students

The CoA decided to vote down a secondary dwelling unit because, in the words of CoA Member Nancie Mleczko, student housing “poses another problem both for the neighbourhood and for the, what do you want to call that? The comings and goings of that number of people renting within that house.”

The significance of the decision, and its violation of planning regulations which explicitly state local bodies regulate land use, not people, is covered in a separate TPR story here: Committee of Adjustment Votes to Against Allowing Secondary Unit Because Students

CoA Grants Variances on Kenilworth Avenue North, Citing the Need to Intensify to Address Rental Affordability

The CoA approved a series of variances for a property at 94 Kenilworth Avenue North, which they have traditionally have not approved.

Citing rental affordability, the CoA approved the renovation of an existing low-rise commercial building to include six small residential units in the rear and on upper floors, retaining a commercial unit on ground level at the front.

CoA was asked to approve smaller widths for parking spaces, allow the alleyway to count as maneuvering space whereas bylaws require maneuvering space on the property, and a host of grading variances.

In approving the variances, CoA members focused upon three themes: “cleaning up” areas of urban decay, increasing housing units to address affordability, and efficient use of existing vacant structures.

CoA Member Mark Dudzic: “There are a lot of people that are looking for places that don’t drive older people that want to use the bus or whatever. You go to large cities like New York and whatever, they don’t have parking whatsoever. I kind of agree with the applicant, we got to clean these places up.”

CoA Member Bob Charters: “If we’re going to have affordable housing, we have to be able to make some sacrifices” referring to granted variances the CoA has not in the past.

CoA Member Nancie Mleczko: “That area does require some rejuvenation.”

CoA Member Laverne Gaddye gave a disapproving chuckle at claims this represents affordable housing.

Charters, who is a former City of Hamilton Alderman, stated the CoA needs to continue supporting smaller rental housing outside of the Downtown Core.

The new units will meet Hamilton City Council’s definition for affordable housing, Council defines affordable housing as 125% of market rate [By-Law 16-233].

The latest CMHC figure for Hamilton’s market rate is $1,273 per month for a one-bedroom apartment, meaning $1,591 per month meets City Council’s threshold for “affordable housing”.

SDU at 14 Bruce Street and A Quirk of the Building Code

CoA approved a secondary dwelling unit (SDU) at 14 Bruce Street which may not be allowed due to a legal quirk of the Building Code. The property is a though lot, meaning that both the rear and front property lines are street-facing.

The legal front property line is Bruce Street. The Ontario Building Code requires secondary units to be at the rear of the primary residence and that a pathway with a minimum one-metre clearance exists between the front property line and the SDU.

In this instance, while the SDU’s front door will directly abut Hess Street, the official address for emergency services dispatch will be Bruce Street.

[Link to Google Streetview showing the proposed SDU location, the garage behind the black car.]

CoA members discussed this and agreed to grant variances to permit the SDU, stating it evident to them emergency services could safely access the SDU from Hess Street.

City staff state there is no legal means for them to approve issuing permits due to the Building Code.

This is despite the best efforts of staff who included a site-specific provision in Hamilton’s SDU by-law specifically in an attempt to allow secondary units on Bruce Street. [Video of staff discussing this specific block when creating the SDU by-law in April 2021]

CoA Seeking Pay Review After 21 Years at $100 per meeting

CoA is asking City Council to increase their remuneration to become “level with similar-sized municipalities.”

Hamilton’s Committee of Adjustment members are paid $100 per meeting and receive City mileage allowances.

The $100 per meeting rate was set in 2001 shortly after the former municipalities of Wentworth County were amalgamated into the new City of Hamilton.

Remuneration rates for Committees of Adjustment are not universally posted. Many smaller municipalities pay rates of between $50 to $100 per meeting.

The City of Toronto pays its CoA members $1500 as base honorarium, plus full-day per diem of $460 and half-day remuneration (3.5 hours or less) of $275 for hearings, business meetings or training sessions.

All municipalities are required to provide annual disclosure of compensation given to Council committee appointees. In Mississauga, CoA members’ annual disclosure shows they are remunerated at nearly five times the rate of Hamilton members.

CoA Meetings After City Hall Reopens

CoA Members discussed if they will return to in-person meetings in the coming months as City Hall reopens.

Chair Dale Smith stated, “I think it’ll be a combination of both from here on in.  We will probably meet at City Hall and then any applicants that want to do it virtually will do it virtually. And anybody that wants to come in, will come in.”

“I’m going to guess that it’s going to stay virtual. That way, they don’t have to do all the parking and get the room and all that type of stuff,” said Member Mark Dudzic.

“Even within us, we could get a split,” stated Member Nancie Mleczko, “I prefer not to stay online, but that’s beside the point.”

Chair Smith stated, “the only way I would support it is if we were unanimous in staying with web meetings.”

Member Margaret Smith asked, “is there a way that you could do both? I’m just thinking that I’ve really liked the fact that people can log in from away. So say, if you’re going on vacation, you wouldn’t have to actually miss a meeting. You could just log in.”

Hamilton City Council meetings will be primarily online after COVID to enable council members to attend meetings remotely. The Council Chamber is being renovated to install tablets in desks for any councillors who wish to join the video meeting from the physical council chamber.

It is not known if the CoA discussed this further during their non-public “business meeting” held in violation of open meeting rules.