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Cabbagetown house is the subject of a decade-long neighbourhood battle
Norm Rogers’ three-storey house is finally being built after years of conflict. But before it’s done, he needs access to a neighbour’s backyard, and she’s not budging.
Aug. 10, 2017

When Ken Hirschkop moved into historic Cabbagetown in 2005, he didn’t expect a tourist site to pop up behind his backyard. But he says that’s what the house at 2 St. James Ct. has become.

It’s not because, among the rows of Victorians adorned with official heritage conservation district plaques, this house possesses particular charm. It’s because its box-like exterior and perpetual state of partial-construction makes it seem out of place.

“It looks like it’s landed from space,” Hirschkop said, noting that Cabbagetown visitors regularly make detours to catch a glimpse of the unusual building.

The house belongs to 78-year-old Norm Rogers, and its redevelopment has been the subject of a 10-year-old battle between neighbours , first over proposals for a bigger house on the lot, then over damage and inconvenience caused by the construction.

Now, construction of a house that Rogers, neighbours, and the city agreed upon (resemblance to spacecraft aside) in 2014 is well underway, but those plans are being held up by neighbours who accuse Rogers of neglecting to stick to their agreement.

Rogers’ house was supposed to be completed last December, and complaints about property damage have mounted steadily since construction recommenced about a year ago.

“It’s such a colossal waste of everyone’s time,” Hirschkop said.

Rogers agrees, and says that, after the long slog to build his home, he no longer plans to live there; the stairs of the three-storey house would be too much for him to manage at his age.

“All I want to do is build the house,” he said in an interview Thursday. Then he’ll move out of the city.

Rogers is now in a standoff with Laura Allen, Hirschkop’s neighbour, whose backyard Rogers needs to access in order to complete the work.

“We’re prepared to finish it, and finish it so it looks really good,” Rogers said.

He warned Allen that, without permission to enter her backyard, he will have to paint the concrete wall facing her backyard - black, because that’s the colour of paint he has handy.

“If she thinks she’s going to hold us up for ransom, that doesn’t work with me,” Rogers said.

Allen, who moved into the neighbourhood in 2011, says she’s determined to block workers from entering her backyard until she has a guarantee that her property will be protected.

She estimates thousands of dollars worth of damage has been done to her backyard as a result of the work. Rogers has refused to compensate her, saying that she overestimated the value of what’s been damaged.

“It has been devastating,” said Allen. She now plans to sell her house, but says she can’t as long as the disruption continues.

Rogers says that, after the long slog to build his home, he no longer plans to live there; the stairs of the three-storey house would be too much for him to manage at his age.

Allen thinks the city, which granted Rogers his building permit, should intervene to make sure the neighbours’ property is protected.

“If you’ve given someone permission to build something that size, there was always the possibility of damage,” she said.

The city said that it has regularly inspected Rogers’ building site for compliance with the building permit, and that damage to adjacent property is the responsibility of the permit owner. Disputes over damage are “civil matters,” Mario Angelucci of Toronto Building, said.

Martin Rendl, a Toronto-area planning professional, who argued to the Ontario Municipal Board in 2008 that Rogers’ plans were not appropriate for the neighbourhood, said it is not common for development disagreements to go on for so long.

“A new house you can put up in a couple of months, not over a decade,” he said.

Part of the reason the construction missed the December 2016 deadline is because Rogers did not receive his heritage permit from the city until June 20, 2016. He now has until September 2017 to complete the work.

Hirschkop says he’s grown accustomed to construction delays, and run-ins with Rogers have been a fact of life as long as he’s lived in Cabbagetown. He’s making do; last year he put up a shed in his backyard to block out the view of Rogers’ unfinished concrete wall. (“We needed a shed anyways.”)

Hirschkop still worries the drawn-out building of Rogers’ house will set a precedent for developers to change the landscape of their neighbourhood, if the city doesn’t step in to support him and his neighbours.

“It’s the most beautiful neighbourhood I’ve lived in by a long shot,” Hirschkop said. “It won’t stay beautiful if you let people do whatever you want.”