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Cabbagetown residents angry about city, neighbour's handling of new construction
Residents say construction of new house has damaged their homes, property values
By Taylor Simmons
Aug. 9, 2017

For over a decade, residents in a Cabbagetown neighbourhood have been in a legal battle over the construction of a large home on St. James Court, which they say has damaged their backyards and the value of their homes.

"There is a rhythm in the houses here in Cabbagetown, and then you have this monstrosity out of nowhere," said Laura Allen, whose backyard looks at the west wall of the home.

On the other side of the fence, the owners of the property, Joyce and Norm Rogers, are not happy with the community's response to their plans. They say complaints from the neighbours have repeatedly delayed the completion of the home.

"They're the authors of their own misfortune," Norm Rogers told CBC Toronto.

Over a decade of disputes

Rogers and his wife bought the home, which is located in the Cabbagetown North Heritage Preservation District, in 1995. Years later, the original house had to be demolished because it was deemed to be unsafe, according to the City Planning department.

Rogers began submitting applications to build a new, larger home on the property.

The neighbours felt Rogers offered two equally bad choices, according to Ken Hirschkop, who's lived in the area since 2005. Those were a two-storey house that would take up almost the entirety of the lot, removing any buffer between the home's exterior and their properties, or a three-storey house. They felt Rogers could create the home he wanted without taking up so much room.

Rogers didn't feel that way, and after two rejected proposals for two-storey options, he decided to build up.

"I don't want a three-storey house. I'm going to be 78-years-old this month. I'm just not well-equipped for climbing stairs anymore," he said. "There really was no alternative."

The final plan was approved by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) in 2014, allowing the size of the home to bypass regular zoning bylaws. The footprint went from 1,754 to 2,070 square feet. The new home would also have to conform to strict heritage instructions and abide by certain terms agreed upon by neighbouring residents.

Fences, furniture destroyed during construction

With the home near completion, Allen and Hirschkop said Rogers isn't adhering to those terms, namely, blocking light from their properties, removing privacy and failing to meet the agreed upon completion date. The home was supposed to be finished on Dec. 31, 2016.

They're also dealing with unexpected damages from the home's construction.

The fence at the back of Hirschkop's backyard, which was technically on Rogers's property, was torn down when construction began. The back garden was also destroyed, he said.

Allen said along with her fence being irreparably damaged by falling cement, her stone patio tiles, her table and chairs and an Italian motif displayed in the garden were also covered in cement spray. The furniture was thrown away, but the splatter can still be seen all around the patio area.

"I have not been able to enjoy my backyard for the last three years," she said. "The amount of cement that fell back here was unbelievable."

She's demanded compensation for what she's lost, and until she gets it, she won't be giving workers access to her backyard, something Rogers has requested so they can finish applying white stucco to the exterior of the house. She's called three different landscapers to get estimates on the damages, but she believes it's more than $2,000.

"I have worked very hard to get a home like this," she said. "He's very difficult to deal with."

For his part, Rogers said Allen is entitled to be paid for what's damaged, but he doesn't believe her furniture is worth what she's proposed. If she won't allow him to access her backyard, he said he'll paint the wall black, despite conditions set out in the original agreement.

"I've been as accomodating as I felt was appropriate," he said. "If she won't give us access, it won't get done, and it really looks ugly, but it could look nice."

When construction began a few years ago, Allen had originally tried to sell her home to both take advantage of the real estate boom and escape the commotion.

She was told her home had lost value because of the construction, and even with the home near completion, real estate agent Richard Silver, who's worked in the Cabbagetown area for 38 years, said that hasn't changed.

"I think to the tune of about 10 per cent for everybody who is adjoining that property," he said, which includes Allen and Hirschkop.

Neighbours asking city to step in

Since they no longer have a say in the home's design, Hirschkop and Allen just want money for their losses and for the OMB agreement to be enforced, including the home's completion date.

"The city has let everybody down," Hirschkop said. "By and large their attitude's been...'We want to get this file off our desk,' and so they've kind of let him get away with an awful lot just because he's too much work."

According to the city, they've been closely following the progression of the construction to ensure it adheres to the building permit. As for damages, the Toronto Building department said disputes are a civil matter and do not involve the city.

Rogers said he expects the home to be done in September if he eventually gains access to Allen's backyard. If not, it could be next spring before they have that dispute solved, he said.

When that happens, he now plans to move, since a three-storey home wasn't the outcome he wanted. But that could be a while if Allen's demands aren't met.

"The city and the government has let us down, let me down," Allen said. "He has got away with everything."