We’ve lived on Melrose Avenue South in Hamilton for 26 years. When we first saw the house and the tree lined street filled with 3 story residences, all well-kept, we were sold. It was a stable neighbourhood. On one side we had the same neighbours for 24 years. Across the street the same neighbours are there as the day we moved in 1986.The”newcomers” on our block have been there for 10 years now. The home next door to us on the north was until last year continuously occupied by the same family for something like 40 years; but the death of the owner forced a sale. A couple from Toronto purchased the home, and our first thought was “great—this is the beginning of that Toronto yuppie influx that we’ve all been waiting for.” Such optimism was dashed, however when a huge fire escape appeared at the back of the home almost overnight, and a dumpster was placed in the driveway. For the next few months there was continuous construction. The new owners were quite open when asked that their intention was to subdivide the property into 2 rental units. An inquiry to the City of Hamilton building department revealed that no building permit had been obtained. A few days later a city bylaw officer appeared at the property while construction was ongoing, and engaged in what to me, based on the smiles that were exchanged, was a far too cordial discussion for this flouting of the building code. Construction stopped for a while, but then resumed. Apparently the penalty for starting construction without a building permit is to…er..ask the builder to please get one. Last month neighbours in the area were notified that the couple now were applying to the Committee of Adjustment for a minor variance to legitimize the subdividing that had taken place. All of the neighbours filed objections, citing parking and garbage concerns—the usual stuff—but the biggest concern was that the owners did not intend to occupy one of the units. A stroll one or two blocks from Melrose to streets like Carrick, Garfield and even the once-magnificent Barnsdale is all you need to see what happens when these houses, with “beautiful bones,” as the realtors like to say, are chopped up into apartments and rented out by absentee landlords. Crime, drugs, frequent police visits and noise become the norm. Unfortunately for us City staff recommended that the variance be permitted. Its all part of the Ontario Government’s “Places to Grow” plan that encourages urban infilling and intensification, the staff report said. The fact that they had started the work without as permit carried no weight at all in the decision. I had always favoured urban intensification, thinking it meant medium rise apartments and condos, or even providing some incentive to fix up the rental units above the stores along streets like King Street, to create a New York kind of ambiance. In addition, we already have low rise rental units in proper apartment buildings with on-site superintendants at both ends of the street without major problems. A recent story in the Spec says the city is getting ready to get tough on illegal housing units—23,000 of which are in the lower city. My question is, what’s the difference between a legal unit and an illegal one if the end result is absentee landlords, garbage, noise and crime? Also don’t we put the cart before the horse when we first issue a building permit to convert a house into apartments and then go to the Committee of adjustment for permission? Wouldn’t it make more sense to apply for the zoning variance FIRST and THEN issue the building permit? How is the public in away protected from the evils of illegal apartment conversions if they are ultimately going to be rubber stamped for approval once the appropriate paperwork is filed and fees paid? Does anybody think these illegal units will be converted back into single family homes?
We have a city that says it wants to crack down on illegal conversions on the one hand, while allowing the same net outcome to occur on the other. I guess we should be grateful that with the legal conversions, even though the result is the same in terms of neighbourhood disruption, at least the city gets to collect fees.