Brampton Council votes for bylaw officers to crack down on illegal driveways
The neighbourhood surrounding Beryl Ford Public School is a perfect illustration of a problem unique to Brampton; many of the residential dwellings have multiple cars lining driveways.
The sight isn’t specific to this neighbourhood, and illegally parked cars can be seen across the city. In 2011, 62.7 percent of Brampton residents favoured driving over other methods of transportation. A lack of appropriate infrastructure prioritizing multi-lane roads over space for active transportation contributes to cars being king in Brampton.
At the same time, the problem of illegal secondary suites adds to the proliferation of cars parked around homes.
Driveways of most homes are designed to only fit one or two vehicles. In order to make more room, many homeowners widen their driveways, replacing the greenery of front lawns with slabs of dark concrete or asphalt, despite often violating the rules.
The City of Brampton has a specific bylaw for the expansion of a driveway based on the width of the lot. For example, if the lot is 18.3 metres wide the most its driveaway can be is 9.14 metres. Two feet of landscaping also has to be maintained between the driveway and property line for rain water to be absorbed, to prevent flooding.
Driveways widened to fit multiple cars are extremely common in Brampton.
These rules are routinely ignored and driveways across the city have for years been expanded to fit multiple cars.
The City has attempted an education campaign, to avoid heavy-handed fines and prosecutions. But the effort has not yielded results.
Now, one councillor is leading the charge to finally bring residents into compliance.
City Councillor Jeff Bowman is concerned the practice is getting out of hand, citing the more than 1,000 files to prosecute residents for their illegal driveways that are currently on hold. In a motion just approved this week, he pushed for prosecutions to proceed pending Ontario’s stay-at-home order.
The City received 1,627 complaints between 2018 and 2020 about violations of driveway widenings and other zoning rules, according to its website. Paul Morrison, director of enforcement and bylaw services, told members of council last week this number will likely rise, and current complaints could take up to two years to process.
Files to prosecute are piling up. Bowman said Wednesday enforcement hasn’t been implemented since the summer of 2018. “Now is the time that we need to start taking action on this fine line, without question.” The current stay-at-home order will expire on May 20. If no extensions are issued by the provincial government, the prosecution of residents, which means the handing out of a provincial offence ticket, could begin next month.
The decision not to use the courts as an enforcement tool, which would usually be the case, has worn thin after two years, as the education approach did not work. The issue of issuing tickets, which is how enforcement is supposed to happen, was discussed in June 2019 but was delayed to November of that year, partially because of backlash from a handful of vocal residents. Educational campaigns were favoured over enforcement. Bylaw wasn’t expected to act until the spring of 2020. When pandemic emergency measures were announced by the Province a year ago, enforcement was postponed once again.
Even with the new motion to take legal action, it’s unclear if the City has the resources to confront the widespread problem.
Morrison confirmed last week the bylaw team does not have the capacity to enforce driveway prosecutions and COVID-19 investigations simultaneously. The limited time frame for when driveways can be inspected adds to delays. “We don’t do the driveways through the winter months [between October and April] because we don’t believe there’s an expectation on the owner to do any work when the ground freezes up,” Morrison said.
Many members of Council were doubtful about the push, illustrated by the split on Bowman’s motion. Only six of the 11 members voted in favour.
City Councillor Harkirat Singh, who did not support the motion, said the timing was not appropriate, pointing to the third wave of COVID-19 which he says continues to impact his ward.
Many residents agreed with him, as illustrated in the calls, letters, and emails members of council said they received on the matter. Brampton resident Sukhjot Naroo said this new bylaw has burdened residents because the novel coronavirus is still impacting communities and many may not be able to afford having to “rip their driveways out.”
On Wednesday, he asked the City to explore further solutions that won’t result in severe actions right away. He blames the need for wider driveways on newer subdivisions not catering to the parking needs of residents. “There’s a lack of understanding on the subject matter between the planning and enforcement.”
Singh agreed and argued many homes could have multi-generational families, with a need for more vehicles. While many say the issue illustrates Brampton’s growing illegal secondary unit problem, Singh chalks this up to a label. “We like to stereotype a lot that there’s 10 or 11 cars. That’s not true.”
Bowman questioned Singh about how these violations differ from any other that would result in a ticket, like for cars parked on the street or matters relating to property standards. “Are we saying we should be holding off all bylaw activity now?”
Citing the time frame to process all the complaints, Bowman said this matter has nothing to do with the ongoing pandemic. “This has more to do with… residents that have expanded their driveways, they’ve broken our bylaw.
“We are being asked to hold off prosecutions… and we are disregarding every single other homeowner in this city that's living by the bylaws, that's doing things right.”
A majority of councillors were also concerned about the message the lack of action sends to residents. Regional Councillor Martin Medeiros specifically asked for residents who haven’t been told their driveway is a problem to be communicated with, both to let them know they will be approached and to deter neighbours from following suit. “If neighbours are seeing their neighbours, sort of get away with… larger driveways, it just proliferates the practice.”
Paul Morrison, Brampton’s director of enforcement and bylaw services, said inspections are limited to five months of the year.
Morrison said proactive communication is something the City can do, citing the previous practice of sending similar letters to homes with secondary units when inspections could not be conducted. “We went to a letter system and we have gotten great compliance out of that,” he said last week.
An investigation involves measuring the driveway and contacting the homeowner if zoning bylaws aren’t followed to discuss options. This may result in the driveway being ripped out, or the less destructive approach of placing permanent barriers on the illegal parts of the driveway to prohibit parking. An order to comply with the changes is issued to the homeowner, with a time frame that can vary depending on the situation, Morrison explained. “We have given some generous amounts of time to do this.”
It’s unclear when the City will start working on the growing number of files. Morrison emphasized the process will likely start with a letter asking for compliance, and he doesn’t want driveways to be removed unless it’s absolutely necessary.
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