Deborah Dale has been fighting for the rights of Toronto native plant gardeners for over a decade. In 2007, her own front yard meadow of over 200 species of native plants was destroyed without warning. Her lawsuit concerning that action is still ongoing. In December 2012 her dormant garden was inspected for “long grass and weeds” and a re-inspection ordered for June 2013. Unable to find legitimate cause to support their original charges, the Licensing & Standards Department passed the matter along to their colleagues in Transportation to bring charges against the boulevard portion of the garden by claiming sight line violations, vertical clearance issues, and sidewalk encroachments. This type of redundancy is typical of bylaw bullies. If one ordinance can’t be enacted, another will be brought into play…regardless of validity…and the costs of investigation and followup actions billed to he lucky homeowner.
Deborah is not alone in facing spurious complaints against native plant or vegetable gardens. Both are now segregated for special attention under the newly amended Chapter 489 of the municipal code (Long grass and weeds). The latest charges followed on the heels of Deborah’s opposition to proposed changes and her support of another front yard garden in October 2012. Please contact Toronto Council to ask that the UNCONSTITUTIONAL changes to Chapter 489 not be enacted and to stop wasting tax dollars by inspecting private gardens. See details below.
Please note, there are 45 members of Council — Toronto Green Evolutionists need help to reach them all! Toronto ordinances are often copied by smaller Ontario municipalities, presumably in the mistaken belief that they have been adequately researched and are well thought out.
Feel free to draw on posts here, on www.verdigrow.com and other sites when composing your communication, but use your own style — individual sincerity can make a much bigger impression than form letters. Details of bylaws that have been used to discourage ‘unusual’ gardens are listed below. Bylaws tend to be used in succession — when charges under one are successfully argued, another may be brought into play.
- Tracey Cook, Executive Director of Municipal Licensing and Services (controlling “natural garden exemptions”),
- Bob Taylor Manager, Right-of-Way Management, Transportation Services – boulevard gardens.
- John Livey, Deputy City Manager overseeing Transportation Services and the Licensing & Services departments
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The General Issues & Ordinances
Toronto prides itself on it’s green reputation and on it’s diversity. It has developed Climate Change strategies, Green Roof policies, Clean Air initiatives, a Tree Protection Policy (which is generally disregarded as soon as development dollars appear), a Wet Weather Flow Master Plan – all designed to reduce the impact of its population on the environment. The problem is, for the most part it has left the population itself out of the process. Of the 10 million trees in Toronto, 6 million are on private property and it is reasonable to assume that a similar proportion of land is privately held. There are also some 11,000 km of under valued boulevards in Toronto. Residents attempting similar initiatives on their own properties or the adjacent boulevard, are viewed at best with suspicion and are all too often targeted by bylaw enforcement staff for the crime of being different. Biodiversity is apparently far less prized than cultural diversity in this “world class” city.
Complete copies of Toronto Bylaws can be found at: http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/municode/1184_toc.html
Bylaws that have been used to restrict private gardens:
Chapter 489 Long Grass & Weeds The online version via the above link has not been updated per the November 2012 amendments approved by Council
489-2. Maximum height.
A. The owner or occupant of private land shall cut the grass and weeds on their land and remove the cuttings whenever the growth of grass and weeds exceeds 20 centimetres in height.
B. For the purposes of this section, the term “grass and weeds” refers to:
(1) All noxious weeds and local weeds designated under the Weed Control Act2; and
(2) Any other vegetation growth that does not form part of a natural garden that has been deliberately implemented to produce ground cover, including one or more species of wildflowers, shrubs, perennials, grasses or combinations of them, whether native or non-native, consistent with a managed and natural landscape other than regularly mown grass.
Chapter 629 Property Standards Often used in conjunction or following the failure of Chapter 489. Appeals require a $200 fee to appear before a Board of non-elected citizens. The fee is not refunded even when allegations are proven false. Young saplings and perennial beds have been termed “heavy undergrowth”; pine needle mulch a “fire hazard; shrubs not shaped into unnatural balls have been deemed “overgrown”; vegetation merely touching the edge of a sidewalk an “encroachment”; and all plants over 20cm (8inches) unlawful.
GROUND COVER — Any suitable material applied to the ground to prevent erosion of the soil and includes concrete, flagstone, gravel, asphalt, grass or other form of landscaping.
629-10 B. All yards and any other part of a property shall be kept clean and free from accumulations of junk, rubbish, brush, refuse, litter, garbage and other debris, and any conditions that are health, fire or other hazards.
629-11 A.1 (3) Landscaped, so as to prevent unstable soil conditions or erosion, with any combination of the following:
(a) Trees, shrubs, grass or flowers;
(b) Decorative stonework, walkways or screening;
(c) and Any other horticultural or landscape-architectural elements.
B. Where grass forms part of the ground cover, it shall be maintained in a living condition and at a height of not more than 20 centimetres.
C. All lawns, shrubs and hedges shall be kept trimmed and not be overgrown.
D. All yards shall be kept free of heavy undergrowth and weeds.
E. A tree or other plant, or a limb or branch or13 it, that is dead, diseased, decayed or damaged shall be removed from the property or otherwise pruned to remove the dead, diseased, dying or dangerous portions of the tree or plant.
F. All hedges, shrubs, trees or other plants shall be planted and maintained in a manner that does not:
(1) Obstruct the safety of the public;
(2) Affect the safety of vehicular or pedestrian traffic;
(3) Constitute an obstruction of view for vehicular traffic;
(4) Wholly or partially conceal or interfere with the use of any hydrant or water valves; or
(5) Overhang or encroach upon any pavement, sidewalk or travelled portion of any street or highway.
Chapter 447 Fences
This bylaw has been used to order the cutting of cedar trees between properties and away from driveways where sight lines would not be an issue.
FENCE — A barrier, including one for noise attenuation, or any structure, except a structural part of a building, that wholly or partially screens from view, encloses or divides a yard or other land, or marks or substantially marks the boundary between adjoining land, and includes any hedge or shrub that has the same effect. [Amended 2000-10-05 by By-law No. 869-2000; 2004-06-24 by By-law No. 557- 2004; 2008-07-17 by By-law No. 793-2008]
Chapter 743 Streets
The online version via the above link has not been updated per the February 2012 amendments approved by Council. Please see draft bylaw: http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2011/pw/bgrd/backgroundfile-41983.pdf
BOULEVARD — That part of a public street that is not used, or intended to be used, for vehicle travel by the general public, and is situated between the travelled portion of the road and the adjoining property line.
ENCROACHMENT – Any device, equipment, object, structure or vegetation that is located on, over, along, across, under or in a street, or any portion thereof, but excluding any vegetation planted or any device, equipment, object, or structure installed and maintained by the City.
FENCE – A barrier, including one for noise attenuation, or any structure, except a structural part of a building, that wholly or partially screens from view, encloses or divides a yard or other land, or marks or substantially marks the boundary between adjoining land.
LANDSCAPING – Trees, shrubs, grass, flowers and other vegetation, including maintained natural gardens, but excluding noxious weeds and local weeds designated under the provisions of the Weed Control Act, decorative stonework, walkways or other horticultural or landscape-architectural elements or any combination of these that are situated in a street to improve its appearance or environmental quality, but excludes driveways or parking areas and any material that allows, or that can be made to allow, vehicle parking or driveway access.
MAINTAINED NATURAL GARDEN – soft landscaping consisting of wildflowers, shrubs, perennials, grasses or combination thereof, whether native or non-native, but excluding noxious weeds and local weeds designated under the provisions of the Weed Control Act that is planted to produce a ground cover consistent with a managed and natural landscape other than regularly mown grass.
SOFT LANDSCAPING – Shrubs, hedges, grass, flowers, maintained natural gardens, fruit or vegetable gardens or other vegetation, excluding trees, noxious weeds and local weeds designated under the provisions of the Weed Control Act.
743-12. Vegetation overhanging streets.
A. No owner or occupier of land shall allow any part of a tree or other vegetation growing on their property to extend over, into or upon any street in a manner that obstructs fire hydrants, driver and pedestrian sight lines, or that interferes, impedes, or endangers persons and vehicles using the street.
B. When considered necessary for the convenient and safe use of a street, the General Manager shall, after providing a minimum of 48 hours notice, trim any tree or other vegetation that extends into the street from the adjoining property, pursuant to Article XVIII.
C. Where such tree or vegetation interferes with a traffic control signal, STOP or YIELD sign, the General Manager is not required to provide notice to the adjoining owner or occupier of the land before removing any portion of the tree or other vegetation that extends into the street from the adjoining property, provided that the City shall be financially responsible for the costs associated with this work.
743-36. Property owner responsibilities.
The owner or occupier of land adjoining the street shall maintain the boulevard at their expense, as follows:
A. Sustain all vegetation planted in the boulevard in a state of healthy and vigorous growth, and maintain the grassed portion of the boulevard at a height not exceeding 20 centimetres.
E. Maintain the boulevard free of litter, rubbish, brush, leaves, lawn trimmings, tree trimmings and noxious weeds as defined by the Noxious Weed Act.
F. Prune and trim hedges, trees, shrubs and soft landscaping to provide a minimum vertical clearance of 2.5 metres above a sidewalk, and 5.0 metres above a road.
G. Ensure that driver and pedestrian sight lines at intersections, driveways, sidewalks, walkways, and visibility to all traffic control devices is not restricted by vegetation or other modifications to the boulevard that the property owner or occupant may undertake.
H. Maintain an unobstructed two metre radius around fire hydrants or fire hydrant valves.
I. Ensure adequate intersection turning sight distances by maintaining soft landscaping and other vegetation located in a boulevard at a height of not more than 0.85 metres measured from the traveled portion of the adjoining road.
Chapter 918 Parking on Residential Front Yards and Boulevards
Strangely, this bylaw also targets gardens and in some respects contradicts Chapter 743’s newly enacted boulevard gardening requirements.
LANDSCAPED OPEN SPACE — The area of the boulevard or front yard that supports the growth of vegetation and may include a walkway, patio or similar area, but does not include a driveway, front yard parking pad or the sidewalk.
SOFT LANDSCAPING — The area of the boulevard or front yard that supports the growth of vegetation such as grass, trees, shrubs, flowers or other plants and permits water infiltration into the ground, but soft landscaping does not include above-ground pots and/or planters which are readily moveable.
918-11. Conditions — landscaped open space.
A. A minimum of 50 percent of the boulevard and front yard must be maintained as landscaped open space for lots less than 15 metres.
B. A minimum of 60 percent of the boulevard and front yard must be maintained as landscaped open space for lots greater than 15 metres.
C. A minimum of 75 percent of the boulevard and front yard must be maintained as soft landscaping.
D. The remaining 25 percent of this area will be permitted as hard surface such as walkways, patios, and other hard surface areas provided that these areas cannot be used, or in the opinion of the General Manager, are capable of being used for vehicle parking purposes.
E. Hard surface paving areas must be separated from driveways, front yard parking pads and walkways by means of a permanent physical barrier.
F. Walkways located on the boulevard from the back edge of the sidewalk or back of curb to the property line shall not have a width greater than 1.05 metres.
918-23. Property owner’s responsibilities.
B. The property owner, at his or her expense, shall:
(1) Maintain the grassed portion of the boulevard and front yard trimmed to a height of not more than 20 centimetres.
(2) Maintain in a good state of repair permitted paving, landscape and encroachments, and vegetation shall be maintained in a healthy and vigorous growth.
(3) Maintain the boulevard and front yard free of litter, rubbish, brush, leaves, lawn trimmings, tree trimmings and noxious weeds as defined by the Weed Control Act of Ontario.15
(4) Prune and trim hedges, trees, shrubs, and maintain natural gardens, except for those planted by the City, to maintain a minimum vertical clearance of 2.5 metres above the sidewalk, and 5.0 metres above the roadway so that there is no encroachment on or over:
(a) A sidewalk; and
(b) A roadway where there is no sidewalk;
(5) Maintain pedestrian sightlines at intersections, driveways, sidewalks, walkways, travel lanes, and ensure visibility at all traffic control devices is not restricted by vegetation or other modifications to the boulevard that the property owner may undertake.
C. Maintain an unobstructed 2.0 metres radius around fire hydrants or fire hydrant valves or as approved by the Fire Chief for the City of Toronto.
D. Shrubs, hedges, maintained natural gardens, flowers and other plantings located within the boulevard shall not be more than 0.8 metre in height measured from the travelled portion of the adjoining roadway.
Other relevant bylaws:
Chapter 492 Green Roofs
Chapter 659 Ravine and Natural Feature Protection
Chapter 813 Trees (Toronto’s vaunted Tree Protection Bylaw, which is often over-ruled by development dollars).
Chapter 608 Parks
608-43. Pruning of trees on private property.
The Commissioner is authorized to prune or cause to be pruned all trees located on private property, the branches of which extend over a park, including the pruning of branches that are hazardous or create an unsafe condition.