"His experience with city hall is nothing short of outrageous."

 
From the...


 
Can't see the forest for the fees

CREDIT: Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen
 
  Bill Gardiner, who runs a tree-trimming service, wants to erect an elaborate tent-like structure on his property to store some of his expensive equipment. So far, Ottawa wants to charge him nearly $30,000 in various fees to allow him to put up a $20,500 building.  
 

Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli says he'd like to reach out to the city's rural outerlings. Good idea; heaven knows they don't feel the love from Elgin Street.

Perhaps he could start with Bill Gardiner, a small businessman in Ottawa's far west corner. Actually, he does feel the city's reach at the moment. He's being strangled.

His experience with city hall is nothing short of outrageous.

Here is the most salient point. He is trying to put up a storage building worth $20,500, and the city is attempting to charge him almost $30,000 in fees.

Mr. Gardiner operates a tree-trimming operation on a one-acre site just outside Galetta, which is on the edge of Arnprior, in more ways than one.

He has five employees in the summer and a ton of equipment, including a special crane that cost something like $300,000. It is not a Mickey Mouse operation. Mr. Gardiner has been at it for 32 years.

 
 
He is trying to put up a storage building worth $20,500, and the city is attempting to charge him almost $30,000 in fees.

 
 

In the fall of 2003, he decided he wanted to store his expensive equipment under cover, to delay the effects of weather. He looked around for a cheap structure that would keep the sun, rain and snow away.

He settled on a quick-build structure designed for farms. Made by a company called Cover-All, it is essentially an elaborate tent. It consists of a series of circular steel trusses that hold up a weather-proof tarp.

Once up, it looks like a semi-cylinder. The ends can be left open, or covered. Often, these buildings -- and there are hundreds of them out there -- are used to store hay.

 
 


"They're looking at this building as though we were putting it up across from Parliament Hill," said Mr. Gardiner.

The crazy part of the story, adds Mr. Gardiner, is that city staff who have visited his property agree that all this red tape is nonsense for what is, after all, a permanent tent.

 
 

Mr. Gardiner bought a 100-by-60-foot building for $20,500. It was not to be heated. It was not to have a water connection. In time, it might have electricity. It was intended to be a cover for trucks, possibly a work area for making firewood.

Before buying, Mr. Gardiner, 54, had been assured the building would meet any bylaw requirements. Why not? Dozens, if not hundreds, have gone up across Eastern Ontario.

Mr. Gardiner went to a city office in Kinburn and applied for a building permit, for which he paid $275. And the wait began.

He wanted to put the building at the back of his one-acre property, which bordered on a cornfield owned by his father. He had drawn a simple map, showing a setback of 10 feet from the property line.

The city's initial response -- and it would become a saga -- was to say the setback was wrong. First, it was moved to 33 feet, then 44. The new footprint of the building was now in a dopey spot: much closer to the centre of the lot.

Because his one acre was zoned industrial, he had to submit a drainage plan, a landscape plan and a site plan. A city official looked at the description of the building and wanted detailed engineering plans.

Mr. Gardiner had to order them from the manufacturer, at a cost of $1,000. The city didn't like the fact that the trusses were 10 feet apart, though this was commonplace.

Much to Cover-All's credit, says Mr. Gardiner, they took the first building back and delivered the modified structure at no charge.

 
 


Here's a snippet from the mayor's state-of-the-city address about 10 days ago, at which he announced an upcoming rural summit.

"Fallingbrook has different needs than Manotick, which has different needs from Lowertown, which has different needs from Craig Henry, which has different needs from Galetta.

"And the city needs to recognize that in a meaningful way, beginning this year. ... We will roll up our sleeves and deal with rural concerns head on."

You can start anytime, Mr. Mayor. Bill Gardiner is where rubber meets the road.


 
 

This was but the start. The big tent had now fallen into the city's site plan control process.

Because of its size, strictly speaking, it was to be reviewed in a public consultation process, costing Mr. Gardiner $5,017. However, he was offered an option. If he only constructed a portion of the building, it would cost $767 for these fees, and he could immediately apply for two more expansions, thus finishing the building for another $1,534.

A WHOLE YEAR OF TO-ING AND FRO-ING

The to-ing and fro-ing with the city went on for all of 2004. They wanted a seven-foot high hedge between his shop and his father's house next door. Failing that, they wanted an earth berm.

When that became impractical, they asked for a row of trees, maples perhaps, planted as close as six feet apart. As a tree cutter, Mr. Gardiner had a good laugh over that one.

Inasmuch as 2004 was a frustrating year, the big bomb was yet to drop.

Not long ago, he received an estimate from the city that totalled all the development fees. It's a good thing he wasn't holding a chainsaw at the time because he might have chopped a limb off.

The total came to $9,151, minus the original $275, for a total of $8,876.

Mr. Gardiner called the city and pleaded that there must be a mistake. There was, he was told. This was a charge for only the first third of the building. The total would be three times this amount.

"They're looking at this building as though we were putting it up across from Parliament Hill," said Mr. Gardiner.

The crazy part of the story, adds Mr. Gardiner, is that city staff who have visited his property agree that all this red tape is nonsense for what is, after all, a permanent tent.

"I haven't met bad people at the city, but everyone is living by a code book."

The businessman is now at a slight standstill with the city. He wants to enclose the building by constructing ends made of steel sheeting. The city, it will not surprise, has asked for engineering plans on a wall that amounts to some strapping and a metal covering.

The city's planning department, meanwhile, is supposed to offer him a reduced set of development fees. He wants to see some numbers before he decides to complete the building.

A word about development fees. As I understand it, the fees were created to offset the pressure created by new buildings on publicly-funded infrastructure -- roads, sewers, water service, even schools.

Mr. Gardiner's tarp structure does none of those things. If his building was intended on a spot 20 feet away (on the adjoining cornfield), none of this would be happening.

Here's a snippet from the mayor's state-of-the-city address about 10 days ago, at which he announced an upcoming rural summit.

"Fallingbrook has different needs than Manotick, which has different needs from Lowertown, which has different needs from Craig Henry, which has different needs from Galetta.

"And the city needs to recognize that in a meaningful way, beginning this year. ... We will roll up our sleeves and deal with rural concerns head on."

You can start anytime, Mr. Mayor. Bill Gardiner is where rubber meets the road.

Contact Kelly Egan at 726-5896 or by

e-mail, kegan@thecitizen.canwest.com

Pay $30,000 to Put Up $20,500 Structure, City Hall Says

 The Ottawa Citizen 2005


 

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