CREDIT: Pat McGrath, The Ottawa
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
The total came to $9,151, minus the original $275, for a total
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
"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
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,
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
Pay $30,000 to Put Up $20,500 Structure, City Hall Says