Powell Avenue – a development case study

The building at 196 Powell as seen on the developer’s website, with features contrary to the approved building permit.

The current state of construction at 196 Powell Avenue

By John Richardson and Alan Freeman

While zoning is for a triplex, the building has been provided with electrical meters for four units, with room for more.

In May 2019, residents of Powell Avenue between Percy and Bronson woke up to the sudden start of construction on the site of a traditional, gable-roofed brick and stucco house.

The modest house at 196 Powell had been divided for years into small rental units but had been recently sold and appeared to be headed for a substantial renovation. But the precipitous start of construction was a surprise. After complaints to the city, officials issued a stop-work order last June because no construction permits were in place.

When the developer, 2B Developments, finally obtained a permit from the city, it called for “construction of a 3-storey addition and interior alterations to a 3-storey triplex.” The façade, including the Glebe-style pitched roof atop the two-storey structure, was to remain intact.

A principal of 2B Developments told one neighbour in an email, “We are simply upgrading the existing property to a compliant multi-unit use.” The developer said most of the work would be done inside, and it would all be completed within six months.

Yet despite the permit, the building remained partially demolished for months. At one point, hastily constructed outside wooden steps were bolted to a second-floor bedroom facing the street because tenants had refused to leave the building, and the owners were required to provide an emergency exit.

Construction proceeded in fits and starts. Small groups of workers drifted in and out. Days, weeks and months passed with little to no progress. New windows were installed. One day, two men pulled up in a pickup, dug a hole in front of a street-facing basement window and sped off. Weeks later, the hole and the dirt pile remained.

Then in March, soon after the pandemic hit, activity erupted again. The sloped roof was removed, and the house morphed into a bulky, flat-roofed apartment block, totally out of keeping with the rest of the block.

Unusual construction practices continued. At one point, workers cut lumber with a chainsaw while sitting on the edge of the roof, legs dangling. At another occasion, workers sawed off roof cross-beams and let the lumber fall to the ground below.

Workers in hazmat suits stripped materials of unknown origin from the exterior walls but left the debris exposed to the elements for weeks.

Concerned neighbours called the city’s building inspection department and contacted the office of Councillor Shawn Menard. On May 20, the city ordered a second stop-work order for work “not constructed in accordance with approved plans.”

The notice, affixed to the front door, noted that the existing second-floor roof had been removed and a new third-floor wall had been added with new windows and a patio door. In addition, the third-floor layout had been changed and expanded with an extra bedroom. None of this was in the original permit. Now the developer says that providing the previously unplanned three-bedroom rental unit “is something I think the area needs more of.”

The developer was given until May 29 to follow the original plan or apply for a new permit. At press time, it was uncertain what the outcome would be.

While the original permit application shows an attractive, modestly proportioned building with a façade of brick and hardboard shingles, 2B Development’s website now shows a large, dark gray, flat-roofed block with doors and balconies on the front. While the house is zoned as a triplex, the electrical panel contains four electric meters with space for at least two more.

Unfortunately, this appears to be a pattern with projects involving the same company in other neighbourhoods where the company applies to build one kind of structure and then erects a larger one. In the case of one project in Hintonburg, Kitchissippi Councillor Jeff Leiper described the developer’s actions as a “gross abuse of process.”

As Glebe residents, we are concerned about developers committing to build one design, then building something else and asking after the fact for permission to retain the new structure.

We understand the desire for densification, but it has to respect the character of the neighbourhood and its livability. We respect the rules when we alter our homes, and we expect no less of those who would transform our community. All of this should be done with complete transparency.

So far, 70 residents of Powell Avenue have signed a petition calling on the city to ensure that 196 Powell is re-developed in strict accordance with the original building permit and that no variances or retroactive changes be permitted to allow a completely different project to emerge.

The future of our neighbourhood and the integrity of the city’s planning system are at stake.

John Richardson and Alan Freeman are residents of Powell Avenue.

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