2018 Fence and Vegetation Bylaw

LS25.3 Review of Municipal Code Chapter 447, Fences

Scoop's Comments (below) were sent to members of City Council on May 22nd, 2018. On May 23rd, City Council agreed to revise the Bylaw.

Most homeowners will still be in contravention of the bylaw, unknowingly. That is, unknowingly until a bully neighbour uses the bylaw to force them to cut down their vegetation to a prescribed height (an arbitrary restriction). Forcing homeowners to defend their vegetation which may grow (unlike manufactured fences) beyond the limits allowed for $200 for each visit to Community Council is ludicrous. It is a waste of time and money for homeowners and City staff. Sight line issues are addressed more generally in at least three other bylaws. There is leeway for interpretation.

Re: LS25.3 Review of Municipal Code Chapter 447, Fences

"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."

The amendments proposed are half-measures which do not go far enough to address the problem with the definition of ‘fences’. Municipal Code Chapter 447, Fences, should be amended to remove any mention of vegetation in the definition of 'fences'. This action would modernize the By-law and ensure that it continues to meet community safety needs. It would also recognize the importance of green infrastructure to our City.

Fences on private property are subject to legislation under the City of Toronto Act through Municipal Codes and bylaws. The rules cover restrictions on types of materials, placement of fences and maximum heights. Fence definitions were amended three times in the Municipal Code between 2000 and 2008. With regards to vegetation, the definition of fence changed from including any hedge or grouping of shrubs in a front yard or a flankage yard (Bylaws 394-2000), to including hedges or grouping of shrubs in the backyard (557-2004), to including single shrubs (793-2008). Clearly, ML&S is struggling with the definition if it has been revisited so many times.

The amendments have changed so that it has become very restrictive for property owners to grow shrubs and trees. They claimed that they expanded the definition of a fence to allow Municipal Standards Officers to deal more effectively with obstructions under Chapter 447, Fences. Instead, they have produced an even more restrictive code that affects homeowners who want to maintain taller vegetation anywhere on their property in the City of Toronto.

And now it is proposed that the definition of fences include “hedge, shrub, or other vegetation”? Why can’t we have taller vegetation residing behind a manufactured fence? What is the sight line issue? [referring to amendment (2). City Council amend Chapter 447, Fences, to remove maximum height requirements for any hedge, shrub, or other vegetation that acts as a fence, except when the hedge, shrub, or vegetation is within a 2.4 metre distance from a lot line abutting a public highway, other than a public lane.]

Since there is no definition of hedge or shrub in the Municipal code, are trees included? Are street trees exempt?

Why is green infrastructure (hedges, shrubs) treated as if it was gray infrastructure (manufactured structures, e.g., board-on-board/chain link fences) when vegetation benefits everyone?

Vegetation does not have to be included under the fences bylaw to address safety issues. It is redundant when vegetation and sight lines have already been addressed in other TMC Bylaws:

Chapter 629, Property Standards (629-11F. Landscaping, drainage and grading) states that all hedges, shrubs, trees or other plants have to be planted and maintained in a manner that does not constitute a safety hazard for pedestrians or vehicles. It is quite general and includes vegetation overhanging pavement, sidewalks or the travelled portion of any street.

Chapter 743, Streets and Sidewalks, Use of (743-12A. Vegetation overhanging streets).
Prohibits tree or other vegetation growing 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.

Chapter 918 (918-23B. Parking on Residential Front Yards and Boulevards, Article VIII, Maintaining Parking Area, Property owner's responsibilities). "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."

All vegetation, not just trees contribute to the environmental benefits that we enjoy. We need more vegetation in the City of Toronto, not less!

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