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Niagara Falls
Thursday, February 29, 2024
Letter: Do residents have rights when neighbours build next door?
Letter writer Kip Voege wonders if neighbours have any rights when new buildings go up. RICHARD HARLEY/MIDJOURNEY

Dear editor:

About a year ago we learned the house on the property that adjoins our backyard was to be torn down and replaced.

In order to see if the new house would have any negative impacts on our property, I tried contacting the neighbouring owners.

They refused to meet with me or provide a copy of the new, approved site plan. They did arrange for their builder to stop by our house to show my wife and I a copy of the site plan on an iPhone, but he would not give us a copy of it.

How good are your eyes for detail and memory on a screen that size?

With no luck there, I tried to obtain a copy through the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s planning department.

I was told that we could come into the planning department and view a copy, but if we wanted a hard copy, I would have to fill out a freedom of information request (FOI).

I questioned this on the basis of “what private and personal information is contained on a site plan?” I still have not received an adequate answer to this question.

A copy of the proposed site plan is available (without an FOI request) to the adjoining neighbours, only if a minor variance is required for a new proposed structure. So, where are the privacy and personal information concerns?

I have reviewed the Ontario Freedom of Information Act and have not found anywhere that says an FOI request is required for a copy of a site plan.

After a few days of emails back and forth and staff insisting it was town policy, I filed the FOI request.

When I went to file it and pay the $5 deposit, the offices had closed early due to an impending snow storm. This was the day before the Christmas-New Year’s break.

I deposited my money and FOI request in the dropbox at the front door.

When the town offices reopened after New Year’s, my son-in-law and I made arrangements to view the site plans. When we did this, we were told we could not take any photos of them.

The day the town reopened, I received a call from the clerk’s department saying they had received my FOI request and the town had 30 days from that date to respond, not the date I had filed it.

That got straightened out, but in the end it did not matter. I was told additional charges would apply depending on how much time staff had to search the files to find the copy.

The site plan was already out and in an active file in the planning department. My FOI request for a copy of the site plan was denied with an explanation that made no sense with regards to the document that was applied for.

You can appeal the decision to Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner by paying a $25 deposit.

I did not file an appeal because by the time I received the decision, the house had been torn down and construction on the new one started.

We are now looking at a 35-foot wall. The previous house was a single storey with a full dormer on the back. At the most, it was 20 feet high.

The new house has a larger footprint and restricts our view of the Niagara River toward Queenston and Lewiston. It also interferes with our digital antenna TV reception from the south and southeast.

With the heavy rains in late July, water flooded our backyard. We can only hope that this will not be repeated and has been taken care of.

Pot lights are being installed in the soffits. Will they light up our backyard and the inside of our house all night, like the lights installed on the house and in the yard of a home built across the street from us 10 years ago?

What about the rights of adjoining property owners?

Kip Voege

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