Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ugly Decision by City Council

Municipal elections are coming this fall in Ontario, and thanks to the provincial Liberals, we are now looking at a four year mandate for the city fathers to be in power. All the more reason to get involved at the municipal level and challenge the complacency and culture of entitlement.

To that end, I am focusing today's entry on a local issue which could have national ramifications - Just how much government do we need running our lives?

Today's Kitchener Record has kindly provided a front page story and pic about the recent controversial decision of Kitchener City Council to ban the building of semi-detached houses with double garages in front, starting Jan. 1.

As you can see from the photo on the link, the semis appear to be all garage, with few windows to monitor the street. This has caused some complaints of esthetic and safety problems. Some people have even labelled them "ugly".

The homeowners are insulted that their homes would be regarded in this way. Dakota owner Carolyn Nesseth loves her home. Regarding the safety concern, she points out that their living room is situated on the floor above the garage and therefore affords a fine view of the street.

The Globe quotes Mayor Carl Zehr as protesting that he never used the word "ugly". It is more about aesthetics, he maintains. Sounds like political double-talk to me.

Of course the builder is livid. This has been a huge seller. The units are extremely affordable and of great value, considering the amenities.

Since beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, I really don't see the problem here. The free market will prevail. If people hate the appearance, nobody will buy and the houses won't sell. Period.

A further advantage to these homes is smaller lawn space, so the environmentalists should be happy - less pesticide use to argue about.

I also feel that city council should be trying to solve much greater problems such as the many downtown issues (drugs, crime, vacant stores and lots, etc.)

Can't help wondering, though, how those people in the "ugly" homes will be voting this fall.

* * * *

Hey, you even get to vote on the Record site. Register your opinion here.

Update @2:44 p.m. - Was Kitchener council right to ban double garages?

Yes - 41%
No - 59%

Are you listening Carl Zehr?

Update @ 7:44 p.m. Yes - 39% No - 61%

Read it and weep, Mayor Zehr! Why would you do this in an election year???


Brian said...

Hey, there would be no downtown problems if only there was affordable housing.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Yeah, why don't they build affordable housing on that big empty lot downtown, and forget the library boondoggle?

Kirk West said...

It is always a crime in my view when town council takes its power and abuses it in this fashion. What is beauty? It is fleeting. What one council sees as ugly today, another council might see as acceptable. Is this why we vote? So that councils can restrict, impose, and force itself on communities? What about enabling a flourishing and vibrant community by avoiding overbearing restrictions? What about tackling some of the real issues, you know, poverty, crime, good streets?

Where will this end? What about houses with pink garages? What about houses that utilize solar energy panels? Will they be considered ugly too?

What about people who drive junkers? Will they be forced to park their cars elsewhere, to avoid making the street seem ugly? What about Why not just make garages illegal? In the name of equality at least, right?

jeff davidson said...

joanne, the smaller lawns seem somehow irrelevant given that these homes all have 2 car garages. just an observation.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

the smaller lawns seem somehow irrelevant given that these homes all have 2 car garages.

Yeah, and double-paved driveways which mean less lawn... I'm sorry but I don't see your point.

jeff davidson said...

joanne, cars produce smog and green house gases. double garages with double paved driveways hold alot of cars. more cars.....not so good for the environment.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Ah-hah. Thanks Jeff. Now I see where you're going with that.

Um, good point, but I think they'd likely have those cars anyway.

BTW, my pesticide remark was meant to be somewhat facetious. ;)

Red Tory said...

They are butt freaking ugly, but I don’t think it’s any of your local council’s business to legislate taste. Hey, we agree on something! BTW, the poll is currently running Yes: 43 % No: 57 %

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Hey, we agree on something!

It's a Red Letter day!

Kunoichi said...

Well, I gotta admit, these designs are a lot nicer than some others I've seen with only 1 garage in the front, still managing to hide the rest of the house. Having the garage in front like that is a practicle matter of convenience. Without back lanes to drive into from behind, where else are they going to put them?

Joanne (True Blue) said...

What about Why not just make garages illegal? In the name of equality at least, right?

That's right, Kirk. We need a new government boondoggle - SOG Canada (Status of Garages). That was a JOKE, people!

Kunoichi - I agree with the convenience factor. Personally, I'd never buy one, but someone else may want to. Why should the city council stop a builder from building them, if people want them and they satisfy a niche market?

Red Tory said...

Kunoichi -- The problem (as if it wasn’t completely obvious) is the fact that lot sizes have shrunken to the point where there is the necessity to jam the garage in front of the house. These horrific designs are the result of the naked greed of property developers who want to make the absolute most profit they can out by plunking great big houses with all the amenities (dual car garages, for example) on postage-stamp size lots. When I lived in Edmonton years ago, our garage was detached from the house. It was its own little separate building for goodness sake! Complete with heat and everything. But that was a really big lot, something that’s almost impossible to come by these days in most suburban developments.

Sara said...

omg don't you think the council has better things to do,, what a bunch of morons and yet they keep getting re-elected.. you do know the election is coming up eh

liberal supporter said...

Is "Mayor Zehr" related to the grocery store chain? That bastion of fine architecture? Zehrs doesn't just have double driveways to the street, they cover several acres with parking lot in front of the big box store. Even architecture students from schools in Florence come here to marvel at the Zehrs world class designs...

Municipal governments regulate construction so buildings don't fall down. They regulate location and zoning so they can plan infrastructure like sewers, roads and such. They regulate building size, height, lot coverage for the same reasons.

I agree with regulations for business improvement areas, if you want a Niagara on the lake type tourist trap downtown. But these are only given broad direction by council, and a management board made up of the local merchants hammers out the details among themselves.

On the other hand when the homeowners get the upper hand, we have a small bunch of Toronto Islanders stifling bridges and airports and the business they bring, while their friends cover the entire waterfront with a condo wall.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

lol! L.S. not sure about that one. I think a post on big box stores is a good topic for another day though. Thanks for the idea.

Sara said...

too bad you got a sucky council I got a great one, check out what my mayor just emailed me...

Kunoichi said...

RT - yeah, lot sizes are an issue, too, but I couldn't blame it on the "naked greed" of developers, or even consider it a recent developement.

The house I used to live in before our most recent move was 3000 square feet (no garage) and actually sat on 2 lots (we had 3 lots in total). The front of the house was 2 feet from the property line, and the "sidewalk" in front actually went over the propertly line. On one side, the outer wall was 4 inches from the property line. The other side had a semi-detatched storage room that sat on the second lot.

There used to be a garage/storage building behind the house. The concrete pad it rested on is still there and two sides are right on the property lines. Likewise, other buildings that were on the third lot were built right along the very edges of the property lines in the corner.

I don't know what year it was built, but the store that used to be in the front of that house closed in the mid-60's and by then, it was already old.

This was hardly unique. Our neighbour's home on one side is the same, as are almost all the other houses that were built around the same time in that area.

People utilized every inch of space they could, and yards were almost considered a "waste" of space that they felt was better used as living space. I feel it's much the same way with these "monster" houses. The people who own these homes want to take advantage of every inch of space they can, and if they have no use for a yard, why have one?

And who am I to tell them they shouldn't be allowed to do that on their own property? As long as it meets the safety codes, etc. it's none of my business.

As for jamming the garages in the front of the house, I think that has more to do with cities no longer including back lanes in new housing developements. I'm sure that, if there were access from behind, most home owners would prefer to "hide" their garages in the back. That's just not an option anymore.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Kunoichi - The National Post had this issue on their front page a couple of days ago (imagine!), and they showed some recent developments in Toronto and other areas that are using the back-lane concept as you mentioned.

It seems like a reasonable solution, but I think there is too much government interference at every level.