90 Sumach

Why was a 6 story warehouse built in the 1950’s, stuck in behind the historic houses on Sumach and Shuter? As a condo building, has 90 Sumach been a “considerate” neighbour?

90 Sumach, behind houses on Shuter (top) and Sumach (right)1992: looking west to 90 Sumach, from Shuter/River1949: bounded by Shuter (top), Sumach, Queen (bottom), Sackville

How did it happen?

The houses on Shuter St were built in the 1890s. (Originally North Park St, the road was renamed Sydenham St, and then Shuter St.) Where 90 Sumach is now was originally stables for horse-drawn delivery wagons used by Dominion Brewery. (Compare 1949 and 1967 aerial photos.) In 1957, the Rubin Corporation constructed the large 6 storey warehouse at 90 Sumach for the CBC (who used it for 30 years as storage, prop construction and rehearsal space). At a height of 29m, it towers over the surrounding houses. Buildings throughout the city face onto a public street, but 90 Sumach is in the middle of the block bounded by Shuter, Sumach, Queen and Sackville St. This warehouse was built to within 1.3m of its east and north property lines since the builder expected the city to expropriate 1 the surrounding houses. This conflict motivated Trefann Court residents to fight back, successfully, against the city’s 1966 urban renewal plans. The city’s revised plan in 1972 made vague promises that 90 Sumach would be eventually demolished, and replaced with residential housing (see above diagram). That didn’t happen; a 1996 OMB hearing approved All‑Borough Properties’ plan to convert 90 Sumach to a 110 unit residential condo. Units face either north or south, and have a single window (except corner units). A number of restrictions 2 were added to the 1996 site-specific bylaw to minimize conflicts between 90 Sumach and the houses on Shuter and Sumach.

How neighbourly?

This 110 unit condo has significant pooled financial resources. Its owners are anonymous, hidden behind a condo board and aloof property management company. Shuter St residents rarely see 90 Sumach owners: their pedestrian entrance is off Sumach and parking garage entrance is off Queen.

It’s frustrating that 90 Sumach doesn’t consult with surrounding neighbours to get advance feedback on possible changes that may affect Shuter homeowners; 90 Sumach just takes action unilaterally, and then offers vague platitudes 3.

Shared laneway

On the north side of 90 Sumach is a “T” shaped laneway:
• a north-south laneway located between 445 and 459 Shuter (8m wide), and
• a 80m long east-west laneway: parallel to Shuter Street, located behind 439-461 Shuter (3m wide)
Ownership of these laneways is mixed. ln 1957 the builder of 90 Sumach demolished the house at 447 Shuter to create a wider laneway for access to 90 Sumach’s loading dock. Thus 90 Sumach “owns” the 4.93m wide portion (known as “part 3”) of this north-south laneway adjacent to 445 Shuter; Shuter residents have right-of-way over this land. The 2.98m wide eastern side (“part 4”) adjacent to 449 Shuter has been a laneway since the 1890s; it’s an orphan, still registered to George Worrell, who built 449-459 Shuter in 1891. Use of the north-south laneway is shared by Shuter residents and 90 Sumach, and should never be blocked by trucks waiting to access 90 Sumach’s loading dock. Ownership of the 80m? long east-west laneway is also registered to George Worrell; 90 Sumach would have no justification for right-of-way over that portion. The darkly shaded area on the diagram below shows the “T” shaped lands still owned by George Worrell.

Conflicts with 90 Sumach pre‑date Ontario’s conversion to Land Titles 4, so some references here are to Land Registry records.

In 1999, when 90 Sumach was converted to condos, Shuter residents spent $1,320 to have a lawyer register their historic right-of-way over part 3 of the laneway. Right-of-way over the 1.3m strip of land (part 6) on the north side of 90 Sumach was also registered, to give Shuter residents flexibility when parking in rear yards and in the east-west laneway.

Noise and privacy

Houseowners pay a premium to have a backyard for private outdoor amenity space (that extra land increases the cost). On the rare occasion when a neighbour is noisy, the adjacent houseowner likely knows them by name, and can phone or visit in person, and discuss. Not so easy to identify the exact source of late-night noise, when it’s coming from 90 Sumach!

In comparison, a unit-owner in a multi-unit condo building hasn’t paid for a private backyard and so has no expectation of private outdoor space, unless a balcony is permitted. On the north side of 90 Sumach is an 8m wide roof above their parking garage. The bylaw prohibits balconies anywhere on the north side of the building. The 3rd floor condo unit (unit 312) overlooks the section of garage roof which is west of the protruding stairwell. That unit owner got permission from the condo board in 2018 to construct a private outdoor terrace, even though explicitly prohibited by the bylaw. No advance notice was given to adjacent Shuter residents, who, upon observing the terrace construction in Aug 2021, asked the city why the bylaw was ignored. The Committee of Adjustment (CofA) refused unit 312’s request for a retroactive minor variance to allow this terrace. The owner of unit 312 objected, but Shuter residents didn’t have the funds to hire a professional planner to explain reasons why restrictions banning use of the garage roof should remain. Unit 312 hired a lawyer and urban planner to appeal the CofA decision and argue that bylaw restrictions should be ignored; the Toronto Local Appeal Body (TLAB) agreed and approved this terrace in Oct 2022. (more details). For Shuter residents, this was a repeat of the 1996 OMB hearing: the party with greater financial resources to hire lawyers and expert witnesses wins, regardless of argument merits. (See above photo: unit 312’s terrace looms over 439-445 Shuter backyards)

Laneway parking

Since the 1980s, Shuter residents have always parked on “part 3” of the laneway while “part 4” provides access to 90 Sumach’s loading dock and to the laneway behind Shuter St houses. In 2016, 90 Sumach proclaimed (via notice affixed to car windshields) that “part 3” would now be for their exclusive use for parking (in spite of bylaw restrictions on any increase in their outdoor parking 2). Several Shuter residents protested to 90 Sumach, and expended considerable time and $370 in lawyer fees: to refute 90 Sumach’s claim for “full and exclusive use of the laneway” and to ensure that 90 Sumach recognized shared laneway ownership 5 as described above. After further communication from 90 Sumach, and an in-person meeting, they finally backed down.

The condo owns less than 1/3 of the area of the laneway, yet they had the entire “T” shaped laneway paved in 1999, with no prior warning. Again in 2023, the condo abruptly announced they would repave all of these laneways again; Shuter residents who park in their backyards or behind their homes were told find their own alternative parking for 4 days.

Notes

  1. Expropriation:
    “The warehouse, while under construction, was advertised with a large billboard which showed the building surrounded by landscaped green space stretching north to Shuter St where there was in fact a row of houses.” (Gordon Fraser: Fighting Back, 1972; page 65)
    “Buildings recommended for acquisition and clearance. The inclusion of houses from 439 to 463 Shuter St [for expropriation] provides the land necessary to satisfy the parking requirements of the CBC.” (City of Toronto Planning Board: Trefann Court Urban Renewal Scheme, Oct 1966; page 11)
  2.  

  3. Section 1 of the 90 Sumach site-specific bylaw contains restrictions to address concerns of privacy and overlook of, and possible conflict with, neighbouring properties:
    (6) no balconies on north or east building face, or the north side of the west face
    (8) no more than 22 outdoor parking spaces [see plan: 13 visitor parking on east side, 9 employee parking on west side]
    (12) at least 1,078 m2 of landscaped open space
    (14) no doors to the garage roof
    (23) 5 metre setback of rooftop amenity space, on north and east sides of the building
    (24) garage roof used for maintenance only (i.e. no patios or outdoor amenity space)
    (25) use of laneway to loading dock for moving in/moving out only
    (26-28) frosted glass in selected locations
  4.  

  5. Communications from 90 Sumach:
    “We want to first note that the owners of MTCC 1235 [90 Sumach] wish to continue to have a good relationship with its surrounding neighbours” (May 31, 2016)
    “The Board has determined that there is no real benefit … in alienating our valued neighbours.” (July 4, 2016)
  6.  

  7. “For a long time, Ontario had two systems of property registration: the Registry System and The Land Titles System. The Ontario Registry Act created the registry system and came into effect in 1795. It was the sole land registry system until the Land Titles Act came into effect in 1885. In the 1990s, the Ontario government began to phase out the registry system and convert all registrations to land titles. In the 1990s, the government created the Province of Ontario Land Registration Information System (POLARIS) to facilitate the automation of the land registration system.” (source: RBF website)
  8.  

  9. In 2016, a lawyer hired by Shuter homeowners researched ownership of the various parts of the laneway, and also offered to register right-of-way (ROW) on Shuter homeowners’ property titles. A previous lawyer registered this ROW on 90 Sumach’s property title only (since in 1999 it was unclear how to update the old Land Registry system to register ROW on title for the Shuter homeowners.)
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