A tale of two driveways

·6 min read

There are plenty of one-size-fits-all rules that work just fine in most situations.

But every once in a while, a case comes along with circumstances bizarre enough that they make even the most reasonable regulations seem absurd.

Chelmsford resident Tom Grylls has found himself in the frustrating crosshairs of one such case, stuck between a rule that makes sense on paper and an expensive demand to meet it that he said doesn’t serve much purpose.

Grylls lives in a modest one-storey bungalow off Municipal Road 15, surrounded by dozens of acres of farm properties, halfway between Chelmsford and Val Caron. Born and raised in Sudbury, he moved around the city for some time, before purchasing his parcel of land from an old farm plot that had been split into four sections.

In 1973, that land would become the location of his white-brick house and, more importantly, his now 49-year-old gravel driveway.

“I still have all my receipts for when we built. I kept track of everything,” said Grylls. “It was never a problem with the Rayside-Balfour Township.”

Nine years ago, Grylls found himself entangled in the complicated bureaucracy of city planning and building permits when he decided to split his 10-acre lot and give the other half to his son, Jacques, to build his own house next door.

There was only one problem: his driveway.

Built on the north side of his lot, connecting his attached garage to the two-way arterial road, the original driveway was about 145 feet from the proposed property severance line, where he wanted the lot to split between himself and his son.

“The city refused it,” he said of his 2012 proposal to the City’s Planning Committee. “They said, ‘Oh, we’re not allowing any more things on Regional Road 15’.”

It was a refusal that made sense on paper.

According to the city’s Transportation Master Plan, it’s a top priority to limit the number of new conflict points — like driveways — added to secondary arterial roads like MR 15.

“The plan states access from adjacent property is to be strictly regulated and kept to a minimum,” said city communications and engagement advisor Riley Adams in an email. “Traffic movement is the primary consideration for secondary arterial roads, which function to: Connect two or more communities or major activity centres, connect two primary arterial roads, or connect a community or activity centre with a primary arterial road.”

Essentially, Grylls and his son couldn’t add a new driveway without removing the old one.

“When an existing lot on an arterial road has access to the road, and the property owner is proposing to sever the land to create additional lots, we impose a condition in order to limit the number of new access points created on these types of roads,” said Adams. “This is done to ensure these roads function as intended.”

For Grylls, that turned out to be easier said than done.

The placement of his garage and his son’s new driveway meant that Grylls would not only need to close off his original entrance, but tear up a thick swathe of trees and a long stretch of his front lawn to connect his driveway to his son’s at the property line. It was only under these conditions that the Planning Committee, in 2012, would grant them a permit.

It was a frustrating and expensive prospect, to remove a decades-old driveway — which on its own adhered to regulatory standards and had safely served its function for years —and replace it with a bigger, more inconvenient one.

“There’s never been an accident at my driveway in 40 years,” he said. “So we appealed.”

But his appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (now the Ontario Land Tribunal) didn’t go anywhere. After it was denied, the city granted a permit for the new split driveway under the previous proposed conditions.

Grudgingly, Grylls and his son accepted the conditions, and went forward with constructing his son’s driveway. But instead of removing his own original entrance, Grylls left his side as it was.

“It was suggested by somebody that we wait until the inspector signs off on my son’s construction, then everything might be fine,” Grylls said. “So we did nothing. For nine years, I’ve been going on false hope. Then I got a letter saying I gotta remove my driveway.”

That letter arrived in February, likely prompted by a complaint to the city’s bylaw department, nine years after the 2012 dispute. It was a complaint that would cost the now 80-year-old Grylls $10,000 to address.

Grylls doesn’t pull any punches. “Hey, I’m delinquent. I’m not going to try and say I was totally ignorant of the fact I was going along on false hope. Which it was, right?”

His complaint stems not from a false expectation that he could get out of meeting his permit requirements from 2012, put from a frustration that the rigidity of city planning rules put him in this pricey situation in the first place.

“They’re not looking after people, and that should be the main focus when it comes to this kind of ruling,” he said. “No rule should be absolute. I understand the need for rules, but there has to be some logic and common sense used, for there are exceptions to the rules.”

Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland looked into Grylls’ situation a few weeks ago and came to a similar conclusion.

“You don’t think when you’re building your first house, ‘Oh, I better put that driveway on the south side, because 20 or 40 years from now, I’m gonna want to split up my lot and build another house. And by that point, they’re gonna have a rule that they need a common driveway,’ ” said McCausland. “Who would have thought of that?”

McCausland said the rule that limits the number of conflict points added to high-traffic roads is an important one, but that every once in a while, a rare case like Grylls’ comes along that shows why exceptional circumstances require flexibility.

“The real problem here is that the rule doesn’t account for the fact that this house was built well before the rule existed.”

The difficult orientation of the lot, he said, means the proposal “just doesn’t really make sense.”

He added: “That driveway has been there for 60 years. (His son’s driveway) has been there for the last nine years ‘against the rules’ and there haven’t been any issues. So I don’t thinks it’s such a big risk that it’s necessarily worth forcing someone to put a driveway 150 feet across their property.”

Grylls isn’t looking to change the inevitable. In fact, he’s already gone ahead and cashed out on the $10,000 driveway reroute to comply with the city’s demands. But he hopes that airing his complaint will be a reminder that not everything is as simple as it seems on paper.

“So many governments forget that unless you look after the people, then you’re not running a government,” he said. “I understand the need for rules, but are they all absolute? No. And should there be allowances and exceptions from time to time that are logical? Yes.”

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.


Twitter: @mia_rjensen

Mia Jensen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star

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