Getting Ready For Your First Committee of Adjustment Hearing

The  SERRA region is experiencing rapid infill residential development and nearby neighbours may receive an invitation to participate in their first Committee of Adjustment hearing.

Al Kivi, a member of the SERRA board has attended many Committee of Adjustment hearings and has assisted SERRA residents to prepare to participate in these hearings.

In November 2016, Al was asked to provide a presentation to the Leaside Property Owners’ Association (LPOA) to share some of his experiences with the LPOA members.

Al’s presentation provides 10 tips on how to get ready for a Committee of Adjustment hearing. His presentation theme was modelled after a book by

Robert Fulghum titled ‘All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten’.

Here are the highlights from Al’s presentation:


Everything I learned about planning … I learned at the Committee of Adjustment
Show up
  • This is the Woody Allen rule – 80% of success in life is based on showing up
  • Not sure about the 80% win rate … if you don’t show up you surely lose
Get an early start
  • Normally residents get a short number of days to get organized for their first hearing
  • Watch for the early warning signs for development
  • House is sold … in SERRA most detached homes are destined for development … demo bait
  • Check the city website for applications … permits/COA
Assume positive intent
  • Owners and agents often will often approach residents in advance of the hearing
  • You should always assume positive intent
  • Listen carefully, gather information and contact details
  • Try to identify the true owner of the property
Trust and verify
  • This is a direct corollary to the ‘Assume Positive Intent’ … as with Ronald Reagan
  • Listen carefully to the statements and promises made by the owner … but trust and verify
  • Sometimes promises are made simply to reduce the level of opposition at COA hearings
Reach out
  • A COA hearing requires preparation and you seek best guidance available … early in the process.
  • Talk to all sources of information … other residents, architects, city staff, councillor’s office. Call the application technician for clarifications.
  • Residents’ associations have a special expertise as they have often been involved in many similar cases.
Learn your Planning A-B-C’s
  • The COA is a planning tribunal … and is focussed on planning matters
  • In our region most cases revolve around Height-Mass-Scale issues … I call them the Planning A-B-C’s.
  • Be careful not to focus on trees and construction issues … and tread carefully with design issues.
Rally the street
  • In every endeavour there is always strength in numbers … it is also true at COA hearings
  • Poll your street early in the process. Not everyone will be on board.
  • Participation at every level helps … in testimony, attendance, letter writing, signing of petition. ‘Form letters’ do not carry much weight do not use them
Watch out for the bully
  • Some owners and agents engage in bully tactics
  • These tactics can include … misrepresenting the COA process and key facts, demanding access rights, offering different versions of plans and minor variance lists.
  • My advice is … walk away from these discussions. Do not sign anything.
Take a field trip
  • We all learn in different ways. I learn best through experience.
  • I recommend that residents take a field trip to a ‘sample’ COA hearing in advance of their scheduled hearing.
Passion adds weight
  • Tribunals are about providing evidence, to arrive at facts to allow for the adjudication applying planning tests
  • Some residents are naturally good at this process. The process favours those with strong presentation skills.
  • The secret sauce for residents is the passion that they can bring to the hearing … developers do not have this same passion.