Regulation

Neighborhood Busybody vs. the Handicapped

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A Toronto couple, Geoff and Melissa Teehan, wanted to build a new home on their lot to accomodate the wife's quadriplegia. Except a neighbor likes looking at their old house just the way it is and has called in the force of the town's "heritage" laws that could prevent them from replacing the house.

A long report from the Toronto Star, including this beautiful quote from the neighbor, Elizabeth Brown, who alerted a community councilperson about possibly making the house fall under the heritage laws, which it did not officially fall under before it was purchased by the Teehans:

"When you go up against something like that, it's very awkward," Brown says. "Of course it is. But I haven't launched a campaign to fight this man and his wife. My heart goes out to them and their situation; I'm empathetic to the family. I just don't think the two issues are the same issues. I'm not fighting to prevent her from something, even though they've been clear they'd like to build this house to help her with access because of her paralysis. I'm trying to preserve a home that adds character and beauty to my neighbourhood for future generations to enjoy. So: I don't wish them any harm. I just want to protect that house."

Brown repeatedly expresses an appreciation for the Teehans' challenges. Yet she also says she believes Geoff Teehan has exploited Melissa's disability to win support.

Asked for her age as a reporter leaves her own century-old house, she says she is 44. Then she adds, smiling: "I don't have a disability. Sorry. If I did, maybe I could use that, too."

And councilperson Sandra Bussin, to whom Brown went with her terrible problem of a neighbor doing something with his property she didn't like, says that the Teehans should have just known they shouldn't expect to be able to change their house without pre-approval. All that is not permitted is forbidden! This from Openfile.ca:

She says he should have contacted her or the city's Heritage Preservation Services department before purchasing the home, instead of just contacting her after the fact.

"Anybody in the ward would have had an inkling that there may be an issue about the value," she said in an interview on May 31. "He did make an inquiry somewhere, but not to the city and not me."

She has set in motion a heritage review of the property, which could scuttle the Teehans' plans. Bussin says the situation the family is facing takes place in their ward from time to time, and that there's nothing unusual about the process.

"It would have been helpful if [Geoff Teehan] called me in advance, because I would have advised him to be very careful."

Hat tip to reader Steven H. Noble.