Massey House viewed across McKay Lake
02 . 05 . 2016

Split decision: Rockcliffe architect wins severance battle

AUTHOR Joanne Laucius

A two-year Rockcliffe Park battle that pitted neighbour against neighbour is over — at least for now.

In a 37-page decision, the Ontario Municipal Board has ruled that architect Robin Fyfe can go ahead with a plan to sever a large lot at the corner of Old Prospect Road and Lansdowne Road into two lots and build two houses. However, Fyfe must hire an arborist to do an inventory of trees on the site and save, relocate or replace them to create a “proper green buffer” around the property.

Fyfe plans to live in one of the two houses. His proposal had been turned down by the city’s built heritage subcommittee, but the planning committee and city council approved it. Former assistant deputy minister of finance Susan d’Aquino, who lives across the street, along with other neighbours and the Rockcliffe Park Residents Association, appealed the approval to the OMB.

The matter was the subject of a five-day hearing last September involving lawyers, architects and heritage planners. At one point, the chair of the tribunal quipped that the dispute must be “hemorrhaging money,” Fyfe recalls.

 He declines to say how much it cost him to defend the proposal at the OMB, but says it was “a lot” and there is no way to recover his expenses.

D’Aquino and other neighbours argued that the larger of the proposed two houses, which is three storeys tall, would “dwarf” other houses on the streetscape. Neighbours were also concerned that a rooftop terrace would compromise their privacy, that one  house was too close to the road and too many trees would be cut down.  One neighbour, John Mierins, compared the house to a “35-foot monolith, looking like the Berlin Wall, on top of which sits an observation tower.”

At the heart of the dispute is a modernist gem designed and built in 1959 by architect Hart Massey as his own home. D’Aquino has lived in the house on the shore of McKay Lake since 1977.

D’Aquino says Fyfe’s house would affect the “iconic” view of her house from the lake.  “All of a sudden, where before all you could see is greenery, you would see a house that looks like an appendage on top of the Hart Massey House,” she said.

Fyfe says he has always admired Massey and his house and that’s why he wanted to build a home for his own retirement across the street.

Fyfe, who has lived in Rockcliffe Park all his life, met Massey as a child — “I would follow him like a puppy dog” — and worked in his office as a teen. Massey was the reason Fyfe decided to become an architect. “I thought it was almost poetic that I could build a retirement house across from the house that inspired me.”

The lot, which currently has a 1956 bungalow on it and is surrounded by a giant hedge, is the largest on the block. Fyfe argues two relatively modest-sized houses are better than one large 6,600-square-foot house, which would cover 30 per cent of the lot. The houses in his proposal would cover only 18 per cent.

“I thought I was doing a good thing,” he says.

D’Aquino has not decided what to do next. If she decides to appeal, she will have to file in the next few weeks.

If it comes to an appeal, Fyfe is not sure what he will do. But he says other possibilities for the property might displease the neighbours more than the current proposal. “My only option is to sell it to someone who wants to build a great, big house.”

D’Aquino doesn’t believe a 6,600-square-foot house could be built on the lot. Rockcliffe Park’s new Heritage Conservation District Plan will be in front of city council for approval next week. “Once that plan is in force, you’re not going to be able to do a lot of things you can do now,” she says.

Fyfe disagrees. “I have designed such a house. And I’m sure it would meet all the requirements.”

Related News

Massey House