Homeowner’s shed caught in the middle of a land dispute in Vaughan
For five years, Furio Liberatore’s shed was not a problem.
Then some time over the summer, the shed, which holds an assortment of gardening tools and a lawn mower, became a problem.
Liberatore said he came home one day to find a letter from a city of Vaughan bylaw officer.
“Your shed is in contravention of the bylaw,” relayed Liberatore, who said the officer told him that the shed he put up in 2012 was sitting on land in his backyard that the city considered to be OS5, or part of an “open space environmental protection zone.”
He had two options: take the shed down or appeal the decision to the city.
So Liberatore did the latter, taking the matter to a Vaughan committee of adjustment hearing in the fall.
He came prepared: He had letters from neighbours who said “they did not object to the shed” in his backyard. He had a letter from the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) saying it was “not requesting its removal” given the age of the structure. And he even had his purchase papers, which never marked his backyard as OS5.
The committee of adjustment, who are appointed by council, ordered the shed to come down.
Liberatore said when he got to the hearing, he was surprised to see the only person opposed to his shed was Matthew Di Vona, the lawyer who represents Dufferin Vistas, a company owned by Cam Milani. Dufferin Vistas is also the company behind a development project on the environmentally sensitive property next door. It’s a development Liberatore has publicly spoken out against.
“It was pretty intimidating that the developer sent his lawyer there for a shed dispute,” said Liberatore.
Di Vona submitted a “letter of objection” to the shed at the hearing.
When asked recently about his company’s involvement in the shed dispute, Milani said: “The law applies to everyone equally.”
Milani’s development project has been under scrutiny by neighbours since 2016, when residentsdiscovered that the environmentally sensitive land at 230 Grand Trunk Ave. — near Dufferin St., north of Rutherford Rd. — which had been off-limits for decades, was suddenly approved for a 100-townhouse development by the city and the TRCA.
The development was again in the limelight this year, when an ethics probe into former deputy mayor Michael Di Biase found he used his position on the TRCA and at the city “to improperly influence” decisions that helped get approvals needed to pursue development on the property.
Now the city is reviewing how the deal came to be, retaining former justice Robert Armstrong to look at the matter and report to council early next year.
An Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing on the fate of the lands is set to begin in January.
Environmental lawyer David Donnelly, who is representing Liberatore in the shed dispute, said any situation where a developer goes after a resident could be considered a SLAPP lawsuit.
Ontario passed the Protection of Public Participation Act, known as the anti-SLAPP law, in October 2015 with the goal of stopping “strategic lawsuits against public participation” — in other words, lawsuits used by individuals or companies to silence critics.
“I think you could define this as a SLAPP suit,” said Donnelly.
Donnelly said the city’s decision ordering Liberatore to remove his shed is flawed.
“The Toronto Region Conservation Authority is the one who makes the call on whether this is having an impact on the environment,” he said. The TRCA said the period for removal of the shed had elapsed and the agency felt it was not causing an environmental impact, Donnelly said.
“For the city to support the development of phase 1 of the project … and then turn around and say we want to go to bat over this shed seems like hypocrisy to me. The city should have taken the position consistent by the TRCA.”
Despite the thousands of dollars he has already spent, Liberatore said he plans to challenge the city’s decision — and has filed to take his case to the OMB.
He said it’s not about the shed, but about challenging the city’s position.
“How can someone say to me you need to take down this shed because it’s affecting the environment, but it’s the same person applying to fill in a ravine to build townhomes?” he said. “You can’t play both sides.”