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It’s ‘really ugly,’ neighbours complain. But giant dirt mound isn’t illegal, panel rules

A large mound of earth on a vacant lot may be “an eyesore” and “really ugly” to some neighbours but the owner isn’t breaking any laws, Scarborough’s property standards panel has ruled.

The 15-metre-high pile of dirt has been growing steadily for a couple of years, local residents say, causing problems from blowing dust to water runoff. 

“I’m more than upset, I’m angry,” local resident Sheila White said Tuesday, one day after the panel’s ruling.

“What we’re seeing here is a complete embarrassment and an eyesore to our community. It’s been allowed to fester into a really ugly sight of dumping and waste.”

The two-hectare vacant lot near McCowan Road and Sheppard Avenue East has been a focal point for local residents for at least seven years. They say they were told back in 2015 that the site would be developed into a soccer pitch with an accompanying community centre.

But that plan was scrapped, resident Stephen Casselman says, within months. Then, about two years ago, the present owner began using the site as a place to dump earth from nearby construction projects.

The dirt mound has grown so high it overlooks local residences and provides a view of downtown Toronto. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Neighbours complained to the city and an inspector from the municipal licensing and standards department ordered the owner last spring to get rid of the mound.

The inspector said the mound could be unstable and subject to runoff. But the lot’s owner, who opted not to speak with CBC Toronto, appealed the ruling on the grounds that the city gave permission to store dirt at the site.

“There is a big pile of dirt,” the owner’s lawyer, Robert Drake, conceded during Monday’s hearing.

“But there’s no evidence it’s a bad big pile of dirt,” Drake added. 

The panel ruled there was no evidence presented that indicated how much of the earth should be moved, or where it should be moved to.

The owner’s lawyer concedes the mountan of dirt is an eyesore. But Robert Drake says the owner has a plan that is designed to limit the impacts of runoff and flying dust. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

And although the panel rescinded the order to move the dirt, panel member Jan Seaborn ordered the land owners and the city to try to negotiate an agreement that’s suitable to both sides. City staff wouldn’t comment on the ruling, saying only that they’re reviewing the panel’s decision.

Stephen Casselman, who lives several blocks from the site, said the dirt mound has been a thorn in the side of local residents for over a year.

“Beside it being an eyesore … the runoff is tremendous every time it rains,” he told CBC Toronto.

“There was dust in the air and the windows of the residential homes south of here were covered in dirt and the window ledges were covered in earth.”

But at Monday’s hearing, the owner’s lawyer argued city staff knew about and approved the owner’s use of the site. Drake said the earth that’s piled there will be used to create a new, environmentally friendly style of brick.

Although she’s disappointed in the ruling, Sheila White says she’s encouraged by the panel’s request that the city and the owner try to agree on some common ground. (Mike Smee/CBC)

“Yes, it’s an eyesore. It’s a mountain of dirt,” he said.

“But my client had a right to do it; it’s planned for that. He went to the City of Toronto and said, ‘This is how we’re going to use the site,’ and the city said, ‘Fine, that’s how it fits, go right ahead.'”

Despite the ruling, White said she’s encouraged that the panel has asked the owners to try to find some common ground with the city.

“And if that conversation doesn’t happen in a timely way, we will be insisting that some new orders be placed under the Toronto Municipal Code,” she said.

“We want city officials to do a deep dig into their municipal code to find the applications that will work to remedy this site.”

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