204 Beech Ave.

204 Beech Ave.: A house or a home?

Reported on: Thursday, May 27, 2010 File status: REPORTED FILE

ORIGINAL FILE PITCH

Opened date: Thursday, May 27, 2010 Opened by jonlax
Councillor Sandra Bussin wants to stop a family from building an accessible home. http://news.nationalpost.com/2010/05/27/family-plight-sparks-furor-in-the-beach/

On the tree-shaded street outside 204 Beech Ave., there's no traffic and little to hear but birdsong and the sound of children playing in a schoolyard nearby. But there has been plenty of noise in cyberspace over this chunk of Beaches real estate.

Area residents Geoff and Melissa Teehan bought the 900-square-foot stucco cottage in January, intending to build a new wheelchair-accessible home for their family on the generous 54-by-120-foot lot. The design that they chose with their architect is sleek and contemporary.

This upset some neighbours, who believe the existing house, about 100 years old with a quaint turret and a five-sided dormer window, should be preserved. A former resident of the house, now living in Germany, posted a blog, pleading "Save It!!" Ugly comments started flying back and forth on the web. Emails were sent to Beaches-East York councillor Sandra Bussin's office.

Melissa Teehan, who is paralyzed from the neck down, got a phone call May 26 from the councillor. Bussin (Ward 32) notified her that at this week’s community council meeting she had presented a motion asking the city’s Heritage Preservation Services to investigate the home as a potential heritage property. The motion passed.

If 204 Beech is designated as such, the Teehans’ plans to build on the site would be snuffed.

Geoff explains that he and his wife did their due diligence to make sure they bought a property on which they could build an accessible home. At a price of under $1 million, and after 18 months of searching, it was the only listing that fit the budget of the Teehan family, which includes young sons Sam and Cole.

“Our family has gone through massive amounts of change in the last three years, and our kids have felt a lot of that,” he says. “They go to a school that they love, they’ve established friendships. ... Rather than moving to a neighbourhood for a house that suits our needs, we decided to stay in the Beach and find a property we could modify or build new.”

Bussin says she has received “a number of emails and calls concerned about the future of that particular house,” as well as an online petition. She said she couldn’t give exact numbers of how many people were concerned.

These concerns led her to get an independent opinion of the property. She consulted E.R.A. Architects, Inc., a firm the city regularly works with for heritage conservation issues.

In the undated document E.R.A. Architects prepared for Bussin, Michael McClelland, a principal with the firm, “confirms” that the 204 Beech Ave. property has heritage value. He cites that it is a “Beach Cottage” type home with “typical elements found in buildings representative of the Cottage style.” He adds that a "recessed fully glazed entry porch, the rendered finish, and irregular pattern of fenestration are important elements of the dwellings character.”

The assessment is certainly news to Geoff Teehan.

“I was never made aware that they were doing that, that they were on my property sniffing around without my permission.”

If he had known that E.R.A. was planning to examine his property, “I wouldn’t have allowed them to look at all,” he says.

At the Toronto–East York Community Council meeting this week, Bussin presented a motion — using the E.R.A. document as evidence of heritage value — to ask the city’s Heritage Preservation Services to investigate the home as a potential heritage property. The motion passed, and the department is now required to present a report on its findings to the city in June.

Pending approval of each step, the issue of 204 Beech Ave. as a heritage property will be examined by the Toronto Preservation Board, the community council, and then Toronto City Council for ultimate approval.

While this gives him several avenues for appeal, Geoff Teehan is questioning whether Bussin’s independent assessment of his property will affect the outcome of the city’s decision.

“That report is now on public record. I’m totally unclear — is that going to now bias the approach for the typical process? Historic preservation services is supposed to do the proper assessment, not some independent architecture firm that does work for the city,” he says.

The Teehans didn’t have to worry about building a new house until three years ago. In July 2007, a previously healthy Melissa Teehan suddenly found herself going numb. She was diagnosed with transverse myelitis — a disorder that, in severe cases like hers, can leave someone quadriplegic.

After all they've been through over the past three years, all the Teehans want to do is stay in the Beaches. They’ve been living in the neighbourhood for the past decade.

“It’s impossible to explain what we go through every day,” Geoff Teehan says, referring to the struggles of dealing with his wife’s illness. “This is supposed to be a project that makes our lives easier, and it’s coming crashing down. We’ve had bad days, and this is up there.”

Multimedia

  • Excerpt of undated letter from ERA Architects to councillor Sandra Bussin.
  • The front porch of 204 Beech Ave. (May 27, 2010)
  • The stucco structure at 204 Beech Ave. has a small turret. (May 27, 2010)
  • Rear view of 204 Beech Ave., which has a 54 1/2-foot wide lot. (May 27, 2010)
  • The house at 204 Beech Ave. sits high above the street, just south of Pine Ave. (May 27, 2010)
  • Front elevation of proposed new house at 204 Beech Ave.
    Courtesy of Geoff Teehan
  • The proposed house at 204 Beech Ave. would be wheelchair-accessible.
    Courtesy of Geoff Teehan
  • Proposed rear elevation of 204 Beech Ave.
    Courtesy of Geoff Teehan
See video
+ REPORT AN ERROR
We only ask for your phone number when you are submitting a correction to one of our articles. We ask for this purely as a means to get in touch with you in order to verify the information you’ve submitted. We won’t give your phone number to anyone, and it will not appear anywhere on the OpenFile site.
Your postal code and cross street information is used to give OpenFile readers a sense of where the stories you submit take place. We use postal codes to geolocate each of our stories, so you and your neighbours can better reach the files in your neighbourhood. No personally identifying information is revealed by your postal code; it’s just a handy way of figuring out where you are and what’s going on near you.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

COMMENTS

 
brian moffatt wrote 9 hours 26 min ago

@ kathy vey. thx. good to know. i sat with a journalist friend yesterday on a bench at the foot of balmy beach. we discussed the highly charged and emotional nature of very local politics. oddly, i think that a forum like this has the potential to defuse/diffuse the pitched nature of the narrative often 'produced' by msm. there, i said it. cheers.

 
mmakuch wrote 9 hours 57 min ago

its mind bogglingly shameful that people are more concerned about a house than the wellbeing of a family coping with a severe disability. this is bordering on a human rights issue.

 
jonlax wrote 15 hours 37 min ago

@Brian On a personal level I have been a living witness to the pain Geoff and Melissa have gone through. I am obviously biased to their plight. I have watched Geoff try to find a property that he could build a home to meet his family's needs for the past year and a half.

When the Beech issue was first raised my initial reaction was "how could you put this family through more pain" but seeing how this process is playing out is as concerning. From my standpoint it seems Sandra Bussin is just doing what she wants. Commissioning reports that push her agenda and bringing them to council, not informing the Teehan's or allowing them to present their side in council. It feels like a lot of back room politics.

As a buyer, Geoff researched the property he hired architects to ensure he could build. He designed plans that didn't conflict with zoning, As a property owner we should be concerned by these events. The process feels completely inside and not balanced.

 
Jim Graham wrote 16 hours 50 min ago

@brian moffatt

Sorry, you're correct. "Lightweight" was the wrong choice of words. I was responding to your quote "I'm sure they will easily be able to sell at a profit and find another lot," specifically the word "easily." I think that is a cavalier attitude, and one that I hope everyone who reads this story will reconsider.

But I agree with you -- convincing the "save 204 beech" crowd that the Teehans are in the right will be nearly impossible.

Regards, Jim Graham

 
brian moffatt wrote 1 day 2 hours ago

this is somewhat technical, but this story was proposed by jon lax i believe. is this lon lax geoff teehan's biz partner? i'm fine with advocacy by the way. just in the name of transparency.

Kathy Vey's picture
Kathy Vey wrote 17 hours 7 min ago

Hello, Brian. Transparency is very important to us at OpenFile. Yes, Jon Lax is Geoff Teehan's partner. I don't know either man but I walk past 204 Beech every day. I noticed the kerfuffle on Twitter more than a week ago and emailed Geoff Teehan to tell him that OpenFile would like to do a story on the dispute. Jon Lax's story pitch arrived several days later.

 
brian moffatt wrote 1 day 4 hours ago

@Jim Graham - thanks for your response. lightweight thinking is my strength so i'll take that as a compliment. good luck with the chore of convincing lightweights elsewhere that the house at 204 Beech is not a heritage home worth preserving.

 
Jim Graham wrote 1 day 14 hours ago

@brian moffat

Mr. Teehan has commented at the National Post site and is quoted in this article as to why this is the lot that they need to build their home on. Basically, it comes down to 3 items. They want to be in the Beaches, as they've lived there for the last 10 years. They need a wide lot (50' +) so that they don't have to build a three-storey home. And it has to be cheap enough so that they can still afford to do the build. Remember, the new home needs 5' wide hallways and an elevator to accommodate a wheelchair.

No sites except 204 Beech met those criteria in the last 18 months. So all of this "build it somewhere else," or "they got it for a steal" is pretty lightweight thinking. If you know of other lots, and of people willing to buy 204 Beech at a profit so that the Teehans can recoup all the money that they've already put into it (price, transaction costs, architect costs, arborist costs, etc), I would suggest you email the Teehans and help them out.

@lloyd alter

You are correct that the city needs an inventory of heritage property. And we should learn how to adapt older buildings to our current needs.

But your position that we should adapt *all* buildings to avoid "knock[ing] them all down" is absolutist and incorrect. Some properties are not adaptable. And just because they're old or were in the neighbourhood first doesn't necessarily make them good. 204 Beech is a small, pokey cottage. You are an expert in this and I'm not, but based on what I've read, it's my opinion that 204 Beech is not a heritage property.

More importantly, it's grossly unfair for a community that has been knee-deep in creating six heritage districts since 2004 (at least) from 14 possible zone decides years after the fact that "oops, we missed a site -- add it to the list!" The Teehans did everything right. The "save 204 Beech" community did not, and yet they somehow have the ability to ruin the Teehans. My mind boggles.

 
brian moffatt wrote 1 day 14 hours ago

Proceduralism aside it would be a shame to see this house disappear. There is some memory in The Beaches of architectural disasters with regard to tear-downs. That might be kept in mind. Walking around the area just now I had to wonder how Markham-style monster homes ended up being plunked down (where they clearly do not fit) and also wondered what sort of homes had stood there prior.

Not that the proposed house here is by any means a monster home - and there are plenty of lots on Beech where this house after a teardown would be a marked improvement - but I am not sure why someone looking to build a wheelchair accessible house would choose a property sited at the top of a hill on a plateau twenty steps up from the street. So be it. People have their dreams.

Looks like the couple got a steal. I'm sure they will easily be able to sell at a profit and find another lot. It's certainly not the house that they were after.

Kathy Vey's picture
Kathy Vey wrote 1 day 14 hours ago

The house has level access from the laneway at the back.

 
richardtweiser wrote 1 day 15 hours ago

Does this have to be an "either or" predicament? Has anyone investigated the possibility of moving the cottage to a new location? Has anyone considered keeping the facade or integrating elements of the house into the new design?

lloyd alter's picture
lloyd alter wrote 1 day 15 hours ago

To BK Belton who says "All Lloyd can talk about is the actual bricks and mortar - what about the special needs of the OWNER??? Really disappointed in how small minded and uncaring Lloyd and the neighbours are."

The fundamental problem I was addressing is that there is no heritage inventory of substance, and that people are afraid to create heritage districts out of a foolish fear that it will hurt their property values; that is the scandal here. Otherwise they would have known that there would be a problem and openly admit they would not buy the house.

Universal accessibility is a problem faced with all older buildings, from Queens Park, where our Lieutenant-Governor needed changes to get access, to houses all over Toronto where people are aging. Many houses are built at the top of concrete staircases like this one, and are difficult to get to before you even get to the front door. But we have to learn how to make our houses adapt to aging and physically challenged people, not knock them all down.

Kathy Vey's picture
Kathy Vey wrote 1 day 15 hours ago

The current house at 204 has 15 steps up from the sidewalk at the front, but level access from the laneway in back.

 
scotty wrote 1 day 16 hours ago

I just noticed the blog of the prior owner. The one that says save this Beech Ave home.
This person appears to have known the history of the home when she sold it. The prior owner knew what she nows claims as historical value of the home. Why did she not have this home put on the historical record when she was owner. Now after taking the money and running she is up in arms that that these owners require change. When the property was up for sale would she have complained if Bussin said wait before you sell we will see if there is historical value. That owner would have gone nuts crying Bussin was taking away her rights.
Funny when the shoe is on the other foot.
Of course this is an election and Bussin needs the votes folks , you interests be damned.

 
Jim Graham wrote 1 day 17 hours ago

Was Beech Avenue one of the 14 proposed HCD study areas in 2004, and the residents elected not to go forward with the plan? Or was it never proposed to be a HCD? Why didn't the residents who are so vocal now get with the HCD plan back in 2004?

It seems that the residents of Beech avenue had ample opportunity to start the process of declaring themselves a HCD. Had they done so back in 2004, the Teehans would have been aware of the possible claims of heritage status and would not have purchased 204 Beech.

 
Beacher wrote 1 day 18 hours ago

Sandra Bussin would not be so caring if it wasn't an election year, please see her track record... nothing is done to help anyone until the months before an election - than it's preserve and fight for the people of her Ward, no one else matters.

This saving of this house is another grand stand.

 
scotty wrote 1 day 20 hours ago

If this property is of historical value why is is not listed in the historical record. Sandra Bussin has been in office 13 years and if she thought it important she could have made this motion long ago. I believe in about 2002 Bussin wanted certain streets designated Heritage Sts. and the residents of those streets decided to participate or not. Did Beech Ave. decide not to be designated? Maybe someone has that information. There are hundreds if not thousands of "important" homes in the Beach that are 100 years old. Is Sandra Bussin going to put a motion in for every one.
The firm that did the report uses the word"important" that is far short of the word "significant".
The residents of Kippendavie Ave. that are facing the demolishion of 4 homes for the building of a oversized codo. Were these 4 home not important or did Bussin ask for a study on those. But then again the Kippendavie project is by a large developer not a family in need.
This family bought the home with no designation and as such should be allowed to proceed with their plans. The community should be supporting this family not because of their circumstances but because this could happen to anyone buying in the beach and it is wrong.

Kathy Vey's picture
Kathy Vey wrote 1 day 18 hours ago

Hello, Scotty. Here's a link to an article about who chose to be part of a Heritage Conservation District after a 2004 survey of residents on 14 Balmy Beach-area streets. Beech Avenue is not among them:

http://www.insidetoronto.com/news/local/article/604800--kingswood-road-s...

Here's more information from the city: http://www.toronto.ca/heritage-preservation/hcd_balmy_beach.htm

 
jonlax wrote 2 days 5 hours ago

Lloyd raises a good point since Geoff researched the property prior to buying. He hired architects who told him that the house was not historically relevant. It was not listed in the historical record. He created plans that met all the codes and did not require easements. This process seems arbitrary and as a buyer it seems like even if you do everything by the book, it doesn't matter.

BTW who hired ERA to do this "report"?

Josh OKane's picture
Josh OKane wrote 2 days 6 hours ago

I'm still in the midst of doing some reporting for this file, with a couple of interviews lined up for tomorrow (had to run out and cover something else this afternoon). I'll gladly take any input on other angles to be tackled — Lloyd, for instance, you brought forth a whole new perspective to the story by using it as an example of a broader, sweeping issue.

Bethany Horne's picture
Bethany Horne wrote 2 days 9 hours ago

Aren't home-owners allowed to modify heritage property to add ramps?

I don't think "a simple ramp" is the problem here. The problems seems to be that the owners want to tear down the entire structure and build a completely accessible one from scratch.

 
BKBelton wrote 2 days 9 hours ago

Hello??
What am I missing here?
Heritage Value??
This person is in a WHEELCHAIR and requires ACCESS to their home.

I'm a Real Estate Agent - and as such - care as much about preserving the "Heritage" of any building - but please, people - what do you expect this person to do. MOVE just cuz he neighbours don't like the LOOK of the ramp?

All Lloyd can talk about is the actual bricks and mortar - what about the special needs of the OWNER???

Really dissappointed in how small minded and uncaring Lloyd and the neighbours are.

BK

lloyd alter's picture
lloyd alter wrote 2 days 11 hours ago

In my role as president of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario I just gave a long interview about this. The root of the problem is that the City has no real list of what buildings are architecturally significant and has had no money to make one. A purchaser has no way of knowing if the building is important or not unless the neighbours get together and declare the area a Heritage Conservation District under the terms of the Heritage Act. Many homeowners are afraid to do this because they think it will hurt their property values, even though the ACO has a recent study of HCDs that shows that it INCREASES property values and no, it doesnt stop you from repainting your front door.

ERA Architects did a review of the house and found the following:

"ERA Architects Inc has reviewed the property at 204 Beech Avenue and confirms that it has heritage value as noted below.

The property at 204 Beech Avenue, in the Toronto Beach District, is an example of a Beach Cottage home. This dwelling is a rendered 1 ½ story building with a low pitched roof overhanging a full open wooden veranda. The façade is marked by a fully glazed entry porch, a small turret, and a five-sided dormer.

The building, built prior to 1910, is an important surviving example of the early development of the Balmy Beach Neighbourhood. In 1876, Adam Wilson was the first to subdivide his lots, #1&2, south of Kingston road to the lake. This subdivision created Balsam, Beech, Pine, and Maple (Queen Street) Avenues, he also set aside a “private promenade” for the use of those who would live there, this later became Balmy Beach Park. This home is also representative of the local beach cottage building tradition, and speaks of the districts beginnings as a summer retreat. The heritage attributes found at 204 Beech Avenue are typical elements found in buildings representative of the Cottage style. The home is set back on a plateau with a steep grade running down to the street. The low massing of the structure is emphasized by the change in grade, the low sloped roof, and the open veranda running the length of the facade. A recessed fully glazed entry porch, the rendered finish, and irregular pattern of fenestration are important elements of the dwellings character. Other character defining elements are the circular turret with its octagonal high pitched roof, and the five sided dormer window."

But to me, the scandal is that these things aren't known, that there is no proper inventory, so that people do not have any way in advance of knowing that there might be something important about a house or a streetscape or a district.

Please register or login to post a comment.

Where This is Happening

Javascript is required to view this map.