Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
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Give control of noise by-laws back to cities

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“Call your MPP,” is never the answer anyone wants to hear from their councillor when they have a concern. But when it comes to pre-dawn construction noise, it’s one I’m forced to give.

Since April, my office has received multiple noise complaints about construction work that starts at 6 am seven days a week. I know we’re not alone. Since April 1, the City has fielded 257 of the same complaints. Sometimes those complaints are actually about workers getting a jump on the day with noise on the site even earlier than 6 am.

Residents can’t take much more.

In ordinary times, residential construction can’t start until 7 am on weekdays, with neighbours in residential areas given a reprieve until 9 am on weekends and holidays. Construction noise isn’t awesome and is a reality of urban living. But those later start times are critical to giving many people a chance to sleep and on weekends especially enjoy a quiet morning without the sounds of jackhammers, concrete mixers and saws.

In April, though, the Province overrode municipal noise by-laws in Ontario as part of its pandemic response. It now allows work to begin at 6 am, seven days a week. Ostensibly, the additional hours give builders some flexibility to better schedule shifts so that tradespeople can distance from each other.

The experience of residents in Kitchissippi, though, suggests that good intentions don’t outweigh the significant mental health harm being done to neighbours. Even if work begins at an ungodly hour, job sites are often empty much past mid-afternoon, and I hear anecdotally about the lack of distancing on construction projects.

That’s not to say, of course, that in these extraordinary times there is a single experience of construction noise. My office has worked with some builders to get commitments to respect normal working hours. Distancing is being practiced on many job sites. The implications of construction noise are very different depending how close existing neighbours are to new builds; delivering greenfield tract homes is a different proposition than building an apartment tower or infill embedded in densely populated neighbourhoods.

To respond, Councillor McKenney and I are bringing a motion to City Council on November 25 asking the Mayor on behalf of Council to write to the Province requesting control back of our noise by-law. The Provincial override will only expire a year from now, and the toll that this is taking is unacceptable. Councillors need the power to deal on a case-by-case basis with early morning construction noise.

Let developers show us that a 6 am start is absolutely necessary before being granted an exemption. Our motion doesn’t close the door to those. That mechanism has always existed. Local councillors in touch with residents know better than anyone whether the balance being struck is the right one. As a group, we generally want to help developers deliver the homes they’ve committed to deliver, and we well understand the need to ensure a safe job site in the context of Covid-19.

But a blanket override by the Province doesn’t even open the door to those conversations. It’s time to give control of noise by-laws back to cities to start them with the mental health of residents in mind.

Posted October 31, 2020