Residents to clear neighbours' property for path to home

Some homeowners in New Edinburgh have been encroaching on to an unused city laneway for decades, but now a couple wants to be able to drive to their home on it, and the city says they're free to do so.

Neighbours encroaching on land, but city says new resident can drive vehicle along laneway

This group of trees and other objects, unkept and covered in snow, is the laneway in question that one Ottawa resident wants to clear for his vehicle. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

An unused city laneway is causing an uproar in a neighbourhood just east of downtown Ottawa as homeowners who have been encroaching on the land do not want one resident to drive home using that laneway.

The laneway in question is about four metres wide and 120 metres long. It runs along Vaughan Street between Bertrand Street and Putman Avenue and it exists on official city surveys.

For years, residents have planted gardens on it, have put up sheds and garages, and more, because the laneway was not used.

But the new neighbours want to access their property via the laneway and their spokesman went to the city with an application to do so. It would cost them $20,000 to knock down a bunch of trees and force other residents to move back on to their own property.

"They confirmed that there's a laneway there and they also confirmed that their mission and mandate is to reinstate this," said Andrew Reeves, who speaks for the residents.

The residents are Tobias Lütke, the CEO of Shopify, and his wife.

Laneway abandoned 40 years ago, residents say

Other residents argue the city abandoned the laneway 40 years ago and that it is now a public asset.

This notice was posted last month informing residents of a request to open the untravelled laneway. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Dave Mennier and his family moved into their home on Vaughan partly because the lane was not being used and they wanted a bigger backyard.

The Menniers recently put up a new cedar fence, extending their backyard one-and-a-half metres into the laneway.

"We bought the house with the encroachment existing and a lot of effort's been put in by the neighbours over the last 40 years to actually beautify the land and to become really good stewards of the land, something that the city should have been doing," Mennier said.

"If one owner can come into the neighbourhood with one car, we don't think the city should have approved that without consultation with the neighbours and everyone on the block, because it has such an impact," he said.

He and others have formed a group called Laneways to fight the plan.

Residents worry entire laneway to be reopened

But their councillor, Peter Clark, said the occupation of the land does not make it theirs.

This is how the laneway would look after the new residents clear the area. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

"Well, the reality is [the homeowner has] requested the ability to access the back of his property from the lane, which has never been closed. Therefore, it's permissable," said Clark.

Even though the lane is in fact unused, Clark added, "Now somebody wants to use it and since it's an open road allowance, they're going to use it."

City staff are working on a laneway policy that will reach city council this year but staff confirm a portion of this lane will open in 2013.

Homeowners worry this decision will motivate other residents to apply for their laneways to be reclaimed.