Construction to blame as noise complaints in Toronto rise along with the skyline

Noise complaints in Toronto are coming faster than the skyline is changing, and the city says construction is to blame for the largest share of complaints in 2016 so far.

As the city's construction boom continues, Toronto's noise bylaw is getting a renovation, too

Construction is among the top causes of noise pollution in Toronto, city officials say. (Aaron Harris/Reuters)

They say Canada has two seasons: winter and construction. With all the building and repair projects in underway across the city, it seems Torontonians aren't happy with either.

The number of noise complaints is rising along with the skyline, and the city says construction is to blame for the largest share of complaints in 2016 so far.

The number of complaints has been climbing steadily in recent years, from 3,273 in 2011 to 6,477 in 2014.

The jury is still out on whether that trend will continue this year. Since Jan. 1 Torontonians have filed 6,196 noise complaints, about one-third of which were related to construction, but the city has also changed the way it counts them. It used to be that the total number of complaints for a site on a given day registered as one call. Now, every individual call is counted. 

The city is hoping that a review of the noise bylaw may help.

The highest number of complaints in 2015 came from Toronto-Centre Rosedale, with 278, followed by 217 from Trinity-Spadina and 154 from St. Paul's, where a portion of the Crosstown LRT is being built.

Current bylaw 'subjective'

"When you're dealing with this non-stop it sort of puts [you] on edge," Benj Hellie told CBC News. Hellie is a professor, and spends a much of his day in his home study near Dundas and Ossington reading and writing.

"Ontario decided to juice the economy by juicing the construction industry, and so it's sort of like whatever's coming in in cash is going out in terms of the conditions of our nervous systems," he says.

Benj Hellie is a professor and spends a much of his day in his home study near Dundas and Ossington reading and writing. He says constant noise from daytime construction puts him on edge. (CBC)

The city is currently reviewing its noise bylaw, after a survey found 82.5 per cent of Torontonians are upset with how loud their neighbourhood has become. The municipal licensing and standards department is currently consulting with construction and business associations, residents groups and others, and is set to report back on an earlier set of proposed changes to the bylaw in September.

"Our bylaw currently is very subjective in some ways," MLS director of investigations Mark Straga says. "What's noise to me might not be noise to you. So we're trying to level that out, make it clearer for people to understand. And so we have more consistent enforcement by our officers."

'Not the most friendly' process

"We can't be there at all times to witness or hear that noise so, we're reliant on the affected party to be willing to come to court testify, keep noise logs … That's not the most friendly type of process to go through."

Straga reminds the public that while the drilling and hammering may be a nuisance, it is in fact allowed between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday. Certain projects are also exempt from those limitations, such as TTC work which is allowed all night in order to meet project deadlines.

Fines can range from $350 to $5,000 if a developer sneaks in work in violation of the rules. And it does happen.

One night recently, residents complained demolition work on a Starbucks near Bathurst Street and Eglinton Avenue West continued from 11:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. the following morning. The coffee company said the overnight work was the result of a miscommunication with their developer, who received a warning.

Meanwhile, not everyone is complaining about the sound of the city growing.

Paula Bowley is an architect and says while the noise isn't ideal, in a way it is motivating when she's drawing sketches.

"Having construction noise during the daytime while I'm drawing buildings and renovations seems totally appropriate and it makes me feel excited," she says. "I love seeing things being built and I love hearing it."

With files from Ali Chiasson