Inside a shrink-wrapped structure of stacked sea cans, air guns are used to build prefab walls on a giant wooden table.
From there, the walls are sent to local construction projects, where they are put together like puzzle pieces.
According to neighbours of the property on 606 Victoria Rd. E, who would only speak to the Review as a group, the noise from the worksite greatly disrupts their everyday life.
“Daily, we cannot work from home, babies are woken from naps and shift workers cannot sleep,” the group stated in a letter.
“We are starting to suffer with anxiety and stress after weeks of abuse.”
As well as noise, complaints have been brought forward about parking, dust, unsightliness and setback from property lines.
But according to city staff, Absolute Contracting and Arrowtec, who both operate the site, are following the city’s bylaws.
Despite being in a residential neighbourhood, the property at the end of 6th Street East is zoned M1, which allows for light industrial activity, requiring no additional permits from the city.
It’s one of the locations in the city that is zoned for industrial use in a mostly residential neighbourhood.
There’s another on Camozzi Road, some in the Big Eddy, and others in the area beside the rail yard, which runs parallel to Townley Street, according to the city’s 2017 zoning map.
A development permit was required for the sea can structure and issued by the director of development services. The director has the power to do so for structures valued at less than $100,000 without going to city council, according to the city’s delegation bylaw.
City planner Paul Simon presented the complaints from neighbours to city council on May 11, along with a petition from residents of the area totalling 58 signatures.
Coun. Tim Palmer took a very vocal stance to the issue, saying he did not think the residents of the area were treated fairly.
He criticized city staff, saying that the use of the building should have raised red flags, that the project should have been brought before council.
“I don’t think council would have accepted this if we had seen it,” he said.
City CAO Dawn Low retaliated against Palmer’s comments, calling them an attack on the planning staff.
“They have done nothing wrong, they are just following the bylaws,” Low said.
The city’s delegation bylaw does not allow for applications that fall under the bylaw to be referred to city council. Staff are also legally required to process an application under the current bylaw.
“Even if the bylaw isn’t great,” added Simon.
There are several applicable bylaws that are open to interpretation or – as the neighbours call them – loopholes.
For example, there is no definition of “light industrial activity” in the city’s zoning bylaw, leaving staff to lean on “planning case law” or what is commonly understood in the profession to define the term, Simon said.
Palmer and Coun. Michael Brooks-Hill both claimed no reasonable person would describe the on-site activities as “light industrial.”
However, Simon said in his professional opinion, the work on-site is indeed light manufacturing as “light tools” are being used even if the project is big.
Another example of vague legislation is the noise bylaw stating “unreasonably loud or excessive noise” must be deemed as such by a person appointed by the city to enforce the bylaw. However, there is no decibel range to refer to.
Simon said the planning department is currently working to update the zoning bylaw and will include definitions to make things more clear.
However, staff are required to use the current bylaws to process applications until the zoning bylaw changes are adopted by council.
Since being approached by the city about the neighbourhood’s concerns, city staff reported the businesses have been cooperative and willing to work with the city to minimize their impact.
“We want to listen and we want to hear from the people in the surrounding area and we hope that what we are doing is going to mitigate those concerns,” said Sally Robertson, of Absolute Contracting.
Fences have been erected, soundproofing lines the walls of the sea can and the owners have agreed to not use air guns before 8 a.m., even though the noise bylaw allows for 7 a.m.
James Rogers, co-owner of Arrowtec, is also making adjustments to the worktable, installing rubber under the legs and across the top.
“Which I am not thrilled about because it is nice to be able to slide our product up and down on the table, so it is probably going to be detrimental to our process, but I feel like it is going to really reduce the drum effect,” he said.
They will also install landscaping at the front of the property, ensure all staff park on-site and install material in the yard to help manage dust.
Simon said these actions go above and beyond what is required by city bylaws.
However, according to their letter, the neighbours will not be happy until the project stops completely.
“This is not progress; this is failure, and we will not be satisfied until our neighborhood is returned to us.”