Friday, November 06, 2009

Ottawa life

My old neighbourhood is changing, and changing fast. A place where bungalows like mine are still common is slowly but surely yielding to development pressure.

A large nearby greenspace by the Rideau River, it is rumoured, is slated for a subdivision called "One Thousand Doors" *wince*. And bungalows are being knocked down and replaced with triplices (I know, needlessly pedantic and probably wrong).

That happened right next door last year. Instead of a gorgeous view from the dining-room of open sky and trees, I now have the pleasure of staring at a corrugated stainless-steel wall (post-911 paranoia?) literally six feet away.

Worse, lax planning standards in Ottawa permitted the construction of windows that stare directly into my dining-room--and, worse, into my bedroom. The latter window is a large one belonging to my neighbours' kitchen, and the sink faces one of my bedroom windows directly. I have had to put high-end fake stained glass and a blind on the window, lest, as the limerick goes, curious eye should intrude.

During construction, a window on the second storey opened directly above my chimney. At least a call to the city reduced the size of that window before it was too late.

Now a new triplex is being constructed just across the street by West Hill Homes. Somehow the size of the thing seems more bearable when it's a street-width away. But the building of it has not been without its problems.

A few weeks ago , a subcontractor was employed to lay in new sewer pipes. This involved, as a first step, breaking up the sidewalk in front of the site. Instead of using pneumatic drills, the lamebrains thought it would be smart to whack away at the pavement with a back-hoe for half a day. Wham! Wham! Wham!

My house shook constantly. Cracks in the walls and ceiling that were there before, widened. New cracks appeared. The City of Ottawa, despite having issued the permit, disclaimed responsibility. The subcontractor, too, disclaimed responsibility in a curt letter--and then apparently lied to West Hill Homes, claiming to have been in touch with me personally to discuss the matter.

Giving up on any hope of compensation for the damages, I ended up paying a contractor of my own a cool $2K to do the filling, plastering, resurfacing and repainting required. Some of that, admittedly, would have been payable anyway, because some cracks were there prior to the construction. But a contribution to help fix the widening and running old cracks, as well as the new ones, would have been appreciated.

A representative of West Hill Homes did eventually come to my door. She seemed a pleasant and straight-up sort of person. She was, I think, genuinely embarrassed by the misinformation provided her by the sub-contractor. She asked me to send in my invoices, which I did on September 3, along with my explanation of costs I felt should be covered (somewhat less than the total costs I'd incurred).

A month later (October 2), after inquiring, I received a polite note from the representative, informing me that a decision was hoped for "in the next couple of days." Perhaps needless to say, there has been nothing but silence since then, in spite of several inquiries on my part.

All minor, of course, in the grand scheme of things. Knowing these companies as I do, I can say that the right thing, from a profitability point of view, isn't necessarily the decent or the proper thing, and the right thing tends to prevail. It might have been more professional, mind you, to send a bug-off form letter at the start, rather than temporizing and ducking inquiries for more than two months.

In any case, if poor-quality paper towels can, as Scott Tissue Towels once averred, "breed Bolsheviks," some readers might feel a little (a very little) sympathy for my own state of mind at the moment. Come the Revolution let me chair a People's Tribunal, please: surely I've earned it. And bring forth the developers--in chains.

UPDATE: (November 12) West Hill Homes has contacted me today to offer a very small sum--payable when they complete their project in the Spring. I have counter-offered, and we'll see where this goes.

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