How my Eco-friendly Driveway got the Green Light from City Hall
by Franke James
How difficult can building an Eco-friendly driveway be? I thought it would be easy, since everybody knows that Toronto wants to be the ‘greenest’ city in North America. But in our tree-lined, asphalted, concrete corner of central Toronto (North York) it has been a complicated adventure, and not for the faint of heart.
In early May, the Toronto Star, Treehugger and CityTV all covered our battle with City Hall for the right to build an Eco-friendly permeable driveway. Our prospects didn’t look too good — as the Star said, “Franke James is caught between a rock and a green place.”
Frankly, I wondered if we had to have the whole world on our side before we got action… Not knowing where to turn next, I chose the shortest but most perilous path.
I picked up the phone and called the Mayor’s office. I spoke to a few different people saying, “How can you say you want Toronto to be green and we can’t even build a green, permeable driveway? How can this be right? How can you ask residents to do something which is so damaging to the environment? What about the reports on your Toronto.ca website that talk about the need for permeable driveways to reduce stormwater runoff…”
Fortunately, the Mayor’s office thought it was contradictory too. They assured me, “Yes, we do want Torontonians to be ‘green’. We never thought people would actually want to tear up their interlock driveways, but if you do that’s great! We’ll try to find a way that you can have your green driveway within our existing rules.” I hung up the phone thinking well maybe there was a chance we would get approval. It sounded like they were taking it seriously.
And indeed, when Gary Welsh, General Manager of Transportation Services, City of Toronto called to talk to me about a Pilot Project I knew that they were listening. Mr. Welsh’s name was familiar to me as I’d cited in my blog his reports on good stormwater management: “The Wet Weather Flow Management Master Plan and Policy (WWFMMP) has an objective of reducing the total volume of annual runoff from impervious surfaces, including driveways and parking pads, while also reducing the concentration of pollutants in stormwater runoff, prior to its discharge to receiving waters.”
We chatted about the need for permeable driveways, and how our driveway project could be a useful example for the City. I agreed to submit a plan detailing what our ‘green’ driveway would be made of. On June 7th two Transportation officials, Eric Jensen from North York and Kyp Perikleous from Toronto, visited our home for a site inspection to discuss the Pilot Project, and what we needed to modify in our plan to comply with all the bylaws. They didn’t like my novel idea to angle park on the City boulevard (I wanted to banish the rectangular driveway ‘strip’ that dominates most properties) but Kyp came up with a novel suggestion which puts the driveway over to the side integrated with the flagstone walkway. I agreed on the spot to the changes. On June 19th we got approval to be the first Pilot Project for a permeable green driveway.
Once I had the official permit in my hot little hands, I circled back to thank Gary Welsh, and he replied, “Thank you for the e-mail. I am glad things are working out. Hopefully your driveway will set an example that many residents will want to duplicate.”
So, if you are reading this now because you want to build a green driveway, then please stay-tuned through my RSS feed. Over the summer, I’ll be giving updates on the creation of our verdant green, permeable driveway. You can follow our adventure step-by-step from disposal of the old interlock (we gave the 800 sq. ft. away for free on www.freecycle.org) to excavation by hand digging and bobcat, through to soil preparation, installation, planting and maintenance. The key element in our permeable driveway is a product called PermaTurf which orginated in Germany, and is manufactured in the U.S. It is load-bearing (so cars can park on it without causing big tire ruts). But the big advantage for us is it will allow us to have a lush carpet of grass… And considering the hot and dry weather forecast for this summer, it will need to be drought-resistant!