FRANKE JAMES

How my Eco-friendly Driveway got the Green Light from City Hall

by Franke James

eco-friendly driveway gets green light

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…”

benefits of green driveway

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!

How my Eco-friendly Driveway got the Green Light copyright 2007 Franke James;
Photography and writing by Franke James, MFA

10 Responses: 10 Comments

  • Catherine (in Toronto) says:

    Congrats Franke on winning the right to build a green driveway! You go girl!!

  • greig clark says:

    what a story

    The James Gang strikes……again

    congrats

    greig and carolyn

  • Eco-Lawn – Is The Grass Really Greener on the Other Side?

    I had an e-mail exchange with Franke James earlier this week and she happened to mention that she had enjoyed my post about ‘Water-Smart Gardening‘ and was wondering if I could recommend any drought-resistant grass species.

    Franke recently went to battle with the city of North York when she discovered that building a permeable ‘green driveway’ was not permitted in the city…

    Read the article…

  • Rick says:

    I just bought a house and the first thing I want to change is the concrete drive to a green alternative. I assumed this will be easy and what a great way to “Green the City”. I think it would be easier to green drives than roofs!!!

  • Franke James says:

    Rick — thanks for sharing news of your plans for a green driveway. Please send me a photo of it when it’s done so I can post it on the site. ~ Franke

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  • Anne-Marie says:

    Sounds great….I am in Orangeville, Ontario and we are thinking of an alternative to large paved driveway.

    How did you fare in the winter with all the snow? Can you use a snowblower over the green driveway?

  • Franke James says:

    Anne-Marie,

    The PermaTurf people tell me that you can use a snowblower — many of their customers do. But we didn’t shovel our driveway because we don’t have a car. See my post on our driveway in winter:
    http://www.frankejames.com/debate/?p=93

    Here’s my post on selling our SUV:
    http://www.frankejames.com/debate/?p=22

    If you do build a green driveway please let me know — perhaps we can post a photo on the site.

    Franke

  • Marisa G says:

    please I would like more information – we have a dirt/gravel driveway and over the years the gravel is washing away as we sit 8′ below road level and the run-off from the road washes away the gravel – we are now fighting the bylaw department that wants us to pave and or put more stones – we have no problem with a dirt drive – any assistance is appreciated – we are in Scugog Township, north of Metro Toronto

  • Patricia W says:

    Franke,
    I have a driveway with interlocking brick and in addition a cracked concrete pathway along the side of my house. I would like to make both permeable. Both cases it might present an opportunity to insulate the exterior foundation walls. Do you have any advice?