City councillor wants to clarify bylaw after little free library forced to move

·3 min read
Wendy Chaytor sits next to the temporary home of her little free library on Amethyst Crescent. She had to move the library from its original position after bylaw officers contacted her regarding a complaint last month. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC - image credit)
Wendy Chaytor sits next to the temporary home of her little free library on Amethyst Crescent. She had to move the library from its original position after bylaw officers contacted her regarding a complaint last month. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC - image credit)

Wendy Chaytor's little free library survived last month's violent winds, but has found itself caught up in swirling red tape after someone complained to the City of Ottawa's bylaw department.

Little free libraries operate on a model of people borrowing or leaving books for their neighbours, looked after by whichever person decided to build and operate the small structure.

Chaytor's little free library, however, was too close to the edge of the road, according to a bylaw complaint.

"We were hurt. Hurt that someone would lodge a complaint without speaking to us," she said.

Bylaw officers told Chaytor she'd have to move the library at least four metres from the curb, but she said "no one would use it" if it's that far back.

"We placed it about four feet [1.2 metres] back from the curb, which was far enough. The snow plows didn't come near it, we kept it well-shovelled all winter long to keep it safe. People did use it," said Chaytor.

Her library ran afoul of the same bylaw that prevents people from leaving hockey nets or basketball hoops on city-owned property at the edge of the road, or building raised garden beds in that spot.

Matthew Kupfer/CBC
Matthew Kupfer/CBC

In an email to CBC News on Monday, Stittsville Coun. Glen Gower said the city's current rules were meant to keep people from building structures such as sheds that encroach on the city's right of way.

"When the rules were first established, they likely never anticipated 'little libraries,'" Gower said.

In an interview Tuesday, Gower said little libraries do not cause a significant risk to sightlines, road traffic or utilities and he wants city staff to create new guidelines to help encourage their use.

Gower said they encourage reading, promote reuse and add surprise and delight to neighbourhoods.

He said he plans to present a motion at Wednesday's city council meeting to have the rules updated.

Zori Hopkins, who said she worked in libraries throughout her life, regularly took out and dropped off books from Chaytor's library across the street.

"It's a community thing. I love the books and love the people that put it up," Hopkins said.

She said children and people walking by could pick up a book or share their thoughts about it. She was shocked anybody would complain about it.

"What was wrong? Why did it have to be gone? It was in no one's way. It didn't obstruct things … and it actually brought people together."

Matthew Kupfer/CBC
Matthew Kupfer/CBC

Chaytor said she's been told she can apply for an encroachment permit that will allow her to share her love of books with her neighbours — though she'll have to build a movable stand that doesn't go into the ground.

The city said the little free library will also have to be removed from November to April to make way for snow clearing.

Gower said that permit would come at no cost.

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