The partly constructed house at 443 Centre Street North in Brampton looks like it was dropped from the sky – it's the big blue whale in a sea of modest bungalows, semis and detached homes. For now, it's a shell of a dwelling made of teal-tinted wood, but plans call for eight bedrooms, 10 bathrooms and (including the basement) more than 11,000 square feet of living space.
The house was erected last summer and has been in a state of limbo since February, when the city revoked the owner's building permits, saying they were issued in error. Neighbours who say it's an "eyesore" want it demolished. It's become a drive-by tourist attraction.
And it's prompted a court battle between its owner, Ahmed Elbasiouni, and the City of Brampton. This week a court hearing left Mr. Elbasiouni with three options, two of which – demolishing the house or redesigning it completely – will make a costly project even more costly. "I'm broke right now. I cannot find a way to refinance that or approve the financing for that," Mr. Elbasiouni said. "Who is going to lend me money?"
The debate has extended well beyond the neighbourhood. Outside Nunavut, Brampton has the highest portion of multifamily households in the country. Many residents fear those families will build much larger homes, such as the ones going up in Toronto's affluent suburban neighbourhoods.
"If this is allowed to go ahead, they're going to spring up everywhere," said Ros Feldman, a community activist who lives a few kilometres away. What happens on Centre Street North will set a precedent, she says. "They need to be stopped now."
Before the large home was built at 443 Centre Street North, the lot was occupied by a 2,000-square-foot bungalow. Mr. Elbasiouni, with the help of his father and brothers, purchased it in 2010. Property records show he paid $381,000.
Neighbours learned Mr. Elbasiouni was planning to build a second-storey addition last June when they spotted a building permit on his fence. And this is where Mr. Elbasiouni's version of events differs from his neighbours' and city councillors'.
Mr. Elbasiouni said his original plan was to modify the basement and main floors of his house and build a second-storey addition. When the roof was removed, the crew on site discovered the house was was not structurally sound to support a second floor and so he then demolished it, he said.
He then re-envisioned plans for an expansive, three-storey house and got a building permit for it.
Mr. Elbasiouni said at most, the residence would have eight permanent occupants, but it would also serve as a "satellite house" for extended family visiting from his home country. He said it was only after neighbours complained that the city issued a stop-work order on construction.
When Mr. Elbasiouni was told the city had issued him the permits in error, he asked how the situation could be rectified and was told there was no way, he said. Having poured more than $800,000 into construction of the house, a frustrated Mr. Elbasiouni filed an appeal with the court.
The debacle with his home has apparently made Mr. Elbasiouni infamous.
He did not want to reveal his country of origin, how many people are in his family, his occupation or his age out of fear that sharing personal details will only bring him further harassment from people he encounters on the street. (For the same reason, he asked not to be photographed for this story.)
He said people have given him the middle finger, sworn at him and thrown garbage at him. He says he plans to launch a website to inform neighbours of his side of the story and wants to hold a meeting with the community to understand what their wishes are for the lot.
"I explained to a neighbour I'm trying to help them and help myself. But they have to understand we have to work together," he said.
Meanwhile, the outcry from residents over this issue prompted city council to pass a temporary by-law that limits expansions and new builds of homes in future projects to a maximum size of 15 per cent larger than the square footage of the existing home.
While Mr. Elbasiouni sees himself as the victim of mistakes made by the city, neighbours and local city Councillors Grant Gibson and Elaine Moore said he may have misled the city and had a plan to get rid of the original bungalow all along.
Soon after the house was demolished, a real estate listing was posted for the empty lot for $499,000. Ms. Moore said a demolition permit was never issued to Mr. Elbasiouni.
In August, a Brampton judge said it was "unreasonable" for the chief building officer to revoke Mr. Elbasiouni's building permit without giving him a chance to remedy the situation. At a hearing this week, Justice Kofi Barnes gave him three options: apply for a permit to demolish the house, apply for new building permits with a new design, or apply to the city's committee of adjustment for permission to continue building the house (the committee would have to agree that the structure varies only in minor ways from zoning restrictions).
Across the city, residents are wondering what precedent this could set if Mr. Elbasiouni is granted the third option and is able to complete the house.
Lynne Murphy, who lives across the street, said she believes selling prices of homes in the area have taken a dip since construction began on Mr. Elbasiouni's property.
"My husband and I should have said to him, 'If you wanted to build something this big, why the hell didn't you just go further up north, buy a piece of land and put it up? Why did you have to put it in our cozy little neighbourhood?'" she said.
To that, Mr. Elbasiouni explains he couldn't find a lot of equivalent size for as good a deal in any other part of the city with favourable zoning.
As frustrated as others are with Mr. Elbasiouni, they say much blame falls to the city as well. Mr. Elbasiouni and his neighbours say they have been waiting seven months for staff to report how the building permits were mistakenly issued in the first place.
"I think the city has made a hell of a mistake and that somebody's head should have rolled for it," Ms. Feldman said. "You don't give somebody the wrong permit … and then turn around and say, 'We gave you the wrong permit,' after the thing is already up."
Whatever the resolution, Mr. Elbasiouni said he's apprehensive about moving back to Centre Street North given the furor over his house. "I'm not a person who will live in there and enjoy it," Mr. Elbasiouni said.