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Little pantry, big problem: Dispute between Cambridge, Ont. and homeowner heads towards March deadline

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A little free pantry has turned into a big headache in the City of Cambridge.

Since CTV News reported late last year, the City of Cambridge has given the property owners of the Jarvis Street free pantry until the end of March to comply with bylaw, or have the structure removed by the city at the homeowner's expense.

“I feel like we are being punished for trying to do something good for the community,” said Audrey Hill, homeowner and operator of the Little Free Pantry.

According to the City of Cambridge, the issue started in November when they received a complaint from a neighbour.

“So we originally received a complaint about some activity happening in the area. After investigation, we found that the pantry was indeed on city property,” said John Mattocks, manager of bylaw compliance at the City of Cambridge.

According to Mattocks, the issue was the people the pantry was attracting.

“That’s the original complaint [that] came in, attracting unwanted guests and creating some nuisances,” said Mattocks.

According to Hill, this shows the issue is not the pantry, but the people it is designed to help.

“I think that the current city government does not have a vested interest in supporting poverty reduction,” said Hill.

10 feet back

According to the City of Cambridge, despite the pantry’s location on Hill’s yard, it is technically still city-owned property. They say in order for Hill to keep the pantry, she needs to move it back 10 feet from the sidewalk.

“Our goal is not to have the pantry removed. Our goal has always been to help the homeowner come into compliance and that could simply be moving the pantry back 10 feet onto their property and they would be in compliance with our bylaws,” said Mattocks.

Hill said while she respects the need for bylaws, she is worried about liability issues if the pantry is on her property.

She also said the city has not offered proof that they own ten feet of her yard.

“We are concerned primarily [with] the fact that the city cannot and will not provide me with a land survey,” she said.

The city said they are legally confident it is their land, but do not have all the files at their disposal.

“The city has identified where the city property is. We have also searched our records to see if we may have a copy of a survey on file but we do not,” said Mattocks in an email.

Mattocks added that if the property owners want a legal survey, they can acquire that on their own.

Hill has until March 31 to comply with the bylaw, or the pantry will be removed.

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