North Cowichan Council has adopted a new Bylaw Compliance and Enforcement Policy. The policy, adopted May 12, 2015, allows for an escalating series of notices, tickets, fines, court injunctions, and registration on the property title, the last making the property unsal- able until removed.
The ‘voluntary’ compliance stage includes provision for immediate fines, tickets, and stop work orders, but generally is expected to begin with a letter to the property owner outlining the infraction and setting out conditions for compliance, including a schedule,
Failure to comply voluntarily can then result in a host of escalating actions by the Municipality including fines, tickets, and the registration on the property Title. This last stage, though it limits the owner’s options, does not actually force compliance, can be onerous enough to force action by owners.
At the Council meeting on October 7, various residents had an opportunity to speak in front of Council about their particular case before this final measure was to be applied against them.
One such citizen, Jim Fane of Chemainus, has had a long standing issue with the zon- ing of his residential property beginning April 2012. Initially, Fane reduced his building footprint to meet the 30% lot coverage restriction. After his house was complete Fane began construction of a carport unaware that the coverage of the carport was to be counted against his lot coverage allowance.
Speaking to council at the recent meeting, Fane contends that the information provided by the municipality is unclear and that he was, at the time of the initial issue with the carport, unable to find definitions of accessory building, of allowed coverage or a host of other terms necessary to understand the building restrictions.
Fane told the Council “I would like to repeat that at no time was it my intention to avoid application for variance.”
Fane lists a litany of events that illustrate his claim that staff failed to communicate the requirements to him, including a sparse two page instruction sheet accompanying his building permit, unreturned phone calls and emails, and ambiguous and conflicting information spanning a three year period.
One meeting held recently, in which Fane tried to get the information he needed, was terminated when staff would not allow him to make a voice recording of the meeting.
Fane went on to say, “In seeking answers to questions, why was I not given vital information when I applied for the building permit? Information like the definition of lot coverage, the definition of accessory buildings? Most importantly, why was I not told that if I desired to cover one or more of the required off street parking spaces required by bylaw that the square footage would be deducted from the square footage of my living space?”
Mr. Fane ran for Council in the last municipal election however that garnered him little sympa- thy from Councillors Maguire, Marsh, Walker, or the Mayor who stated, “It appears to me to be a straightforward refusal to acknowledge the bylaws of the municipality.”
Despite a plea for a measured approach by Councillors Douglas and Siebring to give Mr. Fane a thirty day grace period to apply for a variance, in the end Council voted to place a claim against the title of Fane’s house, not an immediate threat but certainly an issue if the house needs to be sold. Fane has two alternatives. One is to tear down the carport he has started, and the other is to try and obtain a variance.
It seems that Council means business, with comments by several Councillors strongly stating that, since notice on title is easy to remove, it seems a reasonable measure to apply. In addition, Councillor Walker suggested that it was a matter of liability should a notice not be placed, since a buyer could then hold the municipality to account for a known deficiency.
In the end, the recent Council meeting may demonstrate a new commitment by Council to the firm application of its by-laws. If so, we can expect more stories like Fane’s, as both citizens and staff accommodate themselves to the new, stricter approach.