Lake Cowichan will no longer turn a blind eye to construction done without a building permit, the mayor and council decided July 25.
The decision will force seven renters in three suites out of their homes, which are part of 87 South Shore Rd.
With the renters watching from the audience, it was obvious that this was going to be a challenging decision and council gave the property owner, Gilbert Beaudry, close to half an hour to talk about his situation.
What was at issue is, in formal language, a “failure to comply with building and zoning requirements and the construction of habitable living quarters without building permits.”
Rental suites were built without zoning or permit by a previous owner of the property — Lot A, Plan 29793 in Lake Cowichan — and town council voted last Tuesday to register a notice on the land title against the property “for zoning and building bylaw infractions.”
Lake Cowichan CAO Joe Fernandez said, “The requirements still have not been met.”
Coun. Tim McGonigle started debate by saying, “this is not intended to put people who are currently residing there out on the street” and Coun. Bob Day agreed, saying it was all about protecting the Corporation of the Town of Lake Cowichan and also pointing out the need for property buyers to work with the town, but Coun. Lorna Vomacka then nailed down that the tenants “must be moved out of the building”.
“It’s my understanding, and let’s be honest, that the tenants must be removed,” she said. “The work that was done without a permit has to be take out. Then a rezoning application by Mr. Beaudry, then, if he’s approved for C3 zoning, then he can come to get building permits, rebuild the three suites and then relocate tenants back into it.”
Fernandez replied, “That is indeed the correct process.”
Vomacka continued, “Though Coun. Day and Coun. McGonigle talk about how it’s not our wish to have people move out, I want it to be understood that that is the process that is happening.”
Day then pointed out, “In rebuttal to that, we’re in this position, we didn’t put ourselves in this position. Somebody else did. We have policies and processes that have to be followed so we can’t ignore them. What people do if they don’t come into this office is none of our business but once it comes to this office, this doorstep, it’s different.”
Beaudry then spoke to council at length, explaining that he had a report prepared.
“There’s actually nothing wrong with the suites,” he said.
He passed the report around and then read extensively from it, claiming his expert said the suites are safe, and offer both “infilling” in the downtown area and affordable rental suites: two desirable aspects seen as important in the town’s official community plan.
Mayor Ross Forrest had some direct questions for Beaudry.
“First of all, were you aware of the contraventions in your building prior to purchasing?” he asked.
Beaudry replied, ““Basically, I was,” adding that his realtors had said any problems could be brought to council.
“I was told it was basically a no-brainer, that there were no smoke detectors in there, which were required, and that that would cost $1,500.”
Forrest wasn’t going to be deflected.
“There is no doubt that council would like to see more housing in Lake Cowichan but that is not the issue here. The issue is, from day one, that that building has been in contravention of our bylaws. As much as we feel sorry for the seven people that live in your building and for yourself, we have 3,100 other citizens in this town and we have a responsibility to respect the bylaws that are in place.
“I’d like to know why you feel that those 3,100 people should take responsibility for the contravention of the bylaws. How’s it going to benefit them?
“The reason we have standards in place for the construction of suites is so that our building inspector knows that the standards have been met during construction. We have no way of knowing, other than your report. And the report you have does not correct the contraventions,” he said.
Beaudry argued, “There’s no contraventions, other than that it was never properly inspected. “
Forrest had an answer for that.
“Every time that people ignore the laws we have in place, the person that’s doing it, in this case yourself, Mr. Beaudry, tries to circumvent the bylaws that we have, the procedures and due diligence that we try to follow, and tug at the heartstrings of council.
“Council doesn’t want to disappoint its citizens. And it’s very emotional for us when we have to do it. We shouldn’t be put in these positions… In our haste to try and help the citizens we often forget or overlook the fact that we already have rules and laws in place to help us come to our answers. We do have our bylaws and procedures in place that were ignored so we shouldn’t be ignoring them now that we know about it.”
Beaudry accused council of not being helpful.
“You are trying to penalize for the past and don’t want to move to the future. I inherited the building and I’m here to work with council and the building inspector to make it safe, to fullfil the official community plan and provide affordable housing.”
He called on council to show “consideration and compassion” and not expect him to totally re-do the suites.
Forrest jumped on that comment, saying, “I’m not saying there’s any lack of compassion in this decision we’re going to make. So, if we ignore the contraventions that have taken place — and there have been contraventions — we’re basically telling anybody else that wants to do something to forget getting a permit, forget getting the proper zoning, let’s move ahead first, get some people in there because then they’re not going to kick’em out…”
Beaudry broke in, “There are always going to be people that are going to do that.”
Forrest continued, “There are. But we have to try our best to make a statement, to be consistent with the laws we’re have in place.”
Eventually, the vote was called, and the majority of council voted in favour of placing a notice on title of the property. Only Vomacka voted against it.