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Editorial: All municipalities should look at the Magdalena rule

The big looming question: how did this happen?
All residents of the 63-unit Magdalena apartments have been given notice the building managers plan to seek authorization to vacate the damaged five-storey structure for remediation. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)

We’ll call it the Magdalena rule.

The Municipality of North Cowichan will now require third-party structural reviews for all multi-storey buildings being constructed within their borders.

This replaces the use of the Professional Reliance Model for large developments, where previously the municipality accepted schedule letters from the qualified professionals working on the project, like the architects and engineers, essentially assuring that everything is up to code, in place of using their own building inspectors. This is not uncommon practice, especially for municipalities that do not have large staffs of inspectors to keep an eye on all projects.

This change, however, is not government obstructionism slowing down development, but a layer of protection for residents.

We’re calling it the Magdalena rule because it comes following the revelation earlier this year that the 64-unit Magdalena apartment building that opened in 2019 in the municipality notified all tenants that they would likely be required to vacate by the beginning of 2023 because structural deficiencies were so bad that it was not safe for residents to stay.

Tenants suffered through months of dealing with deficiencies that resulted in everything from the parking garage being closed, to water repeatedly flooding units.

The big looming question: how did this happen?

After all, it’s not as if professionals didn’t sign off on this, even under the Professional Reliance Model. It’s still unclear, and we expect there will likely be significant legal wrangling to come on that question as demands for accountability continue and someone has to pay to fix the building.

What if someone had been injured by the deficiencies? Someone needs to be held responsible, so that this cannot happen again.

In the meantime, North Cowichan has taken the only step that makes sense, since the previous system could not be fully trusted to produce structurally sound developments. They’ve added another layer of oversight.

This may well add to the time it takes for developments to proceed, already a thorny issue in a region with a virtually zero per cent vacancy rate.

But the one thing we cannot afford to skimp on is safety, and so developers will just have to swallow that pill. Other municipalities in the region would do well to follow suit if they have not already done so. After all, all that has resulted here is some admittedly huge inconvenience. But the consequences could have been much, much worse.