Friday, December 13, 2013

Back Alley Expropriation, or This Land is Your Land - sort of

Read this News Leader article.  Then, if you have the same reaction I did, read it again to make sure you’re reading it right.  Basically, the city is asking demanding owners of certain properties grant a statutory right-of-way for a potential back lane before issuing a building permit. 

 “In the past we certainly have missed opportunities to obtain statutory rights of ways. In terms of getting it, we try to do it more opportunistically, we’re not trying to disturb a home,” said Wat. “It minimizes the impact on the owner’s ability to build, it doesn’t affect square footage. They still retain the ability to build, they just cannot build on that part.”

One: they don’t retain the ability to build anything unless they agree to the city’s demands since the city won’t issue a permit.  Two: they do not retain the ability to build if their building plans require the use of that land. 

This just pisses me off.  The city is not taking your property, not paying you for it (in fact you’ll still need to pay property tax on it) or negotiating it’s use, just preventing you from doing anything on it on the chance they may or may not build a lane at some unspecified time in the future. 

All that said, I understand and appreciate the goal.  This is just an absolute garbage way to go about it.  The city has mechanisms to claim land for building roads, lanes, civic centres, etc.  If they want to claim the land to build a lane, use them – don’t blackmail owners into submission by preventing them from using their property. It's not fair or just to hold people hostage now for the city's lack of foresight or planning in the past. 

What’s not clear is if any of the applications were going to build in the claimed right-of-way.  I can see people getting pissed off if they built a shed at the back of their property only to have it demolished for a lane a year later.  But this is solved through openness and communication, not blackmail.  Responding “we are happy to grant your permit, but be aware the city intends to expropriate some of that land for a lane in the next year or two, proceed at your own risk,” is the polite way to do this.  Asking affected property owners nicely for them to grant a right-of-way, whether they are building something or not, is appropriate.  Bonus points for offering compensation for the loss of use of their land. 

What is wrong is to prevent them from building on their property, whether in the affected area or not, unless they agree to grant said right-of-way.  And in addition to being wrong, it may well be illegal.  See: Bylaw, Building, No. 6897.

Specifically, see section 14. 

14.1 A building official shall issue the permit for which the application is made, when:

Note that shall is government speak for must – if all the requirements specified are met, the city cannot withhold a building permit.  What are the requirements?

14.1.1 a completed application including all required supporting documentation has been submitted;
14.1.2 the proposed work set out in the application conforms with the Building Code, this bylaw and all other applicable bylaws and enactments;
14.1.3 the owner or their representative has paid all applicable fees prescribed by this bylaw;
14.1.4 the owner or their representative has paid all charges and met all requirements imposed by any other enactment or bylaw;
14.1.5 no enactment, covenant, agreement, or regulation in favour of the City authorizes the permit to be withheld;
14.1.6 the owner has retained a professional engineer or geoscientist if required by the provisions of the Engineers and Geoscientists Act;
14.1.7 the owner has retained an architect if required by the provisions of the Architects Act; and
14.1.8 the owner or signing officer if the owner is a corporation and the coordinating professional, if applicable, have signed the permit.

14.1.2 does refer to any other enactments or bylaws, so there could be a bylaw sitting somewhere allowing the city to withhold a permit unless the owners grant a right-of-way, but I have my doubts something like that exists.  Most of the provisions I found for withholding a building permit were related to Heritage buildings.  I have asked a Councillor what authority they are using to withhold the permits.

As mentioned in the article, builder Brian Lowka intends to address city council on this issue in February – I intend to see what comes of this and my requests for information from council.  If you are interested in hearing the outcome from the meeting or my discussions, watch the meeting in February or sign up for my email newsletter on the right.  The newsletter is where I put all my little ditties and follow-ups that don’t warrant a full blog post, and I don't send them out that often.  If the city is going to expropriate land or rights of way from property owners, let's make sure they do it properly.  

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