City of White Rock councillors made a controversial decision Monday evening to abstain from widespread enforcement on property owners who have built or planted encroachments on city property.
However, any current and new property owners who wish to match their neighbour in overtaking city land will not be afforded the same luxury.
The direction from council also means that if a property owner has encroached on city property where the city plans to build infrastructure, such as sidewalks or a funicular, the property owner will be told to remove any encroachments.
After 30 minutes of discussion, and viewing examples of how some residents have taken over city land – including an extreme example where an owner paved over the entire grassy boulevard to make space for parking – council passed staff’s recommendation 5-2.
Couns. David Chesney and Scott Kristjanson voted against the motion.
Kristjanson said he preferred an option that would allow residents to appeal the enforcement on a case-by-case basis, while Chesney wanted each property owner, whether new or longtime, to receive an equal level of enforcement from the city.
Coun. Helen Fathers questioned how the city could reclaim land without upsetting homeowners who’ve encroached on city-owned property.
Chesney, who told Peace Arch News Tuesday he left the regular meeting “steaming,” expressed little sympathy for people who take over city land.
“Everybody seems to be, ‘well, people will get really mad at it,’” Chesney said.
“Oh really? They’ll get mad at us? And well, of course they will. You know, they’ve been allowed to use the city property for God knows how long.”
Chesney indicated it is unfair to allow one resident to continue to encroach on city property while their neighbour will not be allowed to build or plant on the city boulevard.
“It makes absolutely no sense to me.”
White Rock chief administration officer Dan Bottrill told council widespread enforcement comes at a cost, adding that the city has more leverage when dealing with new development.
In referencing the photograph of the paved boulevard – which staff deemed “unacceptable,” but Fathers said was a new development – Bottrill said the city may have recourse in terms of bonds or deposits to have it removed.
However, if the boulevard was paved more than two years ago, Bottrill said, the city has little power to force the resident remove it.
He used the example to highlight some of the complexities of doing widespread enforcement of encroachments.
“The property owner who put this in, say it was two years ago, may have sold the property a year later.
“We have now a property owner who assumed this was fine and now it’s not. We will have many cases of what I just described. To say that the existing property owner is now responsible, I’m not sure that’s the correct way to do it,” Bottrill told council.
Chesney told PAN the answer is simple.
“You remove it or we remove it and it goes on your tax notice at the end of the year,” Chesney told PAN. “If there’s some legality, there’s some reason why we can’t, then just tell me and I will shut up, but nobody, at this point, has told me.”
Coun. Christopher Trevelyan told council he agreed with the “holding-the-line” approach for new developments, but people who have already encroached on city-owned land shouldn’t be forced to remove it.
“To start knocking on 15-20 per cent of the houses in the City of White Rock and say we’re going to give you a massive bill, you need to move your stuff, move your bushes, move your trees. I think it’s crazy. I think it’s absolutely nuts,” Trevelyan said.
Trevelyan also expressed concern with the city sending a bill to residents who live on a fixed income.
However, Trevelyan told PAN Wednesday, “egregious” instances of encroachments should be looked at on a case-by-case basis.
Mayor Darryl Walker told council the city has to “lay down the line in the sand” and clearly indicate to the community that there will be no more encroaching on city property.
“If more is found out, it will be at the cost of the homeowners to remove it,” Walker said.
The day after the meeting, Chesney told PAN he had a “gut feeling” that one or two councillors voted in favour of the recommendation for political interests.
“Nobody articulated it. I think a few of the council members were afraid (this would) come back as a negative at the polls,” Chesney said. “I think we’re talking about less than one per cent of residents in White Rock that are guilty of this, but the people that are very guilty of it, I think should be brought into line and brought into line immediately.”
The staff report, titled ‘Preserving Road Right of Ways for a Sustainable City’ was created to address “what is increasingly referred to as a ‘Climate Emergency.’”
Compiled by engineering director Jim Gordon, the report is a framework of small steps that the city could take, over a number of years, to make the city more pedestrian-friendly, thus decreasing the number of vehicles on the road.
Gordon told council that 20 to 25 per cent of boulevards in White Rock have encroachments on them.
“What we’re suggesting is that we at least take small steps moving forward, so when there is redevelopment we take that chance to return the right of way to the city. If we see somebody put something new on the right-of-way, we’ll try to nip it right in the bud,” Gordon told council.
“In a 10- to 20-year plan, this will leave us in a good position.”