No more building permits will be issued for Snug Cove developments requiring sewage hookups until steps are taken to solve the neighbourhood's sewer issues.
Mayor Gary Ander made the announcement in a video message last week. (Click to watch) "We are in an unfortunate position of not being able to issue building permits that are applying for connection to the sewer because the Wastewater Treatment Plant has reached capacity and simply cannot support the demand of any new occupancy that would be placed on the system."
"Believe me this decision was not taken lightly, but it was the only responsible option for the municipality to take. I want to assure you that we are putting every resource we have into getting to the bottom of this," Ander continued.
This leaves builders with few options to complete their builds. One is installing a septic field on their property if they wish to make it habitable. Construction can also be finished on a building without a septic field, but a covenant must be signed with the municipality saying occupancy won't be pursued until sewage hookup is available.
The septic covenant was a hotly-discussed topic at the Jan. 10 council meeting, and was ultimately the path forward for the Health Centre to continue their build.
In the video Ander says this affects about 16 properties, around five of which have active building permits which are now on hold. The mayor outlined several reasons for the problem.
"The main issue, as we seem to commonly encounter with our aging infrastructure here on the island, obviously is money. We don’t have enough in the Snug Cove sewer reserves at this time for capacity upgrades that are needed right now. Part of this is due to the age of the municipality. We’re too young to have built up healthy reserves, but we have inherited lots of older infrastructure."
Ander also says faulty information in the past has hampered efforts. "Unfortunately staff and council in the past have made decisions based on inaccurate information about the sewer system capacity. This is something we are looking at now, along with making sure we do have accurate information going forward."
And the mayor says developers need to pay their share. "In the past we were giving away, but we can do longer afford to do that. Going forward new development must contribute financially, with capital costs and any expense or requirements of our community assets."
The issue will be discussed in-depth, including the municipality's solutions going forward, at Monday's Committee of the Whole meeting, taking place virtually at 4 pm. It can be viewed on the municipality's YouTube page. Several affected property owners are expected to attend. In a letter to mayor and council last week more than a dozen property owners expressed their objections to the decision to halt building permits and suggested legal action could be taken if a resolution isn't reached.
The letter can be read below:
Dear Mayor and Council,
We are writing this letter to oppose the draft bylaw #560 2022, that will allow Bowen Island Municipality to immediately refuse building permits and connection to the Snug Cove Sewer System to all bare lots within the Snug Cove Sewer boundary. We are calling for an exemption for 16 properties developed and sold with approved sewer hook-up, (four of them on Rivendell Dr., with building permits requests submitted in Q4 2021), as well as an immediate upgrade to the sewer system.
The fact is, there are three pre-existing, pre-approved residential developments affected:
1) Rivendell Drive
2) Elrond's Court
3) Foxglove Lane
All of them were fully serviced, pipes in the ground, and approved to be connected to the Snug Cove Sewer System, and they have just been declared ineligible for permits, while a new 30-unit residential building on Bowen Trunk Road was approved, a large building that will absorb much sewer capacity. While the latter will help with the island's lower-cost housing needs, there was no debate, no public discussion of tradeoffs, no due process, despite the fact that the knowledge of Bowen's weakened Sewer System was known by Council years ago. We have identified public, sewage reports supporting this information.
Moreover, as Bowen Island grows as a community, many new and exciting large scale projects are being planned, which will provide services that the increasing population will need. For example, the Seniors Centre, The Heath Centre, the Community Centre. This also augurs for an immediate upgrade to the Snug Cove Sewer System, before any of these large scale future projects, such as the Community Centre, are started.
Furthermore, if this Draft Bylaw #560 2022 is ratified, the negative economic impact to Bowen Island would be great. Almost every one of the16 property owners affected (all but two) is owned either by a prominent builder or contractor on Bowen Island. They employ many local workers, and purchase supplies such as building materials, gravel and concrete on Bowen Island. Stalling their projects puts the livelihood of many at risk. It also evaporates significant tax revenue for BIM. As of now the estimated value of these 16 bare-lot properties is approximately $10.5 million, but the new builds would increase their value to approximately $27 million, which would be an additional $66,000 of local tax revenue.
Most of the 16 property owners, who bought their lots with sewer pipes installed, have borrowed monies to purchase these properties, and this Draft Bylaw #560 2022 would force them to hold these properties while interest on borrowings accumulate. Additionally, these property owners will have to put their personal lives on hold. Some of these people want to build their “Forever Home.” Another one, who is 25 years old, put his life savings into a lot at Foxglove Lane, so he could build a secure home for himself and a suite to rent to someone in need of housing. The couple at 894 Rivendell Dr. are building a home with a mother-in-law suite so the mother-in-law, a 30+ year resident of Bowen suffering memory loss, has a safe place to move in with family. Most of these single houses or duplexes on these 16 properties will provide either the complete house or a secondary suite as a rental to help the Bowen Island Housing crisis.
Bowen Island Municipality should certainly address the failing Snug Cove Sewer System immediately, but it’s unjust to refuse building permits and sewer connections to these three residential developments, without warning, as it seems BIM had been preparing to enact this bylaw for some time. At present BIM has notified in writing only four parties who have applied for building permits. They have not even responded to the inquiries of some of the other property owners.
We are asking that the Bowen Island Municipality makes an exemption to Draft Bylaw #560 2022 for the three residential developments: 1) Rivendell Drive 2) Elrond's Court 3) Foxglove Lane. If this exemption is not, in some form, granted, we will be seeking legal action.
1) Bruce and Maggie Macdonald: Lot 3 & 4 Foxglove Lane
2) Charles Macdonald: Lot 5, Foxglove Lane
3) Dane Thompson: Lot 10, Foxglove Lane
4) Jay Kube: Lot 9, Foxglove Lane
5) Rebecca Ponce de Leon and Dyane Kirk (1116 Foxglove Lane)
6) Julian and Jesse Milsted and Alex Kirkpatrick : 889 Rivendell Drive
7) Katie Smith Milway and Mike Milway: 894 Rivendell Drive
8) Robert and Karis Clayton: 873 Rivendell Drive
9) Bowen Island Properties: 880 Rivendell Drive
10) Twin Island Excavating: 885 Rivendell Drive
11) Tasman Dansie and Scarlet Duntz: 929 Elrond’s Court
12) Marcel and Irene Maes: 919 Elrond’s Court
13) Twin Island Excavating: 913 Elrond’s Court
14) Twin Island Excavating: 915 Elrond’s Court
15) Lars Blomberg: 901 Rivendell Drive