White Rock variance awarded ‘without hardship’

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A White Rock councillor is calling for a review of the city’s board of variance procedures – including who can submit applications – following a decision that enables a home to be built with a three-car garage.

In explaining her notice of motion, Coun. Helen Fathers said she can’t understand why the board decided the request met the criteria for “undue hardship”; why a prospective buyer was able to jointly apply for the variance; and why it was granted when the applicants were clear the variance was needed to close a sale.

“I was quite surprised what happened,” Fathers said. “His reason (for asking for a 2.3-metre reduction to the exterior side-yard setback) was that he wanted to build a three-car garage.”

The buyer interested in the 15441 Columbia Ave. lot was waiting for the board’s decision, added Fathers, who attended the April 23 meeting.

Municipalities are required to establish board of variance committees to deal with applications for minor bylaw variances. Such requests must be based on the presence of “undue hardship,” and that hardship can’t be strictly financial – according to information on the provincial government’s website, it typically relates to such matters as siting, dimensions and building size.

Margaret Woods, chair of the White Rock committee and a former councillor, told Peace Arch News one example would be if a large rock on a lot made it difficult to build a home that conforms with required setbacks.

Woods said that to her, the Columbia Avenue request – granted on a 2-1 vote, with Woods opposed - did not warrant a variance on the basis of hardship.

“In my view… you could build a home on that particular property without any issues, that was made clear by the staff,” Woods said.

“There was no case made for hardship.”

Woods would not comment on her colleagues’ decision to support the request, but said she doesn’t fault the applicants.

“People know what they want or what they need. It’s down to the planning staff to clarify things for them,” she said.

Fathers said granting the request leaves the city “open to some problems.”

Mayor Wayne Baldwin told PAN that a lawyer used to be involved in the process, but that hasn’t been the practice since at least 2006.

Baldwin suggested the motion – which Woods also supports – include a call for a legal analysis.

Council is expected to consider the motion at its next meeting, set for May 12.

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