Staff and volunteers involved with the City of White Rock’s board of variance need better training, a review has determined.
In a report to council, the city’s director of planning and development services Karen Cooper also recommended a revision of the board of variance’s bylaw, procedures and public-information package.
The suggestions follow concerns raised by Coun. Helen Fathers over the April approval of an application that didn’t appear to meet the criteria for “undue hardship.”
Fathers said it enabled a home to be built with a three-car garage; she was also concerned that a prospective buyer was able to jointly apply for the variance.
In discussing her findings at the city’s May 26 council meeting, Cooper said the board has a “wide degree of latitude” in determining hardship.
“Undue hardship is what our board of variance determines it to be,” she said.
As well, who can apply for the variance is fairly non-specific. According to the Local Government Act, a “person” may apply. White Rock’s bylaw allows an owner or a person authorized by the owner to apply.
“In fact, a neighbour could make an application,” Cooper said.
Regarding improved training, Cooper said staff and volunteers need to have “a solid understanding of their roles and mandate.”
As well, case files should include more information on each decision, as well as the related information that staff provided. A review of files created over the past decade identified gaps in both of these areas, Cooper said.
“Right now, in many of the decisions, there’s no information… (as to) why did they decide this,” Cooper said.
“When I read through some of them, I sort of shook my head as well.”
Cooper said the decision that raised Fathers’ eyebrows concerned a lot that had a wider setback than necessary, due to it being beside a right-of-way that was never going to be opened. But those details were never expressed in any of the paperwork.
To that end, Cooper said a public-information package – addressing such questions as how to apply, where meetings are held and if decisions can be appealed – would help increase consistency and decrease misunderstandings.
Fathers described Cooper’s recommendations as “a step in the right direction.”
Council voted unanimously to direct staff to report back to the land-use committee with revised documents.