Big homes issue looms large for Surrey

70 stop-work orders on illegally built additions remain in limbo.

Surrey Couns. Bob Bose and Linda Hepner.

Surrey Couns. Bob Bose and Linda Hepner.

Legal action against 70 people who illegally built additions to their homes remains in abeyance as the city figures out what to do about house sizes in Surrey.

Just weeks before the 2008 election, Surrey council unanimously voted to shelve legal action against 70 homeowners who continued construction on their dwellings without permits.

The move to put the lawsuits in abeyance came at the request of a lobby group known as the Surrey Ratepayers Association (SRA), the same organization now asking the city to review house sizes.

On Sept. 26, 2008, Kalvinder Bassi, director of the SRA, asked council “direct that all actions by the city related to seeking compliance with the RF zone (single family residential) related to unauthorized additions or deck enclosures be held in abeyance.”

It was less than two months before the civic election, and Bassi had a petition with more than 4,000 names on it.

Both Bassi and several councillors told The Leader at the time there was no political pressure in making the decision to put legal action on hold.

When the city chose to delay legal action against the homeowners who undertook illegal construction, it also started a process of re-examining all single family residential zones.

On Sept. 29, 2008, council decided that “actions being taken by the City to address existing unauthorized house additions as described in the subject letter be held in abeyance pending Council consideration of the (staff) report and recommendations.”

The city began a review of the RF zone that would increase the allowable house size from 3,550 to 4,550 square feet on a lot of more than 6,000 square feet.

The increase in size could render most of the unauthorized expansions legal.

More than two years later, the review of the RF zones has been moved to a new committee in charge of reducing red tape within the city.

Committee chair Linda Hepner said she hopes to have the house size issue dealt when the committee makes sense of all different zoning within the city.

“We’re going to bring back a whole bunch of housekeeping issues around zones, we need to know all the issues,” Hepner said. “I was told by the committee in our very early analysis we have too many zones.”

Reducing the number of zones may change their description enough to deal with the RF zone issue adequately, she said.

“I hope that’s a solution because that’s the easiest solution,” Hepner said.

At least one councillor is astounded that the issue is in a red tape reduction committee.

“This is a huge issue, it doesn’t get any bigger than this,” said Coun. Bob Bose. “I’m flabbergasted that this is now in the hands of the red tape committee. What’s that going to do?”

He said the issue belongs in the hands of council.

As for the 70 homeowners who built extensions on their homes illegally, they will eventually have to meet civic standards, according to Surrey City Manager Murray Dinwoodie.

He said that “very few” of the homes have already been dealt with because they represented a public safety hazard. Even so, those that have been dealt with remain without proper permits.

“Whether they comply or don’t  comply (with the B.C. Building Code) has not yet been determined,” Dinwoodie said.

He said the right order to do things is to establish what the zoning will be, then determine whether the structures meet building standards.

Hepner said the red tape reduction committee will meet again in May. She expects to have the matter resolved by summer  or fall.