Chris Small stands in the backyard of his Malabar Avenue home

White Rock mayor apologizes for city hall errors

‘Massive imposition’ after neighbouring developer given wrong information.

Neighbours of an under-construction strata development say mistakes made at White Rock city hall allowed it to become a “massive imposition” on area residents.

In council last week, Mayor Wayne Baldwin publicly acknowledged that mistakes were made in how the project – Bishop Hill – was handled. He apologized to those affected and promised that concerns would be addressed.

“I think it’s safe to say this was not one of our finer moments,” Baldwin said, following delegations by two area residents.

“We need to rectify it.”

The project is under construction on nine Bishop Road lots, north of Malabar Avenue.

Malabar Avenue homeowner Geoff Parkin told council residents first brought concerns to the attention of city staff “when it was a hole in the ground,” and twice more after that.

Issues include side-yard setbacks that were allowed after it was determined staff had provided the developer with inaccurate guidelines; landscape-feature walls that were built too high; and a retaining wall that has enabled the developer to build a patio for one lot that is essentially level with the top of neighbour Chris Small’s fence.

Through a slideshow, Small showed council the structure is 10 feet from his fence and six feet above grade. It’s an invasion of privacy, he said, because anyone using the deck will have a bird’s eye view into his daughter’s bedroom, his son’s bedroom and the family’s kitchen.

“It’s a massive imposition into our privacy and there’s no need for it – and it’s a contravention of the bylaw,” Small said.

Small told Peace Arch News last week that while the retaining wall is a focal point, a bigger concern is that a strata development has even been allowed there. The density is “very much out of context with the rest of the surrounding neighbourhood,” he said. It “has taken our single-family residence and basically placed us next door to the equivalent of a condo complex.”

Parkin told council that each time he contacted city staff about concerns with the landscape-feature wall located along Bishop Road, he was assured it would not exceed city guidelines that capped its height at two feet.

The second contact with staff was when forms for the wall were put in place and “were as tall as I am,” Parkin said.

Regarding the smaller setbacks, the variance permit that allowed them for two lots immediately adjacent to Bishop Road was approved by council in January.

That application was initiated by the city after staff gave the developer incorrect setback figures that were then used to design the strata’s layout.

Baldwin told PAN that a planner mistakenly authorized the initial variance; it should have come before council.

He said the retaining-wall issue was a result of staff not being aware of zoning changes that council authorized in April as part of the omnibus Bylaw 2000.

“Apparently, there was a new requirement for retaining walls that would not have allowed them to build,” Baldwin said. “The bylaw was passed and then (the developer) came in a couple days later and staff weren’t aware the change had been made.”

Asked how quickly staff are advised of such changes, he said it “should be pretty well immediate.”

Baldwin cited the extensiveness of the bylaw and a “huge backlog” in such applications as possible factors behind the error.

“There’s a lot of pressure on them to process them as quickly as they can,” he said.

“I can only think that it’s because of the time pressure and the workload. It just got missed.”

Baldwin said disciplinary steps are possible, and noted the Bishop Hill developer is not to blame, having “only done what he’s been approved to have done.”

“The developer and homeowners… both in a sense (are) victims,” the mayor said.

Small told council he feels residents have “been treated as though we’re an irritant rather than concerned citizens.”

Parkin described the number of staff errors on one project as “not reasonable.”

“Each one of these three errors was caught by residents,” he said. “We should be able to rely on city staff to know the bylaws.”

Small said Friday that options for restoring a degree of privacy – such as planting trees along the project’s southern property line – are being explored. He’s been told any legal action the city undertakes “may not change anything,” given that it was city errors that created the problem.


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