Owners required to demolish Eco-Cottage by May 1

Sounder News

Tuesday, April 21 2015

Editor: Thomas Harding and Elizabeth Beale issued the following statement to the Sounder this past week with regard to the demolition of their eco-cottage.

A statement from the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) is included below.

With great sadness Elizabeth and Thomas announce that they have applied for and been granted a permit to demolish their eco-cottage and, at least on Thomas’ part, with considerable anger. That “public servants” should force a 70 year-old couple who, with three years of effort and the help of many friends and neighbours have built an economically affordable, ecologically sustainable and structurally sound eco-cottage, to tear down their beloved retirement home is an utter travesty. (Elizabeth continually reminds Thomas that the RDN staff and Regional Directors are as much victims of the system as we are.)

After months of attempted negotiation, with the able help of several respected Gabriola professionals, the RDN has not budged one inch. The costs of the upgrades demanded by the RDN are simply beyond Elizabeth and Thomas’ resources. And the result would no longer be an “eco-cottage.” Better to tear down and start again.

The most recent chapter of the controversy dates back to October, 2014. Thomas and Elizabeth repeatedly asked the RDN to please specify what upgrades would be required to meet RDN requirements. Only then could they decide which building permit (residence or accessory) to apply for. Despite Mr. Tom Armet’s (building inspection and bylaw supervisor) assurance that, “It’s not the objective of the RDN to have you tear down the building,” (e-mail, Oct. 9, 2014) the RDN refused to specify.

In late November Elizabeth and Thomas were in Virginia, celebrating a final family reunion with Elizabeth’s 94 year-old mother. While away there was an unfortunate accident involving an exploding stove and serious injuries to a young friend (who has thankfully recovered brilliantly!) Despite opinions from local authorities - which the RDN were well aware of - that the explosion had nothing to do with the building code, the RDN responded to this accident by taking the owners to court. They were given 36 hours-notice and handed a voluminous set of RDN submissions as they entered the court. Lo and behold: the RDN submissions included an 18-point summary of the problems associated with the cottage. 

The RDN was seeking a hurry-up injunction against the owners, court date to be six days hence. Fortunately the judge denied the RDN request, but warned Elizabeth and Thomas that, though he appreciated what they were trying to do, technically they were breaking the law. If an injunction proceeding were brought before him, he would have to rule in favour of the RDN. Rather than an injunction, he suggested the two parties negotiate a Consent Agreement.

The Consent Agreement took six weeks to hammer out. Elizabeth spent most of January with her dying mother. The original draft agreement, suggested by the RDN lawyers was, on a number of points, extremely punitive. With the able help of a Gabriola lawyer, an agreement Thomas and Elizabeth could live with was formulated. Elizabeth and Thomas signed, agreeing to “apply for and obtain all necessary permits by May 1,” though they had little choice. It was made entirely clear that if the RDN took them back to court they would face court costs, RDN legal costs, RDN staff time costs and possibly a fine.

Subsequent to the Consent Agreement, after two months of attempting to submit an application for a building permit with an absolutely respected Gabriola professional as our representative, we were not successful. So Thomas and Elizabeth have reluctantly applied for and received a demolition permit: $165 to tear down our home! It is a lose/lose situation: we lose our beloved eco-cottage; the RDN loses an opportunity to be part of a movement for affordable, environmentally responsible housing on our island.

On April 25 there will be an Earth Day celebration and tear-down work party of an eco-cottage that is both ahead of and behind its time. 

We are now hurriedly engaged in tearing it down. We are trying to salvage any re-usable material. Any help or expertise is very much appreciated, whenever you can. Thank you to everyone who has supported us through these difficult months.

Editor: Tom Armet, Manager, Building, Bylaw and Emergency Planning Services for the RDN, sent in the following information:

In accordance with the Consent Order of February 6, 2015, the owners were directed by the Court to apply for and obtain all necessary permits to bring the house into compliance with building bylaw requirements on or before May 1, 2015, or remove the house from the property. 

The house was constructed without permits and there are a number of Building Code deficiencies in the construction of the building. The owners were advised of the requirements necessary to support a permit application, including professionally (engineer/architect) certified plans to ensure the proposed work complies in all respects with the Building Code and other enactments. Rather than apply for a building permit to reconstruct the house to Code, Mr.Harding/Ms. Beale chose instead to apply for a permit to remove the building. 

A demolition permit was issued on April 9.