"We can enforce our Bylaws, but we can't force people to be good neighbours."
That was the upshot of an interesting discussion we had at Council yesterday with respect to a complaint about an "illegal suite" in the neighbourhood near Queen of Angels school. Initially, this issue had been presented to us as being exclusively about an illegal basement suite. There has been some enforcement there already, including the levying of a fairly major fine against the homeowners, and Council gave some preliminary direction a few weeks ago to file a "Notice on Title" of the property in question. The idea was to give notice to anyone who might consider purchasing the property that the basement suite was illegal. We did this within a paradigm where we're working to find a way to "regularize" more of these suites in keeping with our broad objective of promoting more "affordable housing" within the Municipality.
However, the issue came back to a public meeting yesterday, and I don't think any of us were prepared for the volume (and nature) of the input we received on this particular property. A number of people from the neighbourhood lined up at the microphone to complain about a wide variety of activities they say have been going on at the property in question; everything from weekend bonfires, abusive language, and loud parties to people parking in adjacent driveways. One house next to the subject property has been on the market for the better part of two years; no one wants to buy it because of the "neighbour problem."
Neighbourhood disputes are somewhat dicey issues for local governments. In the first instance, Council is loathe to act on these kinds of complaints without some kind of independent verification of the problem. While the complaints we heard last night may well have been legitimate, we have also seen instances where certain neighbours file complaints about others based on long-standing feuds that really don't involve any substantive illegal activity. One of the things we heard last night was that the RCMP had been called to this address on multiple occasions to deal with some of the behaviours there. I have asked for a report from staff detailing the number and nature of RCMP complaints at the address in question, so we'll see where that goes.
However, if the activities on the subject property have been as egregious as we were led to believe last night, I expect Council will move forward with some strong enforcement action in the next few weeks.
Other items on the agenda... the question of the Meadow Park sewer extension came up again. This is the issue I addressed in my "Wisdom of Solomon" post a few months ago. Council received a preliminary report from the Health Authority which, in essence, confirmed there were some problems with the septic fields in the area, but which also specified that the full extent of the problem would be better analyzed during the winter. We agreed to hold off doing anything further on that issue until VIHA does a more detailed analysis, hopefully to be completed by the end of this year.
There was an interesting recommendation from our Agriculture Committee with respect to applications to remove lands from the Agricultural Land Reserve. We only receive, on average, one or two of these applications per year, but the Committee felt strongly that it should have some advisory input when these issues come forward. However, it's actually our Community Planning Advisory Committee which has this under its' formal Terms of Reference, so Council was presented with a recommendation that both Committees be allowed to have input into this. I had some concerns with the potential for delays that might be precipitated by this "dual-Committee" review of these issues. (The Agriculture Committee generally only meets four times a year.)
I tried to amend the recommendation to have just the Ag Committee do these reviews, but that was defeated. In the end, the original recommendation passed, along with an assurance that the Ag Committee could meet "at the call of the Chair" so as not to unnecessarily delay the process. Since Councillor Woike chairs the Committee, I have every confidence the delays will be minimal.
But the end result does beg a bit of a question, though, which Councillor Koury accurately identified after the meeting. "It will be interesting to see how Council will deal with the potential of contradicting recommendations coming from the 2 committees tasked to review ALR exclusions." The possibility certainly exists.
One other issue; Council approved the expenditure of $20-thousand for a "Parking Study" in Chemainus. This is tied to the question of the Library location, the idea is to determine whether the placement of the Library in the Waterwheel parking lot will have a detrimental effect on overall parking in the downtown core. The study won't be paid for through general revenues; it will be funded out of the Chemainus "Parking Reserve Fund."
Until next week....