Fighting with Faro

The Yukon Supreme Court has evicted a Faro couple from the lakeside cabin they've owned for the last nine years. "We're homeless now," said Angelika Knapp, one of the cabin's owners.

The Yukon Supreme Court has evicted a Faro couple from the lakeside cabin they’ve owned for the last nine years.

“We’re homeless now,” said Angelika Knapp, one of the cabin’s owners.

Town officials hope this ends a protracted legal battle with Knapp and her partner Eric Dufresne.

“The matter’s been in court three times, and the town has prevailed three times,” said Faro’s chief administrative officer Ken Hodgins. “There is no mystery, the bylaw is clear.

“One cannot just plant a residence in any zone they like.”

Knapp and Dufresne have been running their canoe rental business from a property on Johnson Lake since 2003.

It is zoned hinterland – reserved for wilderness recreation and tourism.

But the couple lived in the cabin, which breached the rules.

So, if they continue to live on the property they could be found in contempt of court.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do now,” said Knapp.

Of course, the couple could apply for a “discretionary residential use” to legalize their home, but that takes a resolution from council.

That decision would be final. And, in an unusual move, the town is demanding detailed financial statements as part of the process.

Given their history with town officials, Knapp and Dufresne are reluctant to apply.

They hold little hope the politicians will rule in their favour.

“There would be a case to make, but it would be informed by her conduct,” said Hodgins.

Knapp and Dufresne’s tussle with the town is long and complicated.

In 2002, they took over the lease for a former floatplane base on Johnson Lake.

The plan was to start a wilderness tourism business and live on the property full time.

A year later, they formed North Star Adventures and started renting out canoes.

They renovated the cabin and a shed on the property, putting in an office and sleeping quarters.

They also applied to buy the lease. But they needed the town’s permission.

In 2004, they presented their business plan to Faro town council and said they intended to live on the property year round.

And things started to get messy.

The town wanted the land zoned commercial before the couple could buy it. Then it changed its mind.

Knapp and Dufresne assumed that meant it was legal to live there.

A call to the Yukon government confirmed there was nothing in the lease to prevent year-round occupation on the land, said Knapp. So the couple sold their Whitehorse house and moved to Faro.

Then their application to buy the land was challenged by the town.

Faro didn’t want them living on the property.

The town’s last-minute objection proved confusing to legal experts.

“When one reviews the record there also appears to be the appearance of bad faith by the town of Faro,” said the Yukon’s chief legislative council Steven Horn in a Community Services memorandum written in 2006.

“The town of Faro seems to have reversed it’s position. The chief administrative officer seems to have forgotten that the town had already decided the issue in June 2004 and may have failed to advise the reviewing officer that this had already been addressed by the town.”

According to Horn, Faro’s Hinterland Zoning was deficient when it came to wilderness tourism, and needed to be amended.

But the town lacked the expertise to prepare such amendments, he wrote.

“There are no easy solutions to these problems.”

Allowing people to live on Hinterland was not “appropriate” and bylaws would have to be amended to allow it, the town asserted in 2005.

But, over the town’s objections, Knapp and Dufresne were granted title by the Yukon government.

However, the zoning issue remained unresolved.

Things came to a head in 2007 when the town refused North Star Adventures a business licence because the owners were living on the property.

Knapp and her partner filed suit.

Faro came back with an offer to settle, but the couple refused, and took the town to court.

It proved to be a bad decision.

In 2009, the Yukon Supreme Court ruled both parties were wrong.

The town erred in rejecting the couple’s business licence, but Knapp and her partner had violated the zoning bylaws and didn’t have the town’s permission to live on the property year round.

The judge found the assumption that the town had given tacit permission when it dropped the requirement for a zoning change back in 2004, “unreasonable.”

Knapp and Dufresne were told they would have to apply for special permission from the town to make the residence legal.

But the town had no formal process for such an application.

There was some back and forth, and the town eventually decided the couple could apply for the zoning changes with a development permit.

Knapp refused, because the application would have required her to submit audited financial statements from her business.

While it wasn’t privy to the details of the case, the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce said it had never heard of someone having to submit confidential business information for a development permit.

The town put in the requirement following advice from its lawyers.

“It’s basic information,” said Hodgins. “The advice of our legal team was to get financials so we can ascertain what’s going on with the volume of business and the merits of her arguments around her business case.”

Earlier this year North Star Adventures was refused a business licence because Knapp refused to sign the declaration that commits them to abide by the zoning bylaws.

The town took them back to court, filing a petition for a permanent injunction to prevent them from using the property as a full-time residence.

Knapp and Dufresne said they had exhausted their finances in the earlier court challenges, and couldn’t afford a lawyer.

So they represented themselves. And they lost.

Previously, the courts ruled that Knapp and Dufresne had the right to live on the property seasonally, but this decision bars them from taking up even temporary residence on it.

Knapp and Dufresne are now responsible for covering $15,000 of the town’s legal costs.

They still have the option to get special permission from the town to live there, but they haven’t applied.

“It’s the town’s hope we’ve seen the end of the assault on the bylaw and now hopefully the town can move on,” said Hodgins.

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