A Hillcrest couple are breathing a sigh of relief this week.
Monday, city council agreed to amend the zoning of their detached garage, which was built 18 inches too close to their property line.
The entire process was “extremely tense and long,” said owner Dianne Williams. “(But) we’re happy with the outcome.”
It was almost four years ago when Williams and her husband, Darol Stuart, started construction on the garage.
They pulled the permits and hired a contractor.
“As laypersons we had a reasonable expectation that the contractor would inform us of important information such as building codes, material expenses and all mandatory inspections,” said Williams.
But he didn’t.
Without getting the proper inspections done, the contractor dug down two metres and poured the concrete footings for the garage. But he put them in the wrong place, encroaching on the side and rear yard setbacks.
After they fired the contractor in 2009, they called for an inspection of the framing he did.
Though the inspector noticed that the first inspection for the footings was missed, he signed off on the framing.
“The guy said, ‘Oh, this is the first time we’ve been here,’ but what does that mean to me?” said Williams. “Had he said, ‘you need to get that inspected’ we would have.
“The guy was back three times and still never said anything about the site plans. In our view that would have been the time to correct it.”
The mistake wasn’t discovered until three years later, when Williams and her husband applied for a plumbing permit, to turn the second storey of the garage into a hairdressing salon for their daughter.
Only then did the city notice that the building was in the wrong place.
By that time, the summer of 2011, the garage was pretty much finished, and moving it would was going to cost around $25,000.
In February 2012 the couple applied for a zoning amendment to bring the building into conformity.
When it came down to a vote this week, city administration recommended rejecting the application. They warned that approving it would set a precedent that would encourage similar applications in the future.
Only Coun. Betty Irwin agreed with that assessment.
“It’s ultimately the responsibility of the property owner,” she said. “You can hire a contractor, you can hire your friend Joe who owns a wheelbarrow, but ultimately you are responsible for following the conditions of that building permit.”
But only Irwin and Coun. Dave Stockdale voted against the amendment.
Stockdale had his own reasons. Before the vote, he proposed a motion to delay the vote until council examined the permitting process more closely. But it was struck down.
“I’m voting against this, but not for the reason that administration is suggesting, that there were too many irregularities,” he said. “I’m voting against it because council won’t reconsider sitting down and talking about it a little bit more to get more clarity.”
The rest of council voted for the amendment.
“I think we as a city dropped the ball at one point,” said Coun. Dave Austin. “I’ve been around 12 years now and this is not the first time our inspectors have done this.
“I think these people have every right to enjoy the building that they’ve built. We’re talking about (18) inches of property here.”
Coun. Kirk Cameron agreed.
“I think it’s entirely within our purview to say, let’s give these guys a break,” he said.
But Williams doesn’t place all the blame on the city. When asked by council she admitted that she shared some responsibility for the snafu.
“Definitely,” she said. “Not knowing the process and hiring a moron.”
Now that she has the approval of council to move forward with construction, Williams and her husband are free to finish off the suite, which they now plan to turn into a small apartment for their potential “boomerang children.”
However, because it’s so late in the construction season it won’t likely be finished until next summer, she said.
Her hope is that after all of this, the city, and the planning department, will take a look at their process and try to make the requirements for building permits a little more clear.
“You don’t even know the questions to ask; that’s why you talk to the city and that’s why you hire professionals,” said Williams. “There seems to be a big gap in what the homeowner’s supposed to know.”
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