Thursday, August 25, 2022

Conversations on Variance requests continue as a theme for Prince Rupert City Council

City Manager Dr. Rob Buchan and Councillor Nick Adey carried the 
bulk of the discussion on variances Monday evening at City Council

The list of property owner requests for variances for the August Prince Rupert City Council session wasn't as daunting as that of the only session in July, but the topic still made for a bit of discussion on Monday evening for the Council members only gathering for this month.

As we outlined last month, the ongoing practice for some homeowners of build now, seek a variance later, raised the ire of a number of Council members, who strongly objected to the way that some applicants were using the system in place.

The topic was back up for review on Monday following the introduction of a report from planning for City Manager Robert Buchan related to an application under review for a property on Kay Smith Boulevard that has caught the attention of Council.

The report can be reviewed from the City Council Agenda package starting on page 46.

A new build on Kay Smith Boulevard was the subject of 
discussion at Monday's council session
(from the City of PR Agenda package)

Councillor Nick Adey launched the latest discussion on variances, noting of the report and four new policy elements that were noted that city staff believe will prevent future violations of the City's Zoning bylaw.

"I did notice that in doing your background and analysis there's a section there regarding a policy being drafted, or has been drafted by the building department. Which I assume is intended to address the concern that arose out of last month's meeting with regard to how some of this development got missed. Is that a fair assumption, I see that four policy there" -- Councillor Nick Adey

Those elements of note for the Councillor are as follows:

click to enlarge

City Manager  Rob Buchan outlined how the new policy was designed and some background towards the specific development in question.

"Yes, this policy has been drafted exactly because of the problem that this application presented. 

Now I would note that the staff did not miss anything, the applicant was repeatedly advised about you know the zoning requirements, and set back and height requirements and it went ahead anyways.

So what this policy does, is it gives the building inspector direction at the time of footings to call for a surveyor's certificate to ensure that there is no setback violations, and at the time that the roof is done that there is no height. 

And in both cases if there is a violation of the zoning bylaw there is a stop work order and nothing proceeds until either the setback or height violations are corrected, or a variance application is received and approved.

So this policy will prevent a similar situation where a house is completed contrary to the bylaws and notwithstanding staff advice along the way  -- City Manager Rob Buchan

For his part of the exchange, the Mayor noted how the policy adjustments were required to put an end to the past practice of moving ahead on the builds and asking for permission later.

Councillor Barry Cunningham noted of the volume of property builds that he has noted in recent weeks in his travels around the city and how there has been blatant disregard the rules.

"Last meeting on a lot of the DVP's I drove around and looked at them and construction was already started before we even had the variation before us. Like they were small, a deck within a foot and a half of a property line, things like this and no one really objected to. 

But I was just amazed that just about every one of them it was like well, build it and we'll just ask for forgiveness, you know it seems to have been the norm and it's just ridiculous.

And this is just way beyond ridiculous, you know like the guy just continued doing when it was pointed out to him and you know unfortunately, we pretty well have to pass it. 

Unfortunately  I'd like to see a chain saw taken to it in some situations because it was just blatant disregard for the rules -- City Councillor Barry Cunningham

Councillor Adey followed up by asking if there were ways found from other communities that the city could adapt to address the issue to put in place consequences for those who move forward without the support of the city.

"I probably should apologize for any inferences towards staff ... I wonder whether there are examples in other communities of ways to respond to these situations that might move towards something of a compensation. 

Is there a way to and I don't think we can do it in this case as there is nothing in place as far as policy, but is there a way to establish an actual consequence for those people who do these kinds of things without the support of the city"  -- Councillor Nick Adey

Mr. Buchan outlined some of the steps and measures that Council can currently take to address the issue. Noting that so far Council has been hesitant to use those measures and how the policy adjustments may address the situation.

"To some degree that exists for Council now. Council does not have to approve the variance application, the occupancy permit can be withheld and a Section 57 notice can be registered on title which advises any future owners that the structure is not in compliance with the bylaws, and that can create some issues with financing.

So there are measures, Council can also you know push to have it rectified, which means structural alterations.

Now, that's not the direction that Council has indicated that it wants to go, but those are options for council.

I think that the policy that we have will help us  ... avoid this more extreme situation in the future" -- City Manager Rob Buchan

Councillor Niesh provided some counter balance to the discussion observing of some of the challenges that are found to building in Prince Rupert, noting that there are changes that could have been made prior to now by the builder, though he observed that it is new housing and suggested it be passed as it stands.

"Well, I mean, obviously we don't want to see this happening all the time, but you know not in any defence of the builder. 

But you know we live in a town where there's rocks and you know these plans are generic plans that are purchased and you know they work on a flat lot, and when all of a sudden you start building on a lot that has a hill or on the side of the hill ... there's variations.

But like I said not in any defence of what's happened here, you know I feel that there could have been changes that he could have done ahed do time to make it better.

But at the end of the day it's new housing, it's not impacting anyone, no one has made any complaints, then I would move to pass it as it stands" -- Councillor Wade Niesh

Council then approved the motion.

A second variance request for a property on Second Avenue West which has resulted in some objections from neighbours resulted in the Council members to decide to table their review until the next Council session of September.

The full review of the theme of variances can be explored through the City's Video Archive from Monday's session starting at the 17 minute mark 


More notes of interest from the Council session are available through our Council Timeline Feature.

A wider overview of housing issues in the community can be found from our housing archive.


  1. Hate to say it Prince Rupert, but in order to create real change. You will need to raise your standards!

    Without standards and enforcement of subsequent standards, residents will find it easy to slip into behaviours or attitudes that are far below what our community deserves.

  2. I feel like this council and town hall is some sort of dark comedy. Why don’t they ever hold the administration to account? Why don’t they ever take a stand on anything?