Thursday, September 22, 2022

Bonfire of the Variances -- Council's August deferral on decision brings 35 minute review of Second Avenue West Variance issues

The issue of property variances once again dominated a
City Council session on Tuesday, with Council members
reviewing an application for a property on Second Avenue West

At some points during the conversation on Tuesday's themes on a property variance request it seemed more likely that the topic should be sent over to Judge Judy's television court room, or that of the People's Court. 

The discussion on property issues one that has seemingly pitted neighbour against neighbour on the city's west side, with Prince Rupert's Council members the one's on the spot as arbitrators as the evening progressed.

The Variance for a property on Second Avenue West, was one that had been deferred by a month to allow Council members time to review the variance request, though Tuesday's session delivered a bit more than a run of the mill request for forgiveness on some changed plans, with Council putting 35 minutes of their just over an hour session towards the topic,

The process actually began as part of the Committee of the Whole session when a neighbour to the property in question, used the forum as an informal Public Hearing of sorts, to ensure as he said: that he would be heard on the topic.

As his presentation wrapped up, Mayor Lee Brain observed how it was the duty of the City to ensure that he was heard.

The actual work on the variance request would come along a few minutes later as part of the Regular Council Agenda.

Towards some background to the topic, City Manager Rob Buchan noted before the discussion, that the topic had been pulled from a previous agenda to allow Council to deliberate, noting that at that time the breakdown of how the correspondence s towards the variance request came in with 3 for the proposal and 2 against it.

Councillor Niesh was the first to take to the topic framing the discussion for Council to consider. Noting how he had taken a look at the property in question and some of the concerns raised.

"So I guess the question is, do we feel that is impactful in anyway, looking at it I don't see how it can impact anything anymore than having a deck there ... the only thing is that they're adding more living space under the deck, where originally that wasn't on the original variance" -- Councillor Wade Niesh

Mr. Niesh proved to be the strongest advocate for those building the home, noting how he had no problem in supporting all of the requested variances.

Other Council members weighed in most making note as to how Council has had to deal with these issues with an increasing pace, with Councillors Adey and Mirau speaking to some of that process.

Councillor Randhawa asked for a recommendation from the City Manager towards the topic, in reply Mr. Buchan observed on some of the history of the variance requests and how some work has taken place that wasn't approved which resulted in the Stop Work order. 

He further noted to the Councillors' call for a recommendation that the current process in place isn't one for staff make recommendations towards and is one for consideration of Council members individually.

"As for whether or not we recommend for this to proceed or not, is a difficult one for staff to make, because this comes down to Council's judgment. We don't have criteria established for evaluating variance permits in Prince Rupert. 

It's very much  a matter of an applicant making a case to Council for the merits and need for a variance. And then listening to the residents that have been notified as to how this change,  this variance may affect them. 

So that calls for each of Council's personal view and assessment. 

So there's no objective criteria at this point with which to assist this, we can certainly point out when there's impact, significant obvious impact on use of enjoyment, and I think the case has been made that there is some impact.

Whether or not that's sufficient impact for Council to say no to the variance application and proceed with the plans as originally proposed is up to Council members individually" -- City Manager Rob Buchan

Councillor Cunningham also raised some concerns over the scope of the variance requests, which combined with some of the other comments from council members led to a potential solution to be offered up by Councillor Niesh.

Towards that Mr. Niesh recommended that Council approve the majority of the variance requests, with the exception of the back roof covering over the deck and some work planned for the front portion of the house.

For his part, Mayor Brain noted how he didn't want Council to become building inspectors, observing how he didn't appreciate the process that the builders had taken on, stating that it was disrespectful to the neighbourhood, noting how Council has seen this happen before.

"What I will say, is that I don't appreciate this process that the builders have done.  To me it's disrespectful to the neighbourhood, to people like that who come forward. Because your doing things, consciously knowing you're building it when you're not supposed to. And we've seen that time and time again here, where we've had people come after the fact after they've built something and they go oops" -- Mayor Lee Brain

The Mayor did however, put faith in Councillor Niesh's view of the situation as a builder and to accept his solution as the middle ground to get the issue resolved.

"I think Councillor Niesh, who personally I trust the most's option here as a builder who is someone who actually understands these things, opinion on this matter in particular. And after him going and taking a look and him proposing this amendment I think this is the middle ground that I'm prepared to take"  -- Mayor Lee Brain

As part of the discussion the City Manager offered up an alternative option, that to pass a resolution not to proceed with the application as currently made, asking the applicant to change the aspects of the plan and resubmit them.

Councillor Niesh challenged that approach somewhat, noting as how it may make sense on paper, but observing of the oncoming fall weather and the impact that would have on constructions, as well as to how Council had put their decision off once already.

"Delaying it another month, is just as builder, would be a super frustrating you now we have person who's just trying to get to work and build this and it's getting pushed along ..."

In the end, Council chose to follow Mr. Niesh's suggestion to approve the majority of the variances, with the exception of the front porch and back deck overhang issues, in order to allow them move forward with their home construction. Those elements would be subject to a separate variance request and the process of notification.

The Mayor offered up one final comment to the issue.

"This is ridiculous I'm just going to say that out loud, that we have to do it like this. But this also part of the property owner's fault for doing it this way. Again there's nothing that frustrates me more  when people purposely build things that they know they're not supposed to be built. And then they try to ask for forgiveness and then we're put in the position  to regulate neighbours relationships and it's not fair for that to be happening"-- Mayor Lee Brain

A wider overview of the Council members discussion themes can be found from our Council Timeline.

You can review the full range of the discussion first from the neighbours point of view in the Committee of the Whole at the start of the Council session and then as part of the main discussion which starts at the  10 minute mark.

More notes on the Tuesday Council session can be explored through our Council Timeline.

A wider overview of past Council Discussion topics is available from our archive page.


  1. "We don't have criteria established for evaluating variance permits in Prince Rupert. "

    First the voluntary parking discussion and now this. I hope our new city manager can drive the necessary change our community needs.

    City Hall needs to re-establish and enforce standards to ensure the foundation of our community is solid, and consistent moving forward.

  2. Why is Niesh concerned about the contractor losing time. The item before council is simple. Does the current construction meet the variance that was applied for? If not bring it into compliance.
    Mr. Niesh says he has no problem supporting all the variances requested. We are back to build it and ask for forgiveness. This is not the way normal cities operate. It is like the voluntary parking tickets just do what you want.
    The city is not going to improve with this do what you want attitude.

  3. Why bother having qualified and well paid City staff to provide input or set out options for consideration when councillor Niesh can do a site inspection, cast an eye over the proposed variance and pronounce that looks okay?
    Voting day is October 15.

    1. Don't knock Niesh he is the one the mayor says he deferrers too. Not right but that's what he said.

  4. I can't believe the mayor's statement "we're put in the position to regulate neighbours relationships and it's not fair for that to be happening"-
    There is a way for the mayor to make it fair, do your job and disallow this practice of non-compliance of variances. Until there is enforcement rather than caving every time, you will never get compliance with the rules. Once it starts costing people money they will take notice.