District removes itself from liability over unauthorized buildings

Property owner says District is unwilling to bend to give him time to save up for new building

A local man says the District of Kent is being unreasonable when it comes to a few extra buildings on his rural property.

Kent Council held a special meeting to allow Martin Sparkes a chance to present his case and discuss the matter. However, he failed to show to the meeting. Sparkes told The Observer he saw no point in coming to the meeting as Council members’ minds were already set.

“I’ve talked personally to each councillor and they all know [my position],” explains Sparkes. “The outcome was predetermined; they were not about to change their minds.”

The offending buildings are a cover-all, three bay post and beam structure, shipping container and shed. Sparkes says the buildings, located on his property at 3004 Hardy Road, were not issues when first installed. For example, he says when he got the shipping container, it opposed no zoning bylaws at the time. When he installed the cover-all, Sparkes says he had verbal approval from a District building inspector that a permit was not required.

“The only contentious building to me is the lean-to,” says Sparkes. “I shouldn’t have done that without a permit.”

But Sparkes says staff and Council are unwilling to bend. He asked for three to five years to save enough money to build a proper shop and wanted some leniency on the other buildings given the circumstances.

“They won’t even look at it, they want them all gone – get building permits or gone,” explains Sparkes.

Council filed a Section 57 notice against Sparke’s property for the accessory buildings constructed without permits or provincial approval as it relates to Riparian Area regulations. By placing a Section 57 notice, as directed in the Community Charter, it absolves the District from liability should something occur in relation to the buildings of concern.

“I don’t believe we have any other choice other than to put on the Section 57,” said Mayor John Van Laerhoven at the meeting, held Monday, May 11.

Sparkes says the issue of liability is not a valid concern when considering the likelihood of something actually happening.

“What are the chances of an issue occurring that will cause the district to be liable,” he questions. “How many cover-alls in B.C. have fallen down? I’m going to say the potential for liability is around zero.”

The back-and-forth debate between Sparkes and District staff began in 2013. Staff reports detail the concerns about the structures, from not having the proper building permits or setbacks to being constructed within 30 metres of an open drainage channel, which means it requires an assessment by a Qualified Environmental Professional.

Van Laerhoven says if a structure is built without the proper permit in the District, it has to be dealt with, adding Council cannot pick and choose which bylaws to enforce.

Sparkes, who operates a septic business, says the whole affair has left him frustrated.

“I think small businesses should be left alone to do business, hire people, and spend money,” says Sparkes. “I think I can speak for more than one business owner in Agassiz; I feel like we’re set upon.”

Council voted all in favour of the Section 57 notice, but amended it to waive the $350 fee to remove the notice should Sparkes address all the District concerns within a five-year period.