Colwood council approved a development variance for a retaining wall despite it being built higher than the City’s bylaws allow and without a permit.
An application for a single-lot development on Pelican Drive was submitted on Aug. 17 of last year, after the City introduced new regulations for retaining walls. The amended bylaws call for a limit of 1.2 metres in height unless terraced. In the latter case, the height of each section cannot exceed 1.2 metres and the structure must be as wide as it is tall.
The Pelican Drive application included drawings of the proposal which didn’t show a retaining wall, but a wall in excess of four metres was built anyways, prompting the property’s owner to request a retroactive development variance.
Council granted the variance, going against a recommendation from staff, on the condition that aesthetic, landscaping and engineering improvements be made.
A staff report outlined a number of concerns, including the wall’s potential impact on underground utilities or services on the adjacent City-owned right-of-way, the lack of a formal landscaping plan to improve aesthetics, and the fact that the wall doesn’t fall within Colwood’s Official Community Plan.
In a letter to the City, Dylan Quigley outlined that he needed the wall, which borders a public pathway, in order to facilitate a parking spot for a suite and to accommodate access for his electrical and gas services.
“I have realised that I have violated your laws regarding retaining walls and am looking to make things as nice as possible to comply and also because this is the home I plan on raising my family in,” he wrote, also detailing that he will plant cedar hedges along the wall and honeysuckle or ivy plants to climb it.
The proposal didn’t sit well with Coun. Cynthia Day, who, along with Coun. Jason Naultone, voted against the variance.
“It encroaches right to the lot line so there’s not really enough room to put cladding on the wall without it further encroaching into the right of way. And it was built knowingly and without any inspections or permits,” she told the Gazette.
Day also expressed concern over the aesthetics of the wall given its position next to the public path, and the precedent the decision may set for future developments.
“I’m concerned that it weakens our position with future proposals coming forward,” she noted.
Coun. Gordie Logan voted in favour of the variance, although he admitted it was a difficult decision and that the planning and land use committee and council were put in a tough position as a result of the owner’s error.
“From my perspective, we were looking for a bit of a middle ground and looking for a solution that both parties could live with. The City identified a few items that needed to be addressed, that being the aesthetics, the landscaping and the engineering of the wall,” he said.
Logan added that a couple of members of committee agreed that if the correct process had been followed by the applicant, the wall would have likely been approved.
“With that lens, we wanted to look for solutions as opposed to coming down with a heavy hand and see if we could make it work for both parties,” he said.
He added that any future variance requests would have to continue to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.
“I think we would need to evaluate the circumstance and ask ourselves if it impacts anybody. Does it have any effect on City rights-of-ways? Is it going to put some liability onto the City and the taxpayer? I think we evaluate each decision as it comes up.”