Greenwood city council debated proposed Board of Variance changes at the regularly scheduled meting on May 25, as residents applied to change the heights of their fences and asked for input on other zoning issues.
The board met on May 15 and put forward a report with recommendations to council on four issues. This was the first meeting of the newly-appointed board, which only meets when the city receives requests for variance.
The board recommended that Jason Greaves bring the height of his 8-foot (2.4 metre) fence down to the prescribed 6 foot six inches as per the zoning bylaw; that council allow James Hollett and Wendy Hansen allow to build a 7- foot (2.1 metre) fence; that Dan Marczyk be denied permission to change the setback of his house from Boundary Creek from 50 feet (15.2 metres) to 30 feet (9.1 metres), citing flooding issues; and that council amend the zoning bylaw to include a provision that variance will not be given to projects that only applied for variance after completion.
The current board was appointed last month after a hiatus. The existence of a board of variance is a requirement under the zoning bylaw, so residents can apply for changes on their property. After an application for variance, the board visits the property and consults with property owners, neighbours, and the existing zoning regulations.
The meeting brought up issues concerning the board’s role when advising council, with Councillor Darla Ashton (by telephone) raising the possibility of accidentally setting a double standard.
“I think you’re going to get some backlash here, because there doesn’t seem to be a standard being set, if it’s a case-by-case approval process,” Ashton said.
Greenwood mayor Ed Smith advised council to take the recommendations as presented, noting that a persistent difference of opinion between the board and council is what dissolved the previous board. Council can meet with the board to discuss recommendations and come to new conclusions.
“We can [revisit recommendations] if we feel there is a necessity to it,” Smith said. However, he added that council must be cautious not to revisit and reject too many recommendations.
The fourth recommendation by the board to deny variances to already-completed projects was put in place to avoid residents skirting bylaws and the board feeling pressured to approve a project rather than tearing it down, said acting Chief Administrative Officer Wendy Higashi. Council passed a motion to accept the recommended change to and will begin the process to add the item when the zoning bylaw is redone later this year. It will be approved or denied at that time with the rest of the bylaw.
“If someone builds contrary to what the zoning bylaw specifies an then applies for a variance, there will be no variance,” the recommendation reads.
Higashi addressed the broader issue of the zoning bylaw, noting that council will be examining and making changes to the decades-old bylaw currently on the books.
“The city will be visiting the zoning bylaw this year,” she said “We want a lot more clarity. Right now, it’s almost like deciphering it.” The bylaw was last changed in 1997, she added.
When council addresses the bylaw, several items will be reworded for clarity and a few items will be added, but nothing is set in stone yet, Higashi said.
Smith said the board’s recommendations are important to set a baseline standard for the city.
“If everything was cut and dry, we wouldn’t have a variance,” Smith said. “We’re trying to set a standard.”