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City of Powell River hits roadblock with land commission

Series of missed steps leads to refusal to authorize existing Hemlock Street right of way
Hemlock Street
DETOUR AHEAD: City of Powell River has been informed a loop on Hemlock Street that allows access to Timberlane Estates is in violation of the BC ALC Act and ALR Regulation.

An uncomfortable tension exists between City of Powell of River and BC Agricultural Land Commission over “an offending road,” according to ALC director of policy and planning Martin Collins,

The road in question is Hemlock Street, which loops around Timberlane Estates above Brooks Secondary School in Townsite.

In a letter to city director of planning services Thomas Knight dated March 1, 2018, the land commission informed the city that it“refuses the proposal to authorize existing statutory right of way and the constructed road within it.”

The loop accommodates traffic through the subdivision and was built within the Agricultural Land Reserve without approval.

Tension the decision has created is mostly being felt at city hall.

“Right now the first move has been made; they've asked for permission after being found out that it is something they shouldn't have done,” said Collins. “The commission said, ‘No, we're not going to authorize this.’”

There are currently three avenues open, according to Collins. The first is the city has one year to request reconsideration because the commission does not have all of the facts. The second is the chair of the ALC has 60 days to review the decision and determine if it should be reconsidered.

“The third thing is, the tension remains and the commission can move ahead with compliance and enforcement action against the city if it seeks to do so,” said Collins. “At that point the CEO has the right to pursue remedies to move ahead with the remediation order or a penalty.”

The maximum penalty is $100,000 and it would follow a remediation order to remove the road within a timeframe.

“We have quite a few steps to go before that happens,” said Collins.

In his reply to the ALC decision, Knight said the city could not tear up the road.

“The outright removal of the road is not an option because such a removal would incur a liability to the city by limiting emergency access to the existing and now built-out subdivision,” said Knight.

It is very rare that municipalities build roads without approval, according to Collins.

“There's not much precedent but it doesn't happen very often to have a road built blatantly in the ALR without asking for permission,” said Collins.

After the city received a letter in April 2017 that the road was not in compliance with the ALC Act and ALR Regulation, Knight was asked to appear before committee of the whole with a report.

Knight, who became director of planning services in 2014, told council that registration and construction of the road was done in violation of the ALC Act and ALR Regulation.

“However, staff did not find that these actions were done maliciously, but through a series of missed steps, misinformation and misinterpretation of what was put forth for registration,” said Knight at the time.

It was botched, according to Knight, and a lot of people are at fault, including city staff that took advice from the developers’ engineers and approved the road without registering it with the ALC. Even Land Title and Survey Authority of BC missed the error.

Powell River resident Ellen Gould said she found while doing research into the complexities that led to the ALC’s decision that the developers should be among the “guilty parties,” including mayor Dave Formosa and partner Mark Hassett. Gould appeared before committee of the whole on March 13 to present her conclusions.

“The parts that refer to me and Mr. Hassett are false,” said Formosa, who was not at the meeting. “They don't speak to reality.”

Formosa said the developers never wanted the road loop in the subdivision. The original plan was for a cul-de-sac at the end of each road. It was the city that requested it be built and it is the city’s error, according to Formosa.

“This is being done for political gain,” said Formosa. “They're trying to discredit me and my partners because there's an election coming up in October. I can't think of anything else.”