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Fire protection rules stymie house plans

Cranberry couple faces mounting costs to rebuild home

A couple’s dream to build a new family home has turned into a nightmare of bureaucratic red tape resulting in rising costs.

Steve and Kim Bennett have been going through the permitting process to construct a new home on their Tanner Avenue property. Along the way, they discovered their existing home is further away from a fire hydrant than the distance required by City of Powell River bylaws. They asked that the city waive the fire protection requirements, but council voted at the September 6 meeting to turn down their request.

“I just feel kind of short changed because I’ve been under the assumption for 18 years that fire coverage was not an issue,” said Steve. “I just took it for granted that we had coverage, when we didn’t. We’ve been paying for coverage when it’s been worthless.”

Steve also said he wonders how many other residents in Powell River are in the same situation.

Under the provisions of the city’s infrastructure design and construction bylaw, the Bennetts need to provide extensive infrastructure and servicing improvements in order to build their new home. The area, at the edge of the city’s boundary in Cranberry, is not serviced with all municipal infrastructure and roads don’t meet current municipal standards.

Council did issue a development variance permit for the property to waive requirements for sanitary sewer collection and highway construction standards at the September 20 council meeting.

However, both Powell River Fire Rescue and the engineering department did not support waiving the necessary waterworks system upgrades, because fire protection would be compromised. The bylaw stipulates that a fire hydrant can’t be farther than 150 metres from a single-family residence. The Bennetts would have to shoulder the cost of extending the water main down Tanner and installing a fire hydrant. City staff couldn’t provide an estimate, but Richard Stogre, manager of engineering services, told council at the September 6 committee-of-the-whole meeting that it would be significant and could be between $100,000 to $200,000.

There is a fire hydrant on Chilcotin Avenue, adjacent to Tanner, that meets the distance requirements, but the fire department can’t cross private property to fight a fire. “Road travel for us to the nearest hydrant to that particular dwelling is over 500 metres, well beyond our capabilities to manage,” said Dan Ouellette, Powell River’s fire chief.

Ouellette also said the Bennetts have options, such as having a water storage tank on site or a sprinkler system in the new house.

The Bennetts bought the property and their existing home in 1994. Their lot had been subdivided in 1976 from a large Chilcotin property. Steve, who made a presentation to council about the issue, asked why services had not been required at the time of subdivision.

He also said that the lack of fire protection was “completely unknown” to him.

His fire insurance will be affected now, Steve said, as well as the property value, as the issue is public.

Council passed a motion to deny the request to relax requirements for waterworks system standards for fire protection and encouraged Steve to discuss fire protection options with staff.

Only Councillor Myrna Leishman voted in opposition to the motion. She said she believed it was the city’s responsibility. “We fell down on this way back when, for whatever reason,” she said. “I feel it’s unfair now to put this resident under these pressures when he is rebuilding his home.”