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Nootka Street proponents await legal opinion

Regional district investigates land-density bylaw to determine building project legality
RURAL RIFT: A large development of 55 modular homes on upper Nootka Street has renewed tensions between residents and the builder, with Powell River Regional District caught in the middle. David Brindle photo

A development dispute that started in 1998 has resurfaced on upper Nootka Street and is being investigated by Powell River Regional District. Area residents and project builder Grasshopper Developments are awaiting a legal opinion on a land-density bylaw.

Regional district manager of planning services Laura Roddan said she expects a report on the bylaw and a legal opinion to be presented to the regional district planning committee this month.

“We're in the middle of an investigation to determine whether the use is legal, nonconforming or illegal nonconforming,” said Roddan, “and we do not have any information yet to substantiate one way or the other.”

Grasshopper Developments partner Dave Tietzen said he is at a loss as to what the regional district is doing in attempting to block the project.

“We've tried to work with the regional district and we still are,” said Tietzen.

Tietzen has been informed by the regional district that the company is in contravention of the bylaw, according to Electoral Area B alternate director Alan Rebane.

The dispute goes back to 1998, when Grasshopper Developments began a project for 55 modular home units on 11 acres of land. In August 1999, partly due to pressure by local residents, a bylaw was passed restricting development to one home for every two and a half acres.

“The amount of septic going in can, over time, affect all of the wells in the area,” said upper Nootka resident Trish Menniti.

Tietzen said the company has permits for water and sewer from 1999, before the bylaw was passed, and therefore the project was grandfathered in, which has required the regional district to seek a legal opinion.

“The bylaw they're referring to was in August 1999,” said Tietzen. “This development was already grandfathered in before that bylaw came into effect, before it became a law.”

In this case, “grandfathered in” refers to land use that is happening and not consistent with the bylaw, but is legal, according to Roddan.

“There could be a whole variety of reasons for that but it's legal nonconforming in that case,” said Roddan. “That's grandfathering.”

There is no dispute a bylaw exists and Rebane, who will be running to represent the regional district in the fall municipal election, said he backs residents 100 per cent.

“We are dealing with it; planning is dealing with it,” said Rebane. “We've had meetings with the developer. We've had meetings with the constituents up there.”

Residents and Tietzen have not met recently.

“It's the same people who know the development is there,” said Tietzen. “The development was started. The development was grandfathered in. They know all of those things.”

Minnitti said Nootka residents have had too many negative encounters with Tietzen in the past to make meeting with him worthwhile.

Tietzen said he is pushing ahead with the completion of the project. Currently, the property is being cleared, he added.

“We have everything we need to continue and we are going to continue; we are not stopping,” said Tietzen. “We're going to put our development in. We're going to bring houses onto our foundations and complete the development.”

The bylaw is explicit, according to regional district chair Patrick Brabazon.

“The fact is the bylaw says you can't do it and yet they're carrying on making the preparations to do it,” said Brabazon. “It’s puzzling to me as to why they think that they can do this in the face of a bylaw that says you shall not.”