While working on a previous story about community opposition to proposed changes at a waterfront property on Higson Crescent in the northwest corner of QB, we were alerted to an abandoned decaying construction mess at 263 Buller Road, just a block away, also on the waterfront. Nearby residents, Faith and David Robertson, told us that 263 Buller Road had multiple “stop work orders and a tear down order. Despite the Town having won a law suit against this owner / builder we have been living with a garbage dump of used building materials and garbage for five years, as the Town refuses to get on with cleaning up the site which is a sensitive waterfront lot.”
We published our story referencing the Buller Road “waterfront garbage dump” on May 13, 2020. On July 20, 2020, despite already having threatened the owner with legal action multiple times, Council directed staff to provide notice to the owner that the Town would be undertaking remedial work at 263 Buller, no sooner than August 20, 2020. We checked the property on September 18 and noted that the three large shipping containers, piles of decaying building materials and sundry garbage strewn around the property appear to have been cleared away, leaving only some concrete foundations. Finally, it appears that this mess is being cleaned up.
Why did it take five years?
Here is the saga of weak, inept regulatory compliance that has enabled this owner/builder to evade all attempts to stop or correct hazardous and unsafe construction for five long and costly years — and to do so apparently without any penalties. Not your problem? Don’t count on it. This nightmare scenario could easily come to a development project near you.
Three years ago, in October 2017, the Town’s Director of Planning, Luke Sales, reported to Council that “the house under construction at 263 Buller Road has been under construction since 2015, during which [time] there have been five Stop Work Orders posted on the site due to unsafe or unpermitted construction.” A month later, on November 20, 2017, Council declared that, “pursuant to section 73 of the Community Charter … that the building contraventions on the property … known as 263 Buller Road, is a hazard with unsafe conditions as a result of substantial contraventions of the B.C. Building Code and Town of Qualicum Beach Building Bylaw No. 643, 2009.”
But at the very same November 2017 meeting, Council offered Kurt Miller, the property owner, a do-over!
Council directed that Miller remediate the declared hazard and bring the Property into compliance with Town of Qualicum Beach Building Bylaw No. 643, 2009 and B.C. Building Code. The Town ordered that if the owner failed to comply, the residential building under construction would be demolished, at the expense of the owner, and that if the owner opposes the execution of the Order, that legal counsel would be instructed to obtain an injunction compelling the owner to comply.
Apparently, Mr. Miller did not bring his edifice into compliance. Fast (?) forward 18 months later to June 17, 2019, when Council issued yet another Order for property owner Kurt Miller to remediate the property, essentially a carbon copy of their 2017 Order but containing information about additional hazardous components.
Another year goes by. On July 20, 2020, Council directed staff to… “provide notice” to the owner that the Town would be undertaking remedial work to start no sooner than August 20, 2020. As we noted above, as of September 18, the hazardous construction site at 263 Buller Road was observed to have been cleared of everything except what appears to be partial concrete building foundations.
That is a thumbnail sketch of the saga of 263 Buller Road.
A closer, eye-popping look at what happened
A more complete chronology of the “events” of the last five years regarding the hazardous construction site at 263 Buller Road reveals some eye-popping details.
Luke Sales, the Town’s director of planning, provided this summary of the construction history from 2015 – 2017:
- April 23, 2015: Existing home being demolished without a permit. Stop work order posted.
- May 29, 2015: Demolition permit issued.
- October 15, 2015: Construction started without a permit. Second stop work order posted.
- November 2, 2015: Final inspection approved for demolition.
- November 17, 2015: Owner was sent email and warned that stop work order is still in place and that no work is to be performed.
- November 19, 2015: Owner was sent another email requesting balance of required documents and revised plans to allow completion of plan review.
- January 10, 2016: Email sent to owner stating that stop work order is not being complied with. Owner warned that fines may be applied if work continues.
- Feb 23, 2016: Building permit not issued yet; owner has not provided all required items. Foundation poured without permit; inspector left report on site.
- November 18, 2016: Received all documents and revised drawings. Building permit issued, double permit fee was charged. [We’re not sure why, but two weeks later on December 5, 2016, Council instructed staff to commence action under Section 74 of the Community Charter, in consultation with the Town solicitor, for remedial action at 263 Buller Road.]
- April 7, 2017: Owner not complying with approved drawings and poor workmanship. Sent email to engineer and owner. 3rd Stop work order posted.
- April 26, 2017: Attended site to discover that stop work order was not being observed. Worker would not stop work as ordered so the RCMP was called to the site to keep the peace while a second verbal request to stop work was given. Owner was warned in writing. Emailed written order to comply with the stop work order.
- May 20, 2017 (approx.): Stop work order removed to allow roof repairs and other work.
- September 8, 2017: Owners site and scaffolding in unsafe condition for workers and owner still has not provided all required permit documents. 4th Stop work order posted.
- September 28, 2017: Unsafe conditions addressed and required permit documents received. Stop work order removed.
Apparently, Kurt Miller had no intention of complying with technical and/or safety requirements.
Less than two months later, on November 20, 2017, according to Town documents, Council declared that, “pursuant to section 73 of the Community Charter … that the building contraventions on the property … known as 263 Buller Road, is a hazard with unsafe conditions as a result of substantial contraventions of the B.C. Building Code and Town of Qualicum Beach Building Bylaw No. 643, 2009.”
But, in the very same resolution, Council offered the property owner / builder a do-over! Council directed that Kurt Miller remediate the declared hazard and bring the Property into compliance with Town of Qualicum Beach Building Bylaw No. 643, 2009 and B.C. Building Code by submitting a complete [new] building permit application by January 15, 2018 [later extended to February 15, 2018], including proof of BC Home Warranty Insurance from a Registered Builder who will complete the construction pursuant to the current B.C. Building Code and the Town’s Building Bylaw. The Order states: “In the event that the Owner fails to comply with the remedial action requirements … the Town orders that:
- the residential building under construction on the Property be demolished;
- staff take all necessary action to fulfill the requirements of [the above] at the expense of the Owner in accordance with section 17 of the Community Charter; and the costs of such action shall be treated as a debt owed to the Town, which if unpaid at the end of the 2018 calendar year, will be added to the property taxes pursuant to section 258 of the Community Charter; and
- if the Owner opposes the execution of the order under [the above], legal counsel will obtain an injunction in the Supreme Court of British Columbia compelling the Owner to comply with this remedial action order.”
It seems that Council’s bark was louder than its bite. Several weeks later, on January 29, 2018 Council replaced its firm order [to demolish at owner’s expense] with a feeble “In the event the Owner fails to do so [comply with the required remedial actions], Council authorizes staff to instruct legal counsel to bring civil legal proceedings against the Owner to enforce compliance ..”. The impasse continued.
Let’s take a look at what “progress” was made over the next 18 months.
At the Regular Council Meeting on June 17, 2019, Council declared the following resolution related to 263 Buller Road Remedial Action. As Yogi Berra would say – It’s like déjà vu all over again:
“Council declares, pursuant to section 73 of the Community Charter, … that the building contraventions on the property … known as 263 Buller Road (the “Property”), is a hazard and creates an unsafe condition, and contravenes the B.C. Building Code and Town of Qualicum Beach Building Bylaw No. 643, 2009, by reason of sagging floor joists, a sinking garage slab, in addition to the matters which were the subject of Council’s November 20, 2017 remedial action resolution.
Council requires the registered owner of the Property, Kurt A. Miller (the “Owner”), to remediate the declared hazard by demolishing and removing the building on the Property, which demolition and removal shall include removal of the garage slab, all in accordance with the Town of Qualicum Beach Building Bylaw No. 643, 2009 (the “Building Bylaw”). For greater clarity, the Owner must apply for and obtain a permit to conduct the demolition and removal within 30 days of the date of this Resolution, and must complete that work within the time permitted in the Building Bylaw.
In the event that the Owner fails to comply with the remedial action requirements .. including the obligation to apply for and obtain a permit to conduct the demolition and removal, .. the Town orders that:
- the building under construction on the Property be demolished, which demolition shall include removal of the garage slab;
- staff shall take all necessary action to fulfill the requirements of [the above] at the expense of the Owner in accordance with section 17 of the Community Charter; and the costs of such action shall be treated as a debt owed to the Town, which if unpaid at the end of this calendar year, will be added to the property taxes in relation to the Property pursuant to section 258 of the Community Charter; and
- in addition to and without limiting the Town’s ability to take the steps set out in [the above], pursuant to section 274 of the Community Charter the Town also authorizes staff to engage and instruct legal counsel to bring legal proceedings in the Supreme Court of British Columbia to enforce compliance with and restrain contravention of this Resolution.”
And here we are, another year later
The draft Minutes of the recent August 19, 2020 Regular Council Meeting tell us that in an in-camera Council Meeting on July 20, 2020 meeting, Council directed staff:
“To provide notice to Mr. Kurt Miller that the Town will be undertaking work at 263 Buller Road, pursuant to the March 2020 order under the Property Maintenance Bylaw and June 2019 Remedial Action Order; and,
To undertake work at 263 Buller Road, no sooner than August 20, 2020 pursuant to the March 2020 order under the Property Maintenance Bylaw and June 2019 Remedial Action Order, in accordance with the July 20, 2020 Planning [department] memo to Council.”
Why was Kurt Miller, the owner of the waterfront land valued by BC Assessment at $1,127,000, allowed to hold the Town hostage for all these years, and to disrespect the concerns and rights of the law-abiding neighbours who lost five years of peace and enjoyment of their homes?
Why does Council allow / enable such disregard for the Town’s codes and standards? How many other similar projects exist in Qualicum Beach, where owner / developers are simply doing what they wish to the Town, without any consequences, for years on end?
Where is the full disclosure, by Administration and Council, to QB taxpayers of the complete costs of this fiasco?
Speaking of transparency… On September 9, 2020 Second Opinion QB requested from Luke Sales, in writing, a copy of the March 2020 Order under the Property Maintenance Bylaw and the June 2019 Remedial Action Order, as well as a copy of any related court applications. To date, we have not had the courtesy of a response from Mr. Sales.