District of Houston municipal office and council chambers.

District of Houston errors calls for development variance

On July 18, 2017 at the District of Houston council chambers, it was brought to council’s attention an error district staff had made regarding permitting a building development.

“On Oct. 14, 2016 staff approved a building application to construct a garage at 3510 15th ,” stated the report. “During the construction of the building there have been several comments made by the public regarding the height of the building and as to whether the building was to code.”

District staff was informed at this time that the building did meet the code.

“After an audit of the file, it was determined that the building was not in compliance with the District of Houston Development Bylaw, which establishes a maximum building height for an accessory building in R1 and R2 zones at 5.1 meters,” said the report.

According to the report, the building application indicates a height of 6.17 meters, an exceeding height difference of 1.07 meters.

“On June 22, 2017 I issued a stop work order and delivered it to the owners a letter to explain the situation and provided them the assurance that this matter will be resolved as quickly as possible,” said Michael Glavin, Chief Administrative Officer for the District of Houston.

“This error is not that of the homeowner, as the documents which were submitted by them clearly denote the height, from which they built the structure; this is clearly an oversight by staff,” said Glavin.

Glavin presented two options of solution for Houston council to consider. An issuance of a development variance permit to allow the structure to remain as so. The second option being an issuance of an order requiring the structure be brought down to compliance.

“The owner stated that this would cost them $9000 to bring the building down including ordering new doors for the structure,” said Glavin. “Given that it is an error on district’s side, I am asking council to give the variance.”

District staff issued out letters to residence within 100 meter radius from the structure, as well as advertised in the Houston Today asking residents to respond to whether they were in favour or not of the building.

“We received one letter in favour of the building,” said Glavin.

At the meeting one resident attended stating that they were not in favour of the building.

Questions about what kind of precedence this would set were asked.

“I don’t think this would set a precedence here, as this is an error,” said Glavin. “In review of the bylaws it does not hold us to future variances.”

Counsellor Jonathan Van Barneveld noted that due to the silence of the other residents that received letters, it is hard to gauge the scale of the public’s opinion on the matter with only a couple of responses.

Glavin said that the owner would have the option to challenge the District of Houston through courtif the variance was not given and the recommendation to instruct the owner to decrease the height of the building was ordered.

“It’s our error,” said counsellor John Siebenga. “And it seems that we have to stand by that. I am leery of allowing something like this to go through and what would happen next.”

“We have always tried to get people to come in to follow the process, and this owner did that, so we can’t fault them because we stamped and approved it, to me we have ink on our face,” said Van Barneveld.

“I don’t see it bothering anyone’s view, and it is our error,” said counsellor Dennis Tait.

“I agree, it is our error. And if I was in this person’s position and wanted to build this structure and it got approved, and then somebody said we made an error, I may not have wanted that building in the first place if it wasn’t built the way I wanted it,” said counsellor Rick Lundrigan. “In saying that, I recommend the variance.”

The recommendation to issue a development variance was defeated by three counsellors, counsellors Johnathan Van Barneveld, John Siebenga, and Tim Anderson, to two, counsellors Rick Lundrigan and Dennis Tait.