District tightens bylaw enforcement policy

And will share enforcement officer with regional district

Several years of planning on the part of the District of Houston to expand and clarify its by-law enforcement procedures is now taking shape thanks to a new policy and a new staffing position.

Both the new enforcement policy, drafted by District staffers for consideration by council, and the new staffing position were presented to council at its May 5 meeting for discussion and approval.

“Council has expressed desire to uphold stricter bylaw enforcement in the community after receiving feedback from the public regarding issues of standard of maintenance and animal control,” a briefing note presented to council May 5 stated.

Council had a policy that bylaw enforcement would be handled on a complaint-made basis only with an existing process to enter onto private property for enforcement outline in provisions of the Community Charter which govern the actions of local governments.

District staffers then presented a new approach for council to endorse called “selective enforcement” rather than acting solely on complaints.

“This will allow the District bylaw enforcement officer to take a proactive approach in addressing bylaw concerns,” staffers suggested.

“The policy also provides guidelines for voluntary enforcement which promotes the use of bylaw enforcement through community education and warning letters to help members of the public meet, understand and comply with the provisions and regulations within the District’s bylaws.”

The policy also sets out health and safety, impact to property and general violations in that order of priority as areas in which bylaw enforcement would be conducted.

That follows council’s discussion and thinking as to the District’s enforcement needs.

In the past residents have told council members that standards of maintenance in some areas of housing need improvement, something that was emphasized in how more enforcement could improve the community.

“Enforcing standards of maintenance in the community can help improve the appearance of houses making living in Houston more attractive for potential residents, visitors and investors,” staffers noted.

Although not specifically tied to the prospect of increased enforcement, councillor Troy Reitsma at council’s April 7 meeting, did say he had received complaints of unsightly premises on Pearson Road that included piles of rubbish including drywall and insulation.

The staffers did point out that more active enforcement could have the District more involved in legal proceedings of various types.

With the new policy accepted by council May 5, it also approved a new staffing position — a 50/50 cost sharing with the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako.

This will now be set in place with the regional district with the District contributing a maximum $57,600.

District of Houston chief administrative officer Gerald Pinchbeck said the position will soon be posted to search for candidates.

In the past the District had been relying on its fire chief for bylaw enforcement, something that was not always possible or practical given the other responsibilities tied to that position.

The regional district itself will benefit from enhanced bylaw enforcement through the cost sharing position because its current enforcement level is at the equivalent of a .25 full time position.

“The Regional District of Bulkley Nechako’s bylaw enforcement activities focus on responding to complaints regarding unsightly properties, land use infractions, and building bylaw contraventions,” said Curtis Helgesen, its chief administrative officer.

“The [regional district’s] building inspectors undertake the majority of the bylaw enforcement work.”

The addtional .5 [FTE] capacity increase will allow the building inspectors to focus on building bylaw issues and deal with unsightly property and land use conflict issues across the region, Helgesen said.

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