West Bench, Faulder, Okanagan Lake West
I am not sure it is fair to say that the RDOS does not enforce bylaws. Roza and our bylaw enforcement contractor opened 13 new files last quarter and closed 20 existing files (saw quarterly update at our April 20th meeting). The RDOS has steadily increased the budget for enforcement over the last couple of years and is currently hiring another clerical position. Clerical support is critical since a big part of bylaw enforcement is correspondence and documentation.
Bylaw enforcement at the RDOS and elsewhere is complaint driven. That is, we do not have staff driving around looking in people's backyards except in response to complaints. Two exceptions: (a) building inspectors may act if, in passing, they see a health and safety issue and (b) as Electoral Area Director I may submit a complaint. This latter exception is helpful for those who want to make an anonymous complaint through me. I usually take a few moments to ensure the complaint is legimate (not just neighbor-on-neighbor warfare).
One problem--which people do not often recognize--is that the RDOS (or any government in Canada) cannot enforce a bylaw that does not exist. Nor can we create a bylaw and apply it retroactively. We have to work with what is on the books. And if we want to change a bylaw or enact a restriction, we have to undergo a long and rigorous process (see for example the new Environmentally Sensitive Development Permit update).
Land use bylaws in rural areas are generally vague and permissive. Historically, this situation has suited rural dwellers who did not want to shoulder the cost and inconvenience of heavy-handed government intervention. Plus the large lot sizes in rural areas make the stakes a bit lower in rural areas than high-density urban cores. The Area F zoning bylaw, for example, is not nearly as restrictive as some might think. We can change that--indeed, that is the whole purpose of the OCP review: to see whether our land use bylaws need to be changed.
What this means is the following: Just because you see something that you do not like (or is different from the past, such as monster garages or motocross tracks on agricultural land) does not necessarily mean we have a bylaw prohibiting it. What we have instead is "permitted uses". For example, the rural residential areas (e.g., the SH5 zone on the West Bench) permit "residential uses". The problem is that "residential uses" is not particularly crisp or well defined. And unless the problem is especially egregious, the RDOS may be reluctant to go to court to clarify. Court costs everyone real money (recall Blackwell and Naramata vacation rentals). And court may not yield the outcome the majority of residents want. So I certainly stand by our reluctance to litigate, except as a last resort.
We have, at my request, suspended bylaw enforcement on a couple iffy "home occupation" cases on the West Bench. Home occupation is a permitted use in rural residential areas under our bylaw. However, some argue--fairly convincingly, I think--that the home occupation definition in our bylaw is out of date. Since we are in the middle of an OCP review anyway, it makes sense to see which way the wind is blowing before harassing people with bylaw enforcement. This is a democracy, after all.
Finally, the role of the regional district is to regulate land use in the broadest terms. We do not regulate micro-issues like chemical storage. If you spill harmful chemicals on your property, that is your problem.
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