Morgan Cross / News staff
A Central Saanich man refuses to abandon property improvement plans after his case was taken to the Supreme Court of B.C. June 29 by the District of Central Saanich.
Central Saanich alleged the property owner had breached several Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) bylaws during his landscaping and construction process. These allegations were backed by the Supreme Court of B.C. in its recent judgment; however the property owner, Rajen Mahal, fully intends to continue the fight to finish building his tennis court, hot tub, pool, and nursery at any cost.
The District’s investigation into the property began in 2015 and continued thereafter, when it was reported by neighbours that work vehicles and trailers were parked and equipment stored on Mahal’s ALR-zoned land. He was also suspected of operating a small office without a business license. Central Saanich issued warnings in 2015 and 2016 and hired a private investigator to watch the property last summer.
Mahal, principal operator of a local landscaping company, argued to Central Saanich and more recently to the Supreme Court of B.C., that he has only worked with the intention to landscape the property for family use. As a full-time worker, Mahal maintained he had only a few hours in a day to work on his property, abiding by the Central Saanich bylaw that landscaping and construction be permitted until 7 p.m. Therefore, he said, he had reason to leave his work vehicles easily accessible on the property.
Central Saanich disagreed with Mahal’s position, however, referring to three other bylaws he appeared to breach by working without a permit past 2016: running a nursery office on his property without a business license, and; unlawfully parking work vehicles and storing materials on the property.
Mayor Ryan Windsor said that the District has different avenues when approaching property cases such as this. For the past year, the District chose to look into Mahal’s use of the property by hiring a private investigator. Making little progress negotiating with Mahal, Central Saanich filed a court application.
At the Supreme Court, Justice Steeves concluded Mahal had breached Bylaw 1309, which prohibits parking vehicles and storing materials. In that ruling, Steeves also judged Mahal had breached Bylaw 1884 by not obtaining a business license before his business – that being the nursery office – was up and running on the property. Though the bylaw requiring a permit to work on property was not concluded as breached, Mahal was nonetheless forced to remove the work vehicles from his property and vacate the nursery office.
Mahal insisted the full story was not understood during court proceedings. Originally, the property owner said he had attempted to obtain a permit from Central Saanich to build his nursery, only to be told by the District the nursery office had to be built first.
“They passed the permit for me to build my nursery office, but not my nursery,” Mahal said.
Because of this, he claims to have only followed the advice of the District by building and using the nursery office.
“It is a growing concern because I’m not the only one having bylaw issues,” he added.
Still, Justice Steeves maintained Mahal had breached several bylaws, as use of the office was not allowed in any permit issued to him. Provided a photograph of the nursery office space, Steeves said, “The office appears to be a busy one. It is more than a home office and it appears to be the office of an ongoing business.”
He also noted that the “large equipment in significant numbers” did not seem credible given Mahal was only building a swimming pool and installing drainage. Mahal argued he was adding a tennis court and hot tub in addition to the pool, and that the soil on his land would require plenty of care due to overfarming before it was fitting for nursery plants. The trucks and trailers on-site carried the necessary equipment and materials for property improvement.
Justice Steeves decided the equipment could not be stored on the property without a permit.
Though his plans have been stalled, Mahal intends to find a way to continue.
“We’re doing a landscaping job for personal uses and for the nursery,” he said. “I’m just trying to get my job done.”