This is one of two stair cases leading onto Roberts Bay that Sidney council retroactively approved. The developer of three beachfront homes had built them without prior approval from council (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Sidney councillor predicts developers will take liberties after retroactive approval of beach stairs

Developer built stairs in an environmentally sensitive area without prior approval

A Sidney councillor fears the municipality set a “bad precedent” by approving construction of beach stairs after a developer erected them without prior approval – in an environmentally sensitive area.

Coun. Scott Garnett made that comment after council voted 4-3 to retroactively approve two new sets of beach stairs as part of a beach-front development on Allbay Road. Council also retroactively approved the alteration of an existing set of beach stairs.

The application before council came from local realtor Dan Robbins and affected properties located at 10379, 10389 and 10383 Allbay Rd. overlooking Roberts Bay. Robbins is also one part of the duo re-developing the old fire hall site into a multi-million dollar mixed commercial-residential development.

RELATED: Sidney sells fire hall for $9 million

Garnett said an experienced developer like Robbins should have known better than to build new staircases and alter an existing one without the necessary permits.

“He chose to do it anyways,” said Garnett. “I fully believe they knew the rules, and we are now allowing them to go back and fix what they have done.”

He predicts that developers will see this incident as a signal to take liberties.

Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith and Coun. Peter Wainwright joined Garnett in opposition. Couns. Sara Duncan, Barbara Fallot, Terri O’Keeffe and Chad Rintoul voted in favour of approving the application, which has been the subject of extensive discussions around questions of process, environmental protection, and even economic justice stretching across several meetings of regular council and committees of the whole.

Council’s approval sees Robbins forfeit a $10,000 portion of his landscape deposit with the money going towards environmental enhancements in the Roberts Bay Environmentally Sensitive Area, within which the three properties fall.

But Wainwright suggests that this figure is too small of price to pay.

“On three waterfront homes, $10,000 is peanuts, and really does not seem like an adequate penalty for an experienced developer ignoring our process,” he said.

By way of context, Robbins’ real estate business currently lists two properties on Allbay Road near the proposed development. The one located at 10382 Allbay Rd. advertises for $1.199 million, the other located at 10386 Allbay Rd. advertises for $1.7 million.

A formal motion to increase the forfeiture to $20,000 had failed earlier during committee of the whole last month.

The public heard at the time that staff had initially proposed a forfeiture in the range of $10,000 to $15,000 and that Sidney lacks the authority to withhold a “significant amount” of the deposit, according to the chief administrative officer Randy Humble, who said that figure of $10,000 emerged as a “compromise” between the applicant and staff.

Sidney could have forced the applicant to remove the stairs made out of concrete and steel, a process that would have required the applicant to apply and pay for a variety of permits, including an archaeological inspection, as the site is a known archaeological site.

RELATED: Invasive species removed from Roberts Bay Park

The applicant had secured all the necessary permits minus the permits for the stairs prior to building them, prompting suggestions from Garnett that Robbins had deliberately ignored the rules.

“For an experienced developer not to recognize the process, and go ahead and do this, and actually go through all the effort of dealing with the archaeological inspection, but ignoring the town’s process deserves a penalty,” said Wainwright in agreement.

A letter from Robbins dated Oct. 11 acknowledges “responsibility for the oversight in applying” for a second development permit but also repeats earlier claims of unfair treatment in calling the staff recommendation to remove the stairs “socially, environmentally and environmentally irresponsible.”

Garnett, for the record, favoured removal of the stairs.

Robbins’ letter also pointed out that some sort of structure meeting existing landscaping guidelines would have appeared in place of the removed stairs (which meet the definition of a structure rather than landscaping) in calling the proposed removal “non-sensical.”

Speaking in support, O’Keeffe said that the applicant did not have a permit. But she disagreed with Garnett’s claim that the applicant had deliberately disregarded the rules. “I didn’t get the sense that they were trying to wash their hands of this,” she said.

Fallot also pointed out that removing this set of stairs now, then replacing them with stairs made out of permeable material would stress the environment not once, but twice, a point that ultimately prevailed.

Robbins declined to officially comment on Garnett’s charge and the large issue of the stairs.


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