Cumberland couple gets a break despite ignoring village bylaws

An encroaching fence at Cumberland property not in compliance with village bylaws - Village of Cumberland
An encroaching fence at Cumberland property not in compliance with village bylaws
— image credit: Village of Cumberland

A Cumberland couple is learning the hard way that they need to follow a process when they make changes to their home and property.

Brett Ferdinandi and his partner Paulina Maj made some alterations and enhancements to their heritage house located on the south side of Dunsmuir Road in Cumberland. But they did it without acquiring the necessary building permits as variances.

The illegal construction was reported by a neighbour to the village on June 12, 2015. A bylaw officer investigated and found that no valid building permit was obtained for the work. A stop order was given but the owner completely ignored it. This has fueled conflicts in the neighbourhood and has drawn concerns from the community.

The bylaw officer and building inspector determined that some of the completed work was non-conforming and illegal. The owner was told to remove the work or apply for a development variance permit and a building permit.

The village has issued at least three stop orders since 2015 but they were never adhered to. The owner were advised to apply for the necessary permits but took his time complying with the order while continuing with work on his property.

The village has written three municipal ticket informations but they were never served.

After a year and half passed by, the owner finally made an application for a development variance permit on Oct. 28, 2016. This has put village council in a quandry as some council members are upset with the owner's refusal to adhere to the village's bylaws.

Councillor Gwyn Sproule was very critical of the couple and refused to endorse the staff recommendation to allow variances to the property. She pointed out that the owners had a number of opportunities to do the right thing and allow them to comply.

"It has appeared the applicant has repeatedly chose to ignore all suggestions by staff. This file has taken an enormous an inordinate amount of staff time and used up lots of tax payers' dollars," said Sproule. "This has been going on for a very long time."

Sproule said their actions set a poor example to the community.

"The residents are looking to the village to enforce our bylaws," said Sproule. "It would be setting a very bad precedence for council to give any leeway to applicants such as these because others might decide to do the same thing if the bylaws are not enforced.

I've never seen anything like this in my 16 years sitting on this table."

This issue has drawn the concerns of local citizens. Former village councillor Kate Greening wrote council a letter and asked why the tickets were not served on the owners and who stopped the Bylaw Officer from doing his job. She also questioned why the bylaws were not enforced. She asked council to vote no on the variance permit.

"It is wrong to continue to allow people not to obtain the proper permits," Greening stated in her letter. "The council should not reward them with variance for all the work has been done or proposed to be done without compliance to the laws already broken."

Greening also expressed concerns that a council member, Jesse Ketler, may be in conflict due to a relationship with the applicant and his family and that she should excuse herself.

Councillor Jesse Ketler explained her position and feels she has not done anything wrong.

"Conflict of interest is about two main things, pecuniary interest and divided loyalties or bias," said Ketler. "As far as pecuniary interest goes, it's not relevant in this case because it has no financial ties with the applicant. As far as divided loyalties, first and foremost, I am doing what I believe is best for the village. I felt when this report first came to council and continue to feel my relationship with the applicant in no way clouds my judgement. The bias does not exist as I would treat any other citizens in the village the same way. However, because I see now that there is a risk of undermining the process with my perceived conflicts, I will excuse myself."

Staff recommended that council approve the variance request by the applicant with the condition that the owner sign a "demand letter" that requires him to comply with bylaw requirements and make all the work that's been done conform with variance conditions.

Councillor Roger Kishi said he supports the recommendation but he asked the owners whether they were prepared to sign the demand letter.

"I have to review it first but I don't see why not," said Maj. "When we were making the concessions, I've had great communication with staff and we seemed to have come to a conclusion that seems to work for everyone."

Kishi said because this issue is getting close to two years now, he made a slight amendment to staff recommendation putting a timeline for the owners to sign the "demand letter." He suggested in two weeks time.

If the owners fail to sign the letter, the Development Variance Permit will not be issued, council will not enter into the Highway Encroachment Agreement for the shed and fence at the front of the property and the owner will be ordered to undo some of the work already done on the property.

Council passed the staff recommendation 3-1 with Sproule the only one opposing it.

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