A few Big Eddy residents are once again fighting the city over building permits.
Blake Richards wrote a letter to council after the city wouldn’t issue a building permit for a home he plans on building in the Big Eddy, citing lack of fire flow to the area.
“From our perspective as property owners in the Big Eddy, we request that provisions be made in a urgent manner to allow construction to take place in 2017, with a restriction on occupancy permits being issued until the (water) upgrades are complete,” he wrote. “There are five projects that I am aware of, worth more than $1,000,000 in total. Delaying construction represent a significant economic loss for the property owners, the local businesses that would contract the work and supply the materials, as well as the city losing the increase in property taxes.”
This isn’t the first time Big Eddy property owners have complained about the city not issuing building permits. In 2015, George Buhler and Vince Sessa made a similar complaint.
To get around the issue, one property owner installed a sprinkler system to meet requirements, while another sought – and was granted – a variance from council saying they didn’t need proper fire flow.
Council spent some time discussing the letter at Thursday’s Committee of the Whole meeting.
“I just don’t understand why we would put risk on the rest of the tax payers for others to go ahead and build when we had a citizen come forward with a plan that was acceptable and created no risk to the city,” said councillor Linda Nixon.
The answer council got from staff was the city could be held liable if they issued a building permit without proper fire flows in place, and that drafting a policy to work around the issue would take up too much staff time. Further, by the time it was in place, the problem would probably be resolved with the completion of phase one of the Big Eddy water project this summer.
“I struggle with being able to issue building permits prior to the works being complete,” said Nigel Whitehead, the city’s director of development. “My biggest concern is when your house is under construction, that’s when your house is most susceptible to fire and not having fire flows at that time could expose the city to risk.”
He added he would have to put other work aside to make it happen, which would delay other developments. “I’m already triaging this department right now as it is,” he said.
Municipalities are expected to provide at least 60 litres per second of water to ensure proper fire protection of residential buildings.
Coun. Gary Sulz asked if there was a way the property owner could insure the city against any liability.
Mike Thomas, the city’s director of engineering, said the city’s liability “never goes away.”
“Whatever happens, whether there’s an insurance policy on title, we have no way of knowing a homeowner insures its house,” he said. “We have obligations that go far beyond that individual property. Everything from the visitors to the property and their safety and security rests on the building code being followed.”
Afterwards, Richards and Michael Mariash, who is hoping to build his home this summer, said they weren’t satisfied with the response. Richards said that contractors are already heavily insured.
“I don’t understand how we get to the point where we have a liability issue,” he said. “They’re really not protecting our interests or the city’s interests. They’re hoping to not get into trouble for some non-existent scenario.”
Mariash questioned how several new homes were built in the Big Eddy over the past few years, when he couldn’t get a building permit this year. “Now they know (the water is) being fixed and yet no permit’s are being issued,” he said. “It seems like a double standard.”
When asked about this, Thomas responded that permits were issued on a case-by-case basis depending on fire flow to the home. “Many areas do not meet fire flows, but I believe all residential areas will meet requirements when this phase of work is complete,” he said.
Richards said this would cost property owners money as construction prices go up every year. “We’re not developers, we’re just people who live here. We’re not trying to make money off this, we’re trying to make a home,” he said.