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West Vancouver orders illegal footbridge demolished

An Ambleside woman has been ordered to remove a bridge she illegally built spanning Lawson Creek, or the District of West Vancouver will remove it for her.

An Ambleside woman has been ordered to remove a bridge she illegally built spanning Lawson Creek, or the District of West Vancouver will remove it for her.

Vesna Molby, a home designer and former plan checker in the district’s planning department, built the footbridge in 2016 as part of an overall renovation of her property at 812 Sinclair St.

Molby applied for and received an environmental development permit necessary to build near a waterway but failed to get an actual building permit. When district staff inspected the bridge, they found it was more than twice as large as the one described in her application.

Council voted unanimously on June 19 to impose the remediation order but the Community Charter gives people the right to make a last-ditch appeal to council before the order goes into effect. Molby, along with her daughter and a tenant in the home’s basement suite, came to council Monday night to urge them to reconsider and grant some more time for her to apply for appropriate permits that would make the bridge legal.

“I just want to stress I did have an environmental permit for a bridge. I did have multiple inspections by district officials with no issues raised and I can provide all the documentation the building permit is asking for,” she said.  “I’m not really sure where that step was missed along the line – that all of a sudden at the end, after six months, they said ‘You need to get another permit.’”

But council members quickly confirmed their original decision, 7-0.

“I think that any reasonable resident would have removed this bridge by now and it’s up to this council to ensure that when residents are building bridges, houses or the like, they follow our bylaws,” said Coun. Nora Gambioli.

Molby now has until July 28 to remove the bridge. Under the Community Charter, if a homeowner doesn’t comply with a remediation order, district staff or contractors may enter the property and do the work themselves, at the homeowner’s expense. If costs go unpaid, they can be added to the homeowner’s tax bill.

In December, council voted to put a notice on the land title to warn any future buyers that the property has an illegal structure on it. Council later learned Molby had listed the property for sale for $4,388,000 despite telling them in December that she intended to make it her family home.

Molby also complained to council that Gambioli showed up at the open house in April and began informing attendees about the notice on title.

“Her actions were unprofessional and an obvious attempt to sabotage the sale of a property,” Molby said in her remarks to council on June 19.

Gambioli defended herself, however. “I’m not sure what the purpose was – to undermine my reputation or whatnot – but it is absolutely true I stopped at the property. Just to be clear … upon seeing that the property was for sale, and knowing the past practices of the owner, my concern was actually for the potential buyer and actually for the real estate agent who was selling the property,” she said.

Granting an extension after Molby had first promised in writing and later reneged on removing the bridge would be inappropriate, Coun. Craig Cameron argued at the June 19 meeting.

“I would suggest the only thing we’re giving her more time to do is make fools of us,” he said.

In addition to the bridge being a threat to the fish-bearing Lawson Creek, the case was also sadly indicative of the challenges the district is facing these days, said Coun. Mary-Ann Booth.

“The other concern I have is around the profit motive in West Vancouver and what it’s doing to our community with the resulting frenzy of construction activity,” she said, noting the district will soon be hiring a new staffer dedicated to inspecting construction. “We have, in a sense, become a bit of a Wild West here and we’ve been able to manage with a very small municipality with low staffing for many years but as everyone knows, the world has changed and in the last five years predominantly. ... We have bylaws for a reason and everyone expects us to enforce them.”