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West Vancouver puts notice on title for illegal bridge

Homeowner ignored removal order for Lawson Creek crossing

The District of West Vancouver has put a notice on title on the property of an Upper Ambleside homeowner who built an illegal bridge over Lawson Creek and refused to have it removed.

District council voted Dec. 12 to apply for the notice, which will be flagged for any potential buyer of the property in the future unless the notice is removed.

Vesna Molby, home designer and sustainable building advisor, had the bridge built as part of the overall renovation of her home and property at 812 Sinclair St., which is bisected by Lawson Creek.

Molby sought and received an environmental development permit for a bridge, which is required for any structure that comes within 15 metres of a body of water, but never applied for a standard building permit, according to a municipal staff report.

District staff put a stop work order on the bridge, even though it was already complete, as well as a stop work order on her home, something Molby said her lawyers advised was unlawful. She then opted to not remove the bridge.

“I obtained a legal opinion because I felt West Vancouver was acting maliciously and something more was going on behind the scenes,” she said.

Speaking to members of council at a recent public meeting, Molby said the district staffer who granted the environmental permit visited the site several times and commented positively about the bridge. And he never mentioned the need for getting a building permit.

“They should have made it clear to me. I would have happily applied for it,” she said. “I think the District of West Vancouver has to change the aggressive way they’re dealing with residents who are trying to do everything by the book. They shouldn’t be able to make up new rules as they go along and threaten and bully residents to the point where we have to appoint legal counsel to be heard.”

That didn’t sit well with council members, however.

“Ignorance of the law is not a defence. You know that,” said Coun. Craig Cameron, who is also a lawyer.

Director of planning Jim Bailey said the bridge would never have been granted a building permit because of its size.

And the actual bridge built is larger than the one described in the environmental application, something Molby should have known not to do, given that she was once a plan checker employed in the district’s planning department, Coun. Christine Cassidy said.

“You know, again, the devil is in the details. You were given a permit for X and you created Y. I would like to know where you thought you had the right to do so,” she said.

The vote to put notice on title of the property was unanimous.

“It’s the classic sin-beg-forgiveness-later situation and quite frankly it’s not acceptable,” Cameron said, noting that he doesn’t want others in West Vancouver to start building rogue structures under the assumption the district will acquiesce. “I think, as a general matter, we do have to have a pretty hard line when it comes to protecting our environment.”

Following the meeting, district spokesman Jeff McDonald said the matter of the illegal bridge is still to be resolved.

“We’re hopeful that the owner will take steps to comply with the original order to remove the bridge. In the meantime, we’re consulting with legal counsel on possible next steps that we might take to deal with this violation of an important district bylaw designed to protect creeks and watersheds, which are, among other things, critical habitat for salmon,” he said in a statement.