‘A win is a win’: Couple wins year-long fight against Saanich over storm drain bylaw

WatchA Saanich couple's year-long fight against a municipal bylaw that would have cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars to adhere to has reached a conclusion. Jasmine Bala has more.

A Saanich couple’s year-long fight against a municipal bylaw that would have cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars to adhere to has reached a conclusion.

Saanich council voted 5-4 at Monday night’s meeting to give Michelle and Simon Gowing a development variance permit to build a rock pit drainage system instead of connecting to the municipal storm drain, like the bylaw requires for new builds.

“We couldn’t believe it, it happened so quickly,” said Michelle. “My husband wasn’t even sure if he’d heard it correctly and of course, I was just very, very happy.”

Even though it was a close call, she added while laughing. “A win is a win.”

The Gowings completed inspections and structural safety checks before purchasing a Saanich property in August 2019. They began to renovate the home, as per their initial plans, but after tearing up the floorboards, they discovered a cracked foundation.

“We were advised it would not be possible to repair any of the issues,” explained Simon. “So we went for a new build.”

That’s when they stumbled into an even bigger problem. All new builds are required to connect to the municipal storm drain system under Saanich bylaw.

But the 250-metre long street the Gowings are on isn’t part of the system and connecting it would mean ripping up the whole road and paying for it at a cost of $300,000.

“We had already maxed out everything that we could with banks, loans and borrowing money from family members and friends,” said Michelle, as they had to shift their budget from just renovating to building a new home. “So if we had to pay that $300,000 price tag, we would be essentially not having a house.”

READ MORE: Saanich couple might have to pay $300K due to storm drain bylaw

So the family came up with another plan. With the help of some engineers, the Gowings created a rock pit drainage system that’s allowed under bylaws.

However, when they applied for a permit in April 2020, it was rejected by the municipality. The Gowings then decided to take it to council, with the help of their neighbourhood.

“The entire street wrote letters in support of the Gowings and some of us were able to speak last night at the council meeting via telephone,” said Jocelyn Abrams, one of their neighbours.

Saanich council received between 50 and 100 letters in support of the Gowings.

“The response was actually quite overwhelming considering the nature of the application which is just to rebuild a house in a neighbourhood,” said councillor Karen Harper, adding this kind of response is typical for more controversial topics.

Harper moved the motion at Monday night’s council meeting, voting in favour of the couple.

“Had they been able to do what they had planned to do, none of this would have happened,” she explained. “There would have been no requirement to connect to anything.”

The Gowings resubmitted their building permit application Tuesday morning and hope to begin work on their new home as early as Spring.

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Jasmine BalaJasmine Bala

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