Mike Oliwa and his family lost their home in a major fire two weeks ago. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

Building regulations baffle burnt-out family

Family’s house burns down; bylaw will only allow them to rebuild to less than half original size

Life hit a bad patch two weeks ago for the four members of the Oliwa family when their home burned to the ground.

But the family’s situation only grew worse when they were told by the Cowichan Valley Regional District that they could only build a new home in the old house’s footprint that is 975 square feet, which is less than half the original size of 2,600 sq. ft.

Family patriarch Mike Oliwa built the home himself in 2005 on Tipperary Road and custom designed it to meet the family’s needs before the fire, which is considered electrical, completely gutted the home while the family was away.

The Oliwas are currently staying in an 1,100 sq ft. suite they also own on their four-acre property in the CVRD’s Electoral Area E, but it’s not large enough for the family to stay in permanently.

“We want to rebuild our house to what it was, but when we went to talk to the CVRD to consider our options, we discovered that the building bylaw says that we can only build a much smaller house,” said Oliwa.

“We were told that we could apply for a variance, but a variance like this has only been approved once.”

Rob Conway, the CVRD’s manager of development services, said there are no rules on the size of the primary building on the property, but secondary buildings in the electoral area are restricted to 975 sq. ft.

He said that with the primary residence more than 75 per cent destroyed in the fire, the suite the Oliwas are currently living in is now considered the primary residence, so the building of the home is restricted to 975 sq. ft.

Conway said meetings are ongoing with Oliwa on the issue, but the regional district has a lot of questions they want answered.

“It’s murky at this stage as to what construction work was done on the property and what had permits, so that’s adding to the confusion,” he said.