What’s in a street address? For some, that number on the side of the house becomes a part of their home’s identity as much as the green paint or the gabled roof. For others, a number, a street name, none of that’s important.
When Bob Hall and his wife, Beth, bought a house and moved to Lake Cowichan last fall, the street address was not at the forefront of their minds.
The house they purchased was built approximately 60 years ago and is perched on a hill overlooking Sahtlam Avenue. There’s no driveway or walking pathway from Sahtlam up the 120 feet of grass front yard to their house — the couple access their driveway via Comiaken Avenue, at the rear of the property — and yet their house address is technically 60 Sahtlam Ave.
The couple wants that address changed but have discovered doing so is not as simple as calling up the town office and making a request. It’s also going to be much more costly than expected.
“I would like our address to reflect the reality of where you access our property,” said Hall.
He wants an address on Comiaken Avenue, however, the town informed him that Comiaken officially stops a few metres short of his driveway. It may not be evident to the untrained eye, but the street ends and tapers off before the yellow concrete barriers of the Cowichan Valley Trail.
If the Halls want an address on Comiaken, they’ll have to pay for the road to be widened and a cul-de-sac installed.
“To me it’s just common sense would say that let’s just agree that we can change our address,” said Hall. “My main concern is that people have some confusion about finding our home. And if we were to have a medical or any other kind of emergency.”
Hall said they first discovered issues with their address when deliveries from Amazon and other retailers failed to arrive at their house.
“We’ve had a couple of deliveries where the guy just couldn’t find us and went back to Nanaimo or some place like,” he said.
And while packages can always be re-sent with clearer directions, Hall said his main concern is that the confusion could mean the difference between life and death.
“I was really ill for three years… [so] I’m really sensitive to the fact that ambulances and that kind of thing should be able to find us easily.”
Hall said he once phoned the 911 dispatcher to see if they knew where to find him and he was told they did not.
The Halls both expressed the feeling this is a situation in which bureaucracy is trumping common sense. They also said they feel as though the town is stonewalling them and refusing to provide justification for its refusal to change their address.
Joe Fernandez, chief administrative officer for the Town of Lake Cowichan, said that simply isn’t true.
“Oh, we’ve explained and he thinks we’re just trying to make him spend more money and we don’t make sense. It’s not a battle we can win with him,” Fernandez said.
Section 4.2 of the town’s subdivision bylaw states that “Every parcel to be created shall abut on a street,” which is why the Hall’s address is on Sahtlam Avenue, despite the house being much closer to Comiaken.
Fernandez said the town has standard requirements for road widths (20 feet), and that a cul-de-sac would be necessary in extending Comiaken because the street can’t simply end abruptly.
“If people are driving down what they think is a street, they should be able to make a loop and get out. It shouldn’t just come to an end,” he said.
Fernandez said the cost associated with extending the avenue because the Halls want a different address should not be fall upon the town.
He said the fire department is well aware of how to access the location, and that while he can’t speak to Hall’s experience talking to a 911 dispatcher, he said emergency services have the address.
“The ambulance should be aware of it, but you’ve got to provide them with adequate signage,” said Fernandez, adding that until recently the property had a sign at street level with an arrow and directions for accessing the house.
Fernandez also said the issue was first raised not because of concerns about emergency access or having an address that accurately reflects where the house is located, but rather Hall wanted to change his address in order to subdivide the property. Hall denies this claim.
Requests for address changes are nothing new at the town office according to Fernandez.
“I’ve had requests from people to change their numbers, change their street address. They’re sitting on the corner of two streets and they want their address to be on the other side. It doesn’t work that way,” he said. “We [the town] determine what the appropriate address is and it’s not up to property owners, land owners, to at some point down the road say, ‘I want my address changed because this is where my driveway is.’”