Jane Barton-Greig is dealing with a nightmare of red tape and bureaucracy at the Cowichan Valley Regional District that may result in her losing her tourist business and having to evict long-time tenants.
Barton-Greig is the owner of Cobble Hill’s Xanadu Estate, a five-acre rural property that offers a number of vacation suites and bed-and-breakfast accommodations for visitors.
She said that when construction of the estate’s buildings, including two houses that are joined by a utility room, began in 1988, the CVRD gave a green light for the project to proceed, and the property appraisal in 2005 stated that the “subject property conforms to current zoning bylaws”.
Barton-Greig said the problems began in 2018 when a CVRD bylaw officer came onto the property on an unrelated matter, and took issue with the tenant suites and B&Bs, stating they were non-compliant with current bylaws mainly because two of the B&Bs in the main residence have small kitchenettes and there are two garden BnB’s on the property.
“I wanted to be compliant to be able to continue to operate and provide private guest accommodations, as well as support the economic growth of the Cowichan Valley through tourism,” she said.
“However, there was no available zoning whereby I was able to become compliant. Fortunately, in 2019, it was suggested by the then CVRD manager of community planning, Mr. Frank Limshue, that a suitable site-specific zoning for rural tourism at Xanadu Estate could be created for me. I offered to collaboratively work with the CVRD planners to assist with the development of rural tourism zoning for this property.”
Barton-Greig said she did everything that was requested by the CVRD; including paying $6,000 for new survey drawings, hiring a consultant to assist at a cost of $3,000, paid the $2,500 application fee to apply for re-zoning, paid for a well licence at a cost of $1,300, and put up a property rezoning sign at a cost of $1,000 as well as other out-of-pocket expenditures.
“In October, 2021, I was informed that I should expect my application to go for vote shortly,” she said.
“At that point in time, we felt that everything looked good.”
But then, last January, Barton-Greig received a letter from a building inspector from the CVRD informing her that she must reclassify the two homes that are connected with a utility room as a multi-unit residential building, since there are two suites with tenants.
That means she would need to do all the code upgrades required for an apartment building, including installing sprinklers throughout, all new dry walling, fully wired connected smoke detectors which would require significant construction, damage to all the ceilings’ drywall and several walls throughout both houses, and “renovicting” two long-term tenants as well.
Barton-Greig said the estimate for the upgrades is more than $50,000.
Then she received another letter from the CVRD last month stating that since her house is now to be classified as multi-use, it must be rezoned commercial.
“BC Assessment has told me that commercial zoning will affect my taxes significantly, with the result being that I would be forced to sell,” Barton-Greig said.
“In addition, being zoned commercial would mean that I or my daughter, if I passed away, would need to pay full capital-gains tax on the property. To my horror, I was informed that if I do not make the expensive changes to the construction of the houses, Ben, my elderly tenant will have to move out. Ben is on a fixed income, he has lived here for many years, and he is worried. I too am on a pension and cannot afford these expensive renovations. I do not understand what had happened.”
To further confuse the issue, a CVRD staff report on the rezoning specifically says that the Building Code does not allow for more than one secondary suite in buildings, which was one of the main reasons the whole affair began in the first place, but a letter from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs that Barton-Greig received earlier this week states that the Building Code doesn’t limit the number of dwelling units in buildings.
The rezoning of the property will be discussed at the next CVRD’s electoral services committee on April 20.
Staff and elected officials with the CVRD have deferred comment on the rezoning until that meeting.
The staff report states that staff are of the opinion that the proposed rezoning application, with its many changes to the property, meets the overall intention of the official community plan for the CVRD’s electoral areas, and that the property is suitable for a new site-specific zone.
“The property is a unique form of rural tourism, desired by both members in the community and visitors from outside the region,” the report said.
“The application meets the goals of expanding tourism opportunities, while keeping with the rural character and heritage of the area, and preserving the environmentally significant characteristics of the property.”