Council forgave a flagrant breach of Whistler's building bylaws this week when confronted with the true building plans of 11,300 square foot home on tony Treetop Lane.
The plans detail more than 3,500 square feet of space that was never technically on the books, including an underground tunnel, weight room, office, massage room, den, and an extra bedroom with
en suite bathroom.
With little debate, council brought the property into compliance by changing the property setbacks and legitimizing the illegal space.
"I think this is a particularly unique situation," said Councillor Duane Jackson, who led the illegal space task force created with a goal to rectifying the decades-old problem, whereby homeowners built space that was never on any official plans.
"It is indicative of the fact that a lot of people went to a lot of trouble to try and gain space that they were unable to get."
The Treetop development was built over two lots at the end of the upscale street and includes a main house with a neighbouring guesthouse and an in-ground swimming pool in between. Beneath the pool is the subterranean illegal space linked by a tunnel. The owners are Donald and Caroline Roussy.
The municipal building department staff inspected the home more than two years ago after an anonymous complaint regarding unauthorized construction.
Treetop neighbour Leslie Darc didn't mince her words about the development in a letter to council sent after the RMOW asked for input by neighbours on the application. She owns the only other lot in the three lot strata that includes this estate property. The neighbours have had disagreements prior to this. Darc was the only person to speak in opposition to council's plans to rectify the illegal development in a letter.
"It is disappointing that the owners had the same disrespect for the municipal bylaws as they did for the building scheme and surprising that the municipality's response is to entertain a variance permit application. I cannot imagine how these houses passed building inspections or obtained occupancy permits," she wrote.
Yet, hundreds, if not thousands, of homes in Whistler have some form of illegal space. Council agreed to tackle the long outstanding issue and formed an illegal spaces task force when first elected.
Local builder Bob Deeks, of RDC Fine Homes, who has worked to find a solution, explained how Whistler ended up in this situation.
"Whistler has very strict regulations about how big a house can be in terms of its gross floor area... So you have people that have millions of dollars in their pocket and they have an expectation of the size and nature of their house," he said.
The task force developed Bylaw 1992, approved by council, to deal with the issue.
Under Bylaw 1992 basement areas can be considered "excluded" from the calculation of gross floor area. With that exclusion, the Roussy's property, which allows for two 5,000 square foot homes on each lot, comes under the allowable buildable limit.
Jackson said Bylaw 1992 did not intend to tackle these types of breaches but the exclusion works in this case.
Councillor Jack Crompton expressed some reservations.
"I agree with Councillor Jackson that Bylaw 1992 never considered tunnels between adjoining properties," he said. "So I find this one difficult to stomach... Adjoining houses in other neighbourhoods can't build tunnels between their houses if they're good friends.
"In my view the illegal spaces task force doesn't permit tunnels between houses."
Since the Bylaw 1992 was adopted, 63 applicants have come through the hall to take avantage of the changes.
"It's a decent solution," said Deeks. "In the end the more of these properties that are brought into compliance, the better because then we have confidence that the basic life safety standards are being met."
Darc doesn't share that opinion.
"If the municipality sees fit to direct time and resources to this situation, it should be directed to correcting the improper development rather than forgiving it," she wrote.
"If on the other hand, the municipality wishes to declare its indifference to its own bylaws and set a precedent for its homeowners, then this is the opportunity to do it."
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