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Salmon Arm man gets resolution in dispute with city over wildfire covenant

City says covenant no longer required as it shifts focus to FireSmart education
Gleneden resident Ken Stewart had been warning neighbours about a former City of Salmon Arm requirement for a Wildfire Interface Covenant triggered by new construction outside the city’s urban containment boundary. (File photo)

A Salmon Arm man views the recent outcome of his dispute with the city as a win – at least for himself.

In September 2023, Gleneden resident Ken Stewart began taking action against a City of Salmon Arm requirement he encountered after applying for a permit to build a garage on his property. The permit triggered a the need of a Section 219 Wildfire Interface Covenant Stewart was told would have to be registered on the title of his property prior to occupancy. Stewart was concerned with the cost of doing this (he said between $600 and $900), as well as language in the covenant that protects the city from legal action.

At that time, city planning and community services director Gary Buxton explained the covenant requirement had been in place since at least 2011, and is included in section 6.3.6 of the city’s official community plan. He referred to the covenant as a risk management that applies only to new development or construction outside the city’s urban containment boundary.

“It notifies the owner that we’re all acknowledging a heightened risk of wildfires in these areas outside the urban containment boundary,” explained Buxton. “Mostly because of tree cover and in many cases lack of hydrant coverage. It requires the owner to manage that risk and to manage vegetation on their property. And it also indemnifies the city in case there is an event – we all agree that we’re not going to sue each other.”

“I’m not going to sue – what are the chances of this being anything other than an act of God, and you can’t sue for that,” commented Stewart who, reluctant to pay for the covenant, took his concerns to the BC Office of the Ombudsperson. Investigating the matter, Ombudsperson Officer Pei-Shing Wang contacted city staff and the city’s lawyer, and was advised the city had changed its position subsequent to Stewart’s complaint, and a “restrictive covenant is no longer required as part of the permitting process.”

On March 19, Stewart received a letter from city chief administrative officer Erin Jackson confirming this.

“The city has received notice of your complaint to the Office of the Ombudsperson concerning its historical practice of requiring wildfire interface covenants within identified wildfire hazard areas as a consideration of issuing building permits,” said Jackson. “We confirm that the city revised its practices subsequent to receipt of your September 7 permit application, and you are no longer required to grant a wildfire covenant.”

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Asked for further information about the change in practice, Jackson explained via email that the city is shifting focus to FireSmart education and awareness as the “first tool in the wildfire mitigation tool kit.”

“Wildfire mitigation is the responsibility of all citizens, not just those with covenant,” said Jackson.

Stewart said he was surprised by the turnabout, and is grateful for the work done by the Office of the Ombudsperson.

“The Ombudsperson has contacted me a couple of times just to confirm it’s all there, it’s real – Erin Jackson has as well,” said Stewart, noting he told people in the area not to do anything until “we get this thing settled – so I saved them money.”

However, Stewart wonders about those with wildfire covenants wanting them removed.

“I doubt people are going to get their $600 to $900 they had to pay their attorneys or notaries to get that covenant put on,” said Stewart.

Jackson said people who have the covenants, if they “wish to discuss them with staff, they are certainly welcome to.”

For all Salmon Arm homeowners, Jackson stressed the importance of taking measures to protect their properties.

“I would… like to emphasize that in light of the devastating fires in very close proximity to Salmon Arm in 2023, and the dry conditions we are currently seeing, it is vitally important that homeowners take proactive measures to protect their homes from potential fire hazards,” said Jackson.

For more information about the City’s FireSmart program or to schedule a home assessment, homeowners should contact the Salmon Arm Fire Department at 250-803-4065.

Lachlan Labere

About the Author: Lachlan Labere

Editor of the Salmon Arm Observer, Shuswap Market, and Eagle Valley News. I'm always looking for new and exciting ways to keep our readers informed and engaged.
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