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Council Hears Landowner Suffering from Bylaw

Halifax Regional Council received three succinct presentations on September 6, 2016 from opponents of HRM’s recent decision to start refusing to issue building permits for any lot without 100 feet of frontage on a public road. Andrew Robbins is a landowner who was shocked when HRM refused to issue a building permit on land he had purchased on Moser River Road, at the end of West Jeddore Road. Robbins spoke to Regional Council on September 6, 2016. 

Introduction

Halifax Regional Council received three succinct presentations on September 6, 2016 from opponents of HRM’s recent decision to start refusing to issue building permits for any lot without 100 feet of frontage on a public road. (See “Opposition to Frontage Bylaw Growing Rapidly,"  Eastern Shore Cooperator, September, 2016).

This frontage bylaw has been on the books since 1996, but HRM officials had not been enforcing it until they suddenly began rejecting requests for building permits this spring, citing the previously unused bylaw. Eastern Shore residents quickly formed a group, Save Rural HRM, to protest the devastating economic impact of this sudden change in enforcement.

Save Rural HRM asked for an emergency meeting of the Council to repeal or suspend the bylaw, but the Mayor denied this request. Instead the Council offered opponents two 5-minute time slots at the regularly scheduled September 6 meeting.

Andrew Robbins Presentation to Regional Council

Good morning Mr. Mayor, Councilors, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Andrew Robbins and I am caught in this public road frontage nightmare. In Feb of 2016, Suzanne and I arrived in Nova Scotia full of anticipation of building our retirement home on a shorefront in West Jeddore. Instead, it appears that we may inadvertently found a way to turn $83,000 of life savings into land now worth $10,000.

When our building permit was denied in June of this year, a member from Planning Department went on public radio as if to deflect accountability by the HRM. Despite resurrecting a bylaw that had not been enforced in anyone’s recent memory, he stated that purchasers like us had simply not done our due diligence when purchasing our property. That was a slap in the face and an insult to us.

I am recently retired from the RCAF after 34 years in a successful and proud career. In that time, Suzanne and I have bought and sold 5 homes. We are not new to buying and selling property. When we purchased our land, Suzanne and I trusted our instincts; after all, there were already 3 homes on this road. We used experienced real estate agent and lawyers; we met and spoke to neighbors who had previously built on our road. We had the seller’s property tax assessment that depicted a $43,000 RESIDENTIAL tax component.

We observed that all lot owners had deeded access on Moser Head Road and that a home owners association was in place to ensure upkeep of Moser Head road. 

Lastly, we trusted our contractor who had 40 years of building experience in this area. We absolutely exercised due diligence when we purchased and I would dare anyone on this council to have spotted a red flag had they been in our shoes. Sadly, it seems our biggest mistake was choosing to buy property in the HRM instead of almost anywhere else in Nova Scotia.

We had so much trust that we could build that earlier this year when my dad was hospitalized after passing out unconscious in his own home, we extended an offer to sell their home in London, Ontario and have him and my mother to come live in our new home. They can no longer live alone safely so this was our only recourse in such short notice and now we find ourselves essentially marooned in my son’s Dartmouth home waiting for common sense to prevail.

I have spent my whole career dealing with Air Force airworthiness directives and I know that policy cannot be written for every circumstance. For this reason, the RCAF has "waiver" clauses to allow for case-by-case exceptions. It is very unfortunate that HRM has no internal mechanism in place that allows for streamlined bylaw waivers or exceptions.

HRM Bylaws are the people’s laws and their intent is to ensure civility! Somehow we may have lost sight of this fact.

I am now left very confused as to the intent of the current policy:

  • Is there is an intention to wipe out 10’s of millions of dollars in land equity across rural HRM?
  • Is there an intention to undermine an already fragile rural business and commerce base?
  • Is there an intention to ensure that parents and grandparents only leave worthless and unusable land to their children?
  • Is there an intention to create an extensive green zone using this policy? I could clear cut my land to recoup my costs and although I personally would never do that out of respect to my neighbors and the land, others just might be that desperate.
  • Is there an intention to force Nova Scotia rural homeowners into smaller lots, so it’s more efficient to service and collect taxes?
  • Is there an intention to never build another public road out to growing rural communities?
  • Is there an intention to dissuade people from other provinces from migrating to the HRM rural communities?
  • Is there an intention to force private roads that see a fraction of the traffic, to use the same construction standards as public roads designed to handle mass transit?
  • Is there an intention to ensure public emergency vehicle access on private roads? If so we are treating a small scratch by amputating the leg. There are far better ways to address this issue.

Lastly, at the risk of baring our souls to everyone watching, my wife and I successfully raised three amazing kids, and we have moved every 5 years since the day we met while I served in the military. I served overseas in Germany, I deployed to the 1st Gulf War and have participated in many national operations and exercises. To say that we can handle stress is obvious to anyone that knows us.

Yet, Suzanne and I have argued more in the last 3 months than we have done in 31 years of an otherwise happy marriage. My son’s home is not suited for the handicapped, my parents are frail and the probability of a serious fall increases the longer they live there.

What are my options? Sign a one-year lease somewhere even when my poor mother cannot find the bathroom in a home we’ve lived in for 3 months due to her Alzheimer’s? Do I apologize for uprooting them out of their home and refer them both to a retirement residence against their wills?

And how long must I continue this colossal imposition on my amazing son who has unselfishly moved into a corner of the drafty basement in his own home, while his parents and grandparents live upstairs?

I am confident that it is not an intention to inflict tremendous and irreversible stresses on the people who are now caught up in this mess, but that has been our experience. I beg of you all to give this matter the attention it deserves.

Thank you for your time.

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11 E Petpeswick Rd, Musquodoboit Harbour, NS B0J 2L0

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