Ten years is a long time to convince people to clear encroachments on public land—that was the message some City of North Vancouver councillors gave the staff who estimated it would take a decade to voluntarily ask people to clean the public land of all encroachments.
CNV staff have identified over 3,000 encroachments—fences, hedges, retaining walls and other landscaping elements— in the City of North Vancouver since they began tracking them about three years ago. Many of these encroachments such as hedges are relatively benign, but some increasingly pose safety risks, hinder service provision and add costs to construction projects, staff told the council.
Staff has ranked encroachments on three levels with Level 3 being the most severe encroachments that can endanger safety or block the provision of an essential service such as blocking a garbage truck in a laneway or get in the way of a city project.
For example, during the Green Necklace – East Keith Road project, costs for resolving encroachment related issues during construction exceeded $65,000, plus significant staff time, according to the staff report.
Staff plans to work on these encroachments and if needed, contract out the removal of the most severe encroachments. There are nearly 266 such severe encroachments and staff anticipates it can remove five to ten such encroachments every year—a compliance rate of 15 to 30 per cent.
With that pace, it will take seven to ten years to eliminate all Level 3 encroachments. To councillors such as Pam Bookham, it’s a long time to reclaim city land. “I was quite amazed, shocked and dismayed to read about the number of landscaping encroachments and that it would take 10 years for voluntary compliance is unacceptable,” Bookham said.
She said the city needs to increase the speed of getting compliance especially on those encroachments that are considered serious and can impact the safety and future uses such as the need to widen sidewalks or removing retaining walls.
“It becomes a much more time consuming and expensive process, and home owners are quite heated because they think this has been in place for so long and why haven’t you brought this to my attention. We need to use more stringent measures to get the changes and much faster than is being reported,” she said.
Streetscape planner Justin Hall said the staff based the timeline on how it thought the public would respond to removal of encroachments that have been in place for a long period of time. He said educating the public is a big part of the process and staff anticipates that compliance would increase over time.
Councillor Don Bell, however, said the most severe encroachments need to be prioritised and the city can’t wait for a decade to see compliance on those. “The ratio we have on voluntary compliance is pathetic.
It’s not acceptable to block the sidewalks and we don’t need to stretch enforcement on for 10 years,” he said. Councillors Craig Keating, Rod Clark and Mayor Darrell Mussatto supported a more balanced approach emphasising voluntary compliance and a discussion with property owners.
“Given that property owners are encouraged on one hand to maintain their boulevard in aesthetically pleasing fashion, and yet told not to encroach on city lands, then a discussion is the best way to go around this. I encourage to go and discuss this with the property owners and built better conformity,” said Coun. Craig Keating.
Coun. Clark said he too would like to support middle ground as it would also create a cost implication if we just said we are taking care of the entire number of offenders in the next year or two. I’m happy to see this phased in,” he said. Mayor Mussatto said it’s not an easy job asking people to clear encroachments and yet he believed the staff could be more progressive on timelines.
“I’d like to see the accelerated a little bit. The public space needs to be protected but we need to find the balance,” he said.
By Gagandeep Ghuman