I recently wrote a letter to Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden (about the Variance Board process). She replied almost immediately and said she understood my frustration and would look into improving the Variance Board process. Thank you to her. Here is a copy of the letter I wrote. I hope it will help others who face the Variance Board in the future:
Re: Accountability and improvements to the Variance Board process
I am writing to tell you about my recent experience with the Board of Variance and to suggest some improvements to the process.
I recently attended a Variance Board meeting (July 31, 2012) in order to oppose a series of setback and height variations. A purchaser of a nearby vacant waterfront lot wanted to build a big home on a too-small footprint. They claimed undue hardship (Riparian regulations) even though they knew about the law and setbacks before they bought the land. The Board granted their request.
Because the law (which I spent hours researching) appeared to be in my favour, I was not only surprised by the outcome, but frustrated by the process.
As a part-time Whistler resident and lawyer I am writing to you to provide some ideas about how the variance process could be improved to ensure more predictability and confidence in the system. I am hoping that my experiences can help municipal council, the Variance Board, the Planning Committee and those who face the Whistler variance and planning processes in the future.
Here are my suggestions:
1. Provide more than just a handful of neighbours with the Notice of Application. Provide more time to reply and write it in more simple language so that neighbours understand exactly what is being requested and how it impacts them.
2. Permit individuals to write comments about the application anonymously, so as to avoid bad feelings between neighbours. Perhaps the comments or positions could be summarized for the Board.
3. Ensure all submissions are received by the Board at least three days in advance so members have time to read and absorb them. Perhaps provide copies to participants in the hearing.
4. Provide direction to the Variance Board to what is considered a "minor" variance.
5. Provide the Board, applicants and neighbours with the factors the board considers when determining "undue hardship".
6. Define the precise role of the Variance Board, particularly when it comes to overriding the work of council and honouring the intent of the bylaws.
7. Ensure that the Board members do not find themselves in a conflict of interest by encouraging them to step down if they have a personal relationship that they think might compromise their decision-making ability or give the appearance of bias.