After over three years of back and forth between the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen and the owner of a property outside Princeton, the Supreme Court is ordering him to clean up.
Now the owner has until Aug. 31, 2023 to clean it up and deal with the excess derelict on site, according to the recently published decision from the BC Supreme Court.
The RDOS had their eye on 847 Highway 5A before Robert Hart bought the property in 2019, with complaints going back to 2014 when it was owned by another individual known to Hart.
The original owner is currently incarcerated, and Hart picked up the property in a foreclosure sale, including the piles of metal pieces, wood, old tires, old boats, furniture and scrap auto parts. According to the RDOS bylaw official who checked the property before Hart took possession, it might have been used as a commercial salvage yard while not zoned for that purpose.
Over the next two months additional visits found no changes to the property, which had been flaunting the RDOS’ untidy and unsightly premises bylaw from the start, and a letter was finally sent to Hart. Another two months passed, and another inspection found the salvage operation ongoing, with over 20 derelict vehicles on the lot with a multiple recreational vehicles set up as potential residences.
In the end, the matter went before the board of directors of the RDOS, who voted in 2020 to begin injunctive action against Hart.
In his responses to the RDOS’ claims, Hart argued that staff had allegedly falsified the dates on the photos that were submitted before the board’s vote, that the RDOS had financially abused Hart and his partner through harassment, that the RDOS’ complaint was an internal one and not made by a neighbour and that bylaw officers violated their own bylaws in their visits to the property.
Hart also sent a letter to the court where he proposed a few alternatives, including throwing out the case or appointing a mediator.
“Have RDOS provide monies to help in expediting the sorting and disposal of the collection and building of sheds, etc. Repayment may be put against my taxes,” reads one proposal. “If RDOS can threaten that they will ‘clean up’ and ‘remove’ and ‘dispose,’ then charge this to my taxes, then why I ask can they not provide the resources to build compliant sheds to organize, store and sell my collection.”
The presiding justice pointed out that forcing the matter to go to mediation, or to have the RDOS advance funds to Hart for the clean-up, is outside the court’s power. He nodded that over the last three years Hart had plenty of time to make efforts towards cleaning up the property.
The justice added in his reasons that Hart had known of the refuse on the property when he bought it, and should have had a plan and budget for its removal.
Given the continuing wintry conditions, the justice ordered Hart to have property in compliance with the RDOS’ bylaws by August 31.
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