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LeBaron ~ Non-conforming Properties Lose Value


A response to Mr. Hobbs notion that nonconforming properties will be increasing in value

In a letter to the editor of the Editor last week three objections to some fundamental points were raised. The question was brought up why expanding the setbacks of the CAO would reduce property valuations. 

The first point should start with what we have and what could be proposed.  Currently we have a 50 foot shoreline setback for buildings if there is screened landscaping, and 100 ft if there is no screening.  The new setbacks have not been firmed up but they will be tied to what is agreed to for the upland portion which is being proposed at 150-300 feet. Let’s say you go out today and buy a million dollar house on a waterfront lot, and the lot is 149’ X 149’, the house burns down next year. In the mean time the new CAO is past and set backs have been moved to 150 feet.  Under the new CAO; your property would become nonconforming and unbuildable without a variance.  The county would still assess the value of the land, let you pay taxes and use it for picnics as long as no permanent structure was built. If a lot becomes unbuildable do you think its value will be reduced?


The second point was that nonconforming properties have been around for years, what is the big deal. Nonconforming means illegal in a real estate law.  Outhouses have been around for years but they are now illegal in the shoreline and you must put in a septic system that conforms to current code.  If your property does not have enough room for a septic system your property is unbuildable unless you can buy an easement from a neighbor.  If a lot becomes unbuildable do you think its value will be reduced?

The third point was about supply and demand. I agree here that conforming lots will become more valuable.  The question becomes what happens to the value of nonconforming lots? Will the county be able to raise enough tax’s from the conforming lots to keep the roads up and our county government functioning?  If the CAO setbacks are expanded, will the local government be forced to buy lots they have condemned under current law?  Our county used to rely on the fishing economy. We now rely on real estate, building and tourism.  Property values have been driven down during the last four years. Store fronts in town have closed up due to the down turn. A new radical CAO could devastate property values on nonconforming property.

I am all for protecting the environment but I think it must be done in balance with property rights.  I am all for fixing problems we have control of with reasonable solutions. If Canada keeps dumping raw sewage in the sound, does moving a house back another 100 feet make a difference? If forest fires in the Frazer Valley and Shuswap are fought with fire retardant that contains PCB’s does it make a difference if you have a buffer around a wetland that already is a buffer, to the salmon and whales that are polluted?  Should we do what we can to protect the environment, absolutely. Should we take away basic property rights to do so, absolutely not.

We were asked to review the CAO not rewrite it. No specific problems have been cited in our current pristine environment. We have been forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to review the CAO at a time when our county cannot provide basic services. Our county government is not capable of running a solid waste station let alone expanding the CAO.  When your property becomes unsellable do you think its value has been reduced?

Paul Le Baron, San Juan Island