A widespread problem with private landowners appropriating public land needs to be addressed by area municipalities, says the legal director of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre.
Calvin Sanborn said the problem has become “systemic” in the region. Sanborn was part of a delegation at Monday night’s Saanich council meeting. Prior to the meeting, he said a report on concerns with waterfront locations in just the Gorge Waterway and Portage Inlet areas went to Esquimalt and Saanich last summer, with only Saanich coming back with a response so far.
He pointed to a prime example of the problem being solved by Saanich council of the day in the 1990s, after he made a complaint regarding a homeowner taking over public property near Gordon Head beach.
Sanborn said a property owner “had appropriated a 15-foot by 300-foot property next to his land on a right of way.”
“It was like a narrow trail down to the beach but the property owner had built a fence 15 feet onto public land, so he had expropriated 5,000 square feet.”
A park area has since been established there.
Law student Kelly Twa, speaking for the delegation at the meeting, said the issue is in more places than just those examined in the report.
“We know that this is a recurring problem and the report is just the tip of the iceberg.” She said there is nothing to say that people are appropriating land on purpose. “We absolutely recognize that the homeowners may be unaware of the encroachment onto public lands.”
Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell said it is something that has grown slowly over time. “It’s a problem in many municipalities.”
He suggested that more awareness of the problem might prompt some people to come forward voluntarily without the need for enforcement.
Saanich Coun. Judy Brownoff said the report should be sent to municipal staff for evaluation. “It’s a big issue,” she said.
Sanborn called for a comprehensive survey to find out just how extensive the problem is. “We’ve got examples of people building carports on public land,” he said. “Their driveways are filled with boats and things.
“Neighbours across the street have never known that it was a public access to the water.”
He said the delegation, which included the Veins of Life Watershed Society, is looking for Saanich to show leadership on the issue.