Saanich drops requirement for family to build $300,000 storm-drain system

A young family has convinced Saanich to drop its requirement for a new $300,000 storm-drain system, allowing them to build a rock-filled trench on their property instead.

The decision removes a major obstacle to Simon and Michelle Gowing’s plans to build a new home on their lot at 1971 Ernest Ave., near Camosun College’s Lansdowne campus

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“We are just very pleased,” Gowing said, noting the situation was unique.

The couple, who met in the United Kingdom, where son Matthew, 19 months, was born, purchased the lot after a long search for a house in Victoria that began when they were still overseas, with local family members checking out options they found online.

“It took us years to find the perfect location, really,” said Gowing, an energy consultant who has been in Victoria a year and half. They finally found the Ernest Avenue property, which had a single-family home on it and was close to schools and amenities.

They knew the house would need upgrades, but a detailed investigation discovered that tree roots had resulted in a “sizable” crack in the foundation, making it structurally unsound, he said.

The house was dismantled last year, and the plan was to rebuild on roughly the same footprint, he said.

But then the Gowings ran into another problem: the property was not connected to a municipal storm drain, a requirement for new homes. In fact, there is no storm drain on Ernest Avenue, an area of large lots behind the college campus.

To build a new house, the Gowings were told, they would have to hire a contractor to construct a storm drain along the length of Ernest. Estimates came to about $300,000 — more depending on how rocky the terrain was, Gowing said. On top of that, they would have to pay municipal administration fees and a deposit in case the system malfunctioned.

They could not borrow to build the storm-drain system because it would owned by the municipality, Gowing said.

So instead, they proposed building a 20-metre-long on-site infiltration trench, which required a variance from the municipality.

Staff opposed the proposal, citing factors such as high maintenance required for the system, a history of flooding in the area and the risk of runoff draining onto a neighbouring property. Staff was also concerned that approval of the variance could set a precedent.

Despite those concerns, council approved the variance permit in a five-four vote. The Gowings will be required to have a covenant registered on the land title to indemnify Saanich against any third-party claims in the event of failure of the system.

The planned trench is essentially a covered swale, Gowing said. A swale is built with vegetation on top and is designed to take runoff water and filter it before it goes into the ground.

In this case, the rock-filled system will be able to hold water for several hours, to permit it to slowly seep into the ground. It will cost approximately $30,000 to install the trench, Gowing said.

If all goes smoothly, Gowing hopes house construction will begin this spring, allowing the family to move in next year.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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