Sanitation replacement has potential for huge bills

City bylaws that deal with development could end up costing some homeowners upwards of thousands of dollars

The wording and interpretation of a bylaw that deals with development could end up in expensive sanitary upgrades for homeowner who need to update their septic tanks.

The issue deals with permits to replace a septic system on Cranbrook properties under two hectares. Under the City of Cranbrook Zoning Bylaw 3737, 2012 and Subdivision and Development Services Bylaw 3633, 2008, a development variance permit would be needed to allow the homeowner to replace the septic in that situation.

At the Oct. 20 council meeting the issue came up as a result of a development variance permit request from a 1404 12th Avenue South to wave the requirement to connect to the sewer system for a property under two hectares.

Engineering staff recommended that council not approve the application for the development variance permit, though noted that the property will be able to connect to the sanitary sewer on 15th Street South for a cost estimated as comparable to the cost to replace the septic.

Mayor Wayne Stetski said the issue will likely have to be dealt with.

“I think for tonight, we’re okay because there is an opportunity for the homeowner to connect to city sewer on 15th Street South, without having to incur any more cost then it would have to replace the existing septic system. The challenge is the interpretation of these bylaws in the past, that suggest that if you are going to replace it with an existing sewer system, that staff has considered it to be a new development.”

Stetski said the requirement would then be that you have to hook up to the city sewer.

“In some cases if there had not been a city sewer access close by it could have cost the proponent potentially millions of dollars to hook up to the city sewer because of the distance away,” he said.

Stetski said from his perspective, if a person is just replacing a septic system on site it shouldn’t be considered a new development.

“Is that a new development? I wouldn’t really consider that a new development.”

Stetski said that historically the city has considered replacing septic systems as new development on that property. He noted that if it was a subdivision it would absolutely be new development, but this is a replacement of an existing septic system.

Stetski said the staff recommendation was acceptable because there is a city sewer close by for the homeowner to connect to for the same cost as a septic replacement.

Coun. Angus Davis said it seems to him that the rules here were just being “blankly enforced.”

“Unless there’s something really, really substantial that would prevent them from doing it, then we need to be a little more positive with the way we treat people that want to spend their money and create an asset and become a taxpayer,” Davis said. “Not everyone in the world wakes up in the morning and thinks ‘I want to spend the rest of my life being a taxpayer.’ You create wealth, you create an asset and that asset is a contributer to the municipality. We need that.”

Pallesen said she read through the bylaws and didn’t find it very clear.

“What if this was a longtime homeowner and they were 65 to 70 and they wanted to stay there but their septic system was done?” Pallesen said, wondering why they would need to apply as a new development to get a septic system done.

Coun. Diana J. Scott agreed with Davis and Pallesen.

“Maintaining and replacing something that is worn out is not necessarily a new development and I think that we should be cognizant of helping out our taxpayers when we can,” she said.

CAO Wayne Staudt noted that council would have to eventually look at whether it is the way the bylaw has been interpreted or the way it is written that’s at fault.

“It’s probably a little bit of both,” Staudt said.