Variance approved despite deception

An attempt to "defraud the public process" didn't sway District of West Kelowna council from approving a controversial variance request Tuesday.

Council once again voted in favour of a building height variance for a lot on Lakeview Cove Road in West Kelowna.

The variance request was being reconsidered after district staff discovered a neighbour's signature had been forged on a letter of support that was considered by council when it initially voted in favour of the variance April 8.

Mayor Doug Findlater was the only member of council to vote against the variance reconsideration Tuesday and did so in order to make a statement, he said.

"I've wrestled with this a whole lot of the last five or six days," said Findlater.

"It weighs very, very heavily on my mind that there was an attempt to basically defraud our public process by providing a fraudulent letter of support.

"I think I have to try to uphold the integrity of our public process."

Earlier this month, James Zeleznik, general manager of Jazel Homes, admitted to forging Ray Kohut's signature on a letter that supported the original variance application.

Kohut, who lives next door to the house being constructed, was travelling out of country at the time.

When Kohut returned, he said he was surprised to see the height of the house next door. He phoned the District of West Kelowna and discovered the fraudulent letter of support.

RCMP confirmed last week there is an ongoing investigation related to forgery, but no charges have been laid yet.

In his most recent letter to the district, Kohut said he wanted the house next door to be torn down and rebuilt "to the correct height that blends in with the area."

Despite Kohut's disapproval with the variance request, district planning manager Brent Magnan said staff still recommended council authorize the issuance of a development variance permit to increase the maximum building height from nine to 12.97 metres. That increase is less than the 13.4 metre maximum allowable height council approved April 8.

A key consideration was that the zoning bylaw does not necessarily account for the topography of the subject property, according to Magnan.

"The house itself…is very reasonable in size (compared) to other homes in that neighbourhood," said Coun. Gord Milsom.

"The request for the height variance is really the result of the grade of the property."

Coun. Rick de Jong said the variance request was a very difficult file to deal with, especially considering the fraudulent letter.

"We've got to let that rest in the hands of the RCMP at this point in time and we've got to look at the facts that are in front of us today," said Coun. Rick de Jong.

"I do think staff has found a happy medium."

Coun. Duane Ophus said he supported the variance because Robert and Patricia Sklar, the owners of the house being constructed, are "most fundamentally at potential harm" if the house doesn't get built.

In a letter sent to the district, the Sklars explained further delays to construction of their home could affect their retirement plans and result in significant financial loss.

"I think that we have a particular duty to them to let this house get finished and let them get on with their lives," said Ophus.

Council also unanimously authorized the issuance of a development variance permit for three neighbouring lots, with a maximum height not to exceed that of the house currently being constructed.

Twitter: @PatersonWade


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