Council leery to monitor private land owners

A group of West Kelowna residents is once again asking the municipality to force private property owners in their area to clean up land the residents feel presents a potential forest fire hazard to their homes.

And if there is a refusal to do so, from the land owner, the group wants the district to lobby the province to develop provincial legislation to deal with such issues or approach the landowners and ask that the land be turned over to the district as parkland.

But the request by residents of Huntsville Green, a strata development off Horizon Drive, below West Kelowna Estates, did not find much support from council.

Despite receiving a 128-signature petition, council opted instead to wait for a report about the effectiveness of an education initiative in the coming months, citing concerns about cost and liability if it followed the residents’ recommendations.

The call is the second by the residents in the last few years.

At issue is an area of land along Faulkner Creek that the residents say contains a large amount of fallen and standing dead trees.

Following the Glenrosa wildfire forest fires in 2009, the residents are concerned that the dead trees constitute a fire hazard and need to be removed.

But current district policy is to provide education to private land owners about appropriate fire prevention and mitigation on their property.

It does not force landowners to conduct what is known as “fuel modification” work.

Wayne Byron, spokesman for the residents, said the Huntsville Green development, with 43 strata homes in it, is bordered on two sides by the land in question.

Residents of a nearby street, Westview Way, are also concerned about the condition of the land as their homes also border the creek.

“Both communities have the same concerns and both support our ongoing and continuous efforts to achieve a resolution to this dangerous situation,” Byron told council.

“All of us will be relentless in our pursuit of a satisfactory resolution.”

He said while residents lauded district efforts to educate private property owners, there was no evidence that the education had been effective.

He said other municipalities have bylaws that allow its employees to enter private property to clean up unsightly weeds or junk and bill the property owners for the work. The same should be done in this case.

He said the residents recognize there would be a cost but they are concerned about a greater cost  to their homes from a wildfire in the area.

Some homes are within metres of dead standing and fallen trees, he said.

But Coun. Duane Ophus questioned if the residents realized how much such action would cost. “If you are going to advocate to clean up private property, you’re going to be faced with a big tax bill,” he said.

He added there could be dozens of other properties like this in the municipality.

Coun. Carol Zanan agreed. “If we do anything for one area, we must do it for all areas,” she said.

Despite opposition by her council colleagues, Coun. Rosalind Neis said she liked the idea of the district trying to acquire the property and turn it into park land.

But, as has become the norm at West Kelowna council meetings, Neis received no support from other council members when she tried to move a motion to that effect.

“Maybe it’s a little premature,” said Mayor Doug Findlater, of Neis’s motion.

He said he wanted to hear back from staff and the fire department about the impact of the education program before looking at other options.



Kelowna Capital News