Inverness County turns down variance requests from Port Hood homeowners

PORT HOOD: Inverness Municipal Council turned down property variances requested by homeowners.

During the regular monthly meeting on Oct. 7, councillors voted against three requests to change the front and two side yard requirements for a mobile home that recently went up on the High Road in Port Hood.

Eastern District Planning Commission (EDPC) director John Bain told council the variance requests were submitted Sept. 9.

“The requirement in the bylaw are 6.1 metres (20 feet), they want that reduced to 8 feet. The side yard requirements are 10 and 10, they want those… reduced to 8.5 feet, and to 7.1 feet. The specific reason is because the mobile home is being placed in that position,” he said.

Bain said the EDPC looked at other properties in the area already close to the road, studied fire separation requirements, and spoke with Nova Scotia Public Works about “snow throw and vehicle safety.”

The next step was determining whether there was an intentional violation of the land use bylaw, Bain explained. He said the property owners surveyed the property and the property markers were in place and visible, the applications indicated where they were going to place the building, then the EDPC told them where to locate the structure on the permit.

“The building was located in contravention of the land use bylaw requirements,” Bain said. “They told us where they were going to put it, we told them where they had to put it, they had a survey, the pin was clearly evident, they put it in the wrong place. I think they had all kinds of information to put the building in the right place.”

On Sept. 22, the variances were rejected by the EDPC and Bain said an appeal by the homeowners was received the next day.

Judy and Warren Leadbetter appeared before council to plead their case.

Judy told council they both grew up in Inverness County and moved back in May after working in Ontario.

“This is the first time we have bought a house and we’re not totally knowledgeable to the whole process, we have relied on professionals to guide us,” she told council.

After purchasing the property in the spring of 2020, then demolishing the former home in June, Judy said they started sketching out plans for their new home.

“We relied on the old survey and we used that… to show the placement of our mini home, it was on the same foundation of the old house. At this time, no red flag was acknowledged by the county building inspector and the permit was approved,” she said. “We purchased our house with 104 feet at the top of our property as a guide for the size, with a 74 foot home, leaving 30 feet, 15 on each side. The survey also showed us that there was 33 feet from the road. We measured, not from our property line, which we were later told.”

Warren said he assumed that his measurements were accurate.

“I put the mini home in place with the expectation that the top of the property was 104 feet wide, going down to 94 feet, thinking I was losing inches as I was going down,” he noted. “I wasn’t looking at it like an ice cream cone. I was looking at it gradually going down. When I put the house in place on top of the old foundation, this is what I expected to happen… I expected to have my distance on each side.”

By mid-June the pad for the mobile home was completed, then inspected and approved, Judy recounted. It was at this point that they should have been asked to produce a plot plan, but only found that out a month later, she said. This forced them to “scramble” to find a surveyor, she said.

“Our survey was only able to start his work a couple of days after the mini home arrived. We thought his survey report would go directly to the county,” she said. “So in the meantime, our mini home, the hook-ups took place, electrical, plumbing, sewer, anchors and skirting; all this was getting done in August. We were only made aware in late August that we needed, now, an Occupancy Permit.”

By this time, Judy said they received a copy of the plot plan from the surveyor, which they sent to the municipality.

When Nova Scotia Power was about to hook-up their power on Sept. 1, Judy said the building inspector told them they did not receive an Occupancy Permit and they would have to move their home, which she said was “devastating.”

The next day, Judy said they spoke with their surveyor who mentioned the distance of the mobile home from the road, and after speaking with the municipal building inspector, they decided to apply for the variance.

“At this point, we now question the due diligence of the building inspector as she had access to all of our information,” she said.

Refuting claims that they intentionally disregarded bylaws and building codes, Judy said the municipality needs to do more for new residents.

“We wished the county would have supplied us with a check list and sequence to complete the whole process of setting up our new home,” she said. “The process seems to have flaws. The anguish that we have gone through, we hope no other newcomer to Inverness County ever has to experience. If any of that advice had been given earlier, we certainly would have placed our home back further on our property.”

Noting that it will take a lot of time and effort to move their home, Judy said they have been living with relatives and their belongings have been in storage since May. She requested that council “open their hearts” and listen to their story.

“In the last month, we have been in limbo with much stress and uncertainty,” she said. “Our hope is to move into our new home and move on with being part of the Port Hood community, and to continue to be volunteers and vital residents.”

One neighbour who lives within 30 metres of the Leadbetters, and is an advisor to the EDPC, sent a letter opposing the variances and arguing rules must be followed.

“It is not in the best interests of progress or council to go against your own third party, EDPC,” the adjacent property owner said. “These are professionals who do a great job and I cannot disagree with their opinion. If it is allowed for one, you are opening council up to a precedent.”

Although councillors expressed sympathy for their situation and District 1 Councillor Alfred Poirier voted against, council approved motions to deny each of the three variances.