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A burning question

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Clay contacted our office after his neighbour was permitted to replace his gas-burning fireplace with a wood-burning one which is not allowed under the Town of Comox’s Building Bylaw. While the Town approved the permit, it acknowledged that the work was not in line with the spirit of the Building Bylaw. Clay informed the Town that his neighbour had intentionally misled them and was told that if this was the case, the permit could be revoked, but Clay never heard back.

Our investigation revealed that the Building Bylaw did not explicitly account for inactive wood-burning appliances such as a disconnected fireplace. In view of this gap in the bylaw, the Town decided that the process of removing the gas-burning insert from the inactive fireplace, and then installing a wood-burning insert in the inactive fireplace, did not trigger the Building Bylaw restrictions. We thought this exercise of discretion by the Town was reasonable in the circumstances. However, we were concerned by the gap in the bylaw. We asked staff to recommend that Council amend the bylaw to account for inactive wood-burning appliances, which they agreed to do.

We were also concerned with the Town’s response to Clay’s bylaw complaint and asked the Town to develop and/or revise its bylaw complaints and enforcement policies to be in line with recommendations in our Bylaw Enforcement: Best Practices Guide for Local Governments.

Our investigation also found the Town’s investigation into the transparency of the permit application may have been insufficient. We asked the Town to reinvestigate the permit application and to share the results of their investigation with Clay and our office. As a result, the town reopened their investigation and reported back as they had agreed to do. We viewed the Town’s actions as adequate in the circumstances and concluded our investigation of Clay’s complaint.