What is a Board of Variance, anyway?

Trent Ernst
A few weeks ago, another development to ask for a variance to the parking stalls at their new development. Instead of going before the board of variance, though, the decision was brought before council. 
Which begs the question: what does the board of variance actually do? According to Barry Elliott, they don’t look at the size of parking stalls. “Parking lot stall size is a development variance, which goes before Council,” says Elliott. “The board of variance has to be things that do not result in major changes to the property. These are minor things. The Board of variance is appointed by council and deal with minor issues. In a quiet community, you’ll be lucky to have one sitting annually.”
Elliott says that the reason why development variances go before council is that generally, they are known about beforehand. “You can ask for a developmental variation after the fact, but you’re taking a real risk,” says Elliott. Development variances are major issues that are known about beforehand. Things that go before the board of variance are typically things that arise during or after construction. 
Elliott points to the one case that has come before the board of variance since it was established in 2011. “There, it was simply a matter that they didn’t allow for the width of thickness of insulation around the footing. When you tack on that and the siding, it encroached on the setback. It was that tight. It was something the building inspector found when he went to take a look at the properties.” 
The violation amounted to a matter of inches, but a ruling still needed to be made, excepting the property from the Tumbler Ridge Building bylaws. 
The board of variance currently has 11 people, though only three are needed to sit for a case. “I’ll scroll through the list of members and pick the next three. If one or two are busy, that’s okay, because we have 11 people,” says Elliott.
Does having so many people and so few cases cause issues? No, says Elliott. “A variance hearing is very straightforward as long as the secretary knows what is happening. It operates like any semi-judicial organization. Proponents and objectors can speak to it. Professionals can comment, in the form of staff or other professionals.” Elliott says that since each variance typically only deals with one point in the bylaw, members of the board do not need to sit down and memorize the entire building bylaw. 
Most of the variations stem from builders not being aware of requirements in building code, says Elliott, and as long as the municipality does a good job in getting that info across, most people are good in trying to adhere to that. “I think Tumbler is in pretty good shape. When they come to get a building permit, typically they’re given the application that they fill out, and they are given information at that time on which bylaws are applicable and asked to familiarize themselves.” In addition, the building inspector has to sign off on plans, says Elliott, so there’s lots of good information given up front and plenty of chances to make sure everything is proper. 
Elliott says that there are two possible variance issues coming up in the near future. “The board of variance only comes into play after the house it’s built, but it doesn’t conform, so you have to get a variance on it,” he says. “But variances are usually unintentional, and minor.”