What was supposed to be a peaceful retirement in a quiet community turned into years of bureaucratic hurdles for a Vancouver Island woman. After building her dream home in Qualicum Beach, Krystyna Janik was told her roof is too high and it violates town zoning bylaws.
“I was really so excited — peace, quiet, beautiful ocean. I said god, you know what, finally, finally I will have something for myself and this is what is happening,” Janik said.
Based on town staff recommendation, Qualicum Beach town council voted unanimously to deny Janik an occupancy permit — meaning she can not move into her home, at its regular council meeting on Dec. 9. The recommended motion also put a notice on the land title, so any future owner will know the home violates town zoning laws.
“I think it’s a very valid concern. The Bluffs is a very nice part of town and everyone else is conforming — I don’t see why one house should be able to get an exception for that,” said Coun. Robert Filmer, who is now on leave from council.
The roof is two feet higher than is permitted at the highest point, according to the town.
Working with Mark Eshpeter, the town’s current building inspector, Janik decided to propose the town put the notice on title. This makes it clear to any future owners that the house does not adhere to zoning bylaws. She hoped this would mean she could get an occupancy permit and move in.
Eshpeter told her she would need approval of the designer in charge of the Bluffs and the strata council. The designer said the roof was built according to the building scheme and he did not have a problem with the height.
“I would like to confirm that the registered building scheme does not restrict the total building height to eight metres maximum,” said John Larson, design coordinator for the Bluffs, in a letter to the town, dated July 14, 2020. “The roof height is generally consistent with all surrounding buildings and does not require any variance from the regulations contained within the registered building scheme.”
The strata council said it did not take any role in the decision making regarding the height and recognized it is purely up to the town.
“At several points during construction, town staff had contacted the husband who was building the home and said there was likely to be a problem based on the foundations and said that they should contact a surveyor to double check what they intend to do,“ said Coun. Scott Harrison. “That was sort of disregarded.”
Janik denied being warned several times and said her husband was not the builder of the house — she had hired contractors. “He didn’t build the house, he was finishing only,” she said.
There were no warnings prior to the roof being finished, according to Janik. She said throughout the building process she was reassured by the town’s building inspector at the time, Darrel Saby, that things were going OK. She said he was on site almost every week.
In September of 2018 Janik emailed Saby to ensure nothing had to be taken care of with the house before she left on a trip to Poland — he said there was nothing. Six days later he told her she needed to have a site survey done.
“He say he informed me about this in March,” Janik said. “Never ever — I didn’t receive any phone call, any email, anything asking for surveyor. From Europe, I sent email to surveyor and whatever was to be done and surveyor measure and they sent me email back saying, ‘Krystyna, your house is a little bit too high.’ I was very nervous, very unhappy.”
By the time the survey was asked for and completed, the roof was already being finished — Janik said if she would have been told she needed the survey before the roof was finished, she would have been able to correct it.
Janik applied for a variance permit from the town in October 2018 so she would be able to move into the house without rebuilding the roof. The request was not entertained by council and never had a public hearing.
“Given that we had reached out prior to the building being completed and it was not a one inch or two inch variance, it was actually 20 inches in total,” Harrison said. “That seemed a little bit egregious and it didn’t seem like they were operating in good faith.”
Janik insisted it was a mistake, “I have no reason to make higher house,” she said.
“It may be that Krystyna wasn’t fully engaged by her builder. The town never hires a surveyor to resolve building heights. That’s always the responsibility of the contractor,” said Luke Sales, director of planning for the town.
After being denied a variance permit, she attempted to change the design to be flat at the peak of the roof, but it was denied due to Bluffs strata design regulations.
“I sympathize with the property owner. I understand that this building hasn’t been a pleasant experience or a pleasant process, but you know what. As a town right now we have a very large project that is underway and we are dealing with all of our encroachments to make sure that all of our properties are conforming,” said Filmer at the Dec. 9 meeting. “I find this one is no different, other than this one they were notified before things were getting out of hand.”
Janik said she believes council’s decision was swayed by neighbours in the Bluffs and a petition that was started against her.
“If they sympathize with me, why do they make decision based on some kind of hate, gossip and why did they make decision blaming me? Because it is easier, they are saying they gave me opportunity,” she said. “What opportunity? Someone made mistake and I learned of this when everything was done nine months later.”
A former employee of Janik’s described the neighbours’ involvement in the process as a “proverbial lynch mob” in a letter to the town this September, which he said was lead by one neighbour.
“She and her father would show up often at the construction site and continue making demands and harass the crew working on Mrs. Janik’s house. I was one of the few workers that were so fed up with Mrs. Jacobson’s intimidating tactics that I was considering quitting my contract and leaving the building site for good. To call such behaviour unfriendly would be an understatement.”
Liz Jacobson, who was mentioned by Janik and her former worker, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
“Some came to me and said, ‘yes I signed petition, I am sorry but we were under their influence,’” Janik said.
Not all neighbours were against Janik — residents across the street said in a letter that the view from their home would be the same, even if the house was 24 inches shorter.
Janik said she does not know what she will do now. She said she may consider trying to sell the house, but she would like to find a way to be able to move in. The cost to rebuild the roof would be too much, she said.
“Once in my life — working so hard — I wanted to have something very nice. It doesn’t matter if I live a year, two, five, ten — I just want to enjoy it because since I came to Canada I work and work and work,” Janik said.