(Left to right) Michelle, Matthew and Simon Gowing stand on their Ernest Avenue property in front of the pit where their house once stood. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)

(Left to right) Michelle, Matthew and Simon Gowing stand on their Ernest Avenue property in front of the pit where their house once stood. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)

Couple’s long battle with Saanich over a $300,000 storm drain ends with a win

Council approves rock pit drainage system instead of asking residents to buy municipal storm drain

A family’s long battle with Saanich over a $300,000 municipal stormwater pipe concluded this week after council agreed to allow them to pursue another option.

On Jan. 11 council voted 5-4 to allow Michelle and Simon Gowing to install an infiltration trench on their property instead of connecting their new home to Saanich’s storm system.

Michelle said the vote “should’ve really been a no-brainer” as they had provided research and justification for their plans.

The Gowings attended the meeting by phone and spoke at length about the struggles since buying a home at 1971 Ernest Ave. Many neighbours chimed in too – some for and some against the trench plan.

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The couple purchased their home in the summer of 2019 and during renovations it became clear the foundation was cracked and the home wasn’t stable. They demolished it to rebuild.

While consulting with Saanich’s Engineering Department, the Gowings were told the new home would be required to connect to the municipal storm drain. As there isn’t a municipal storm pipe on Ernest Street, the Gowings were expected to foot the $300,000 to dig up the road and install one.

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It was frustrating to hear, but even more upsetting to find out they couldn’t mortgage the infrastructure because it would be installed on property they don’t own.

“If the pipe existed, we would have hooked up, but it’s not there,” Michelle said.

After weighing their options and consulting engineers, the family opted for an infiltration trench – a narrow rock pit that helps excess water infiltrate the soil – to manage stormwater onsite. The concept is listed on the District of Saanich website as a best management practice for stormwater, but the application was denied in early 2020. The Gowings chose to pursue a development variance permit rather than taking the matter to court.

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Upon submitting their variance request in spring 2020, the Gowings were told approval could take 18 months. That’s when the family went public and received an outpouring of support from the community.

On Monday, council approved the request to build the infiltration trench – contingent on approval from the engineering department, provisions for tree protection and a covenant that absolves Saanich of legal risk. Couns. Nathalie Chambers, Rebecca Mersereau, Judy Brownoff and Susan Brice opposed.

Coun. Karen Harper, called the solution a win because it permits the Gowings to build their home, protects the district and allows a stormwater management system that will recharge the groundwater.

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She sympathized with residents dealing with flooding but said there are more systemic ways to address the issue. “I fundamentally do not believe it’s ever appropriate to ask a single person to be responsible for the infrastructure for a neighbourhood,” she said.

Many residents in the area experience flooding during the rainy season and voiced concerns about the onsite drainage system, but council has to balance the risks with the “genuine hardship on this family,” Mayor Fred Haynes told Black Press Media.

While the family will still have many hurdles to clear before moving in with their one-year-old son, Matthew – they’re hopeful things will proceed at “a decent rate” now.


@devonscarlett
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devon.bidal@saanichnews.com

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The municipal drainage system map shows that 1971 Ernest Ave. – and the rest of the street – is not connected to any storm pipe. (District of Saanich)

The municipal drainage system map shows that 1971 Ernest Ave. – and the rest of the street – is not connected to any storm pipe. (District of Saanich)

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