City spared $3 million sewer bill

Vernon wins appeal of 2011 B.C. Supreme Court ruling that would see city pay Okanagan Land Development Corp. $2.8 million

Not having to pay almost $3 million to a developer is welcome news for the City of Vernon.

The city has won an appeal of a 2011 B.C. Supreme Court ruling that its latecomer bylaw was invalid and Okanagan Land Development Corp. was owed $2.8 million for building a sewer line.

“It’s a relief to see that we’re doing things in the proper manner,” said Mayor Rob Sawatzky.

Local governments across B.C. were watching the case closely to see if the city’s regulations were upheld.

“The city’s procedures were standard with all municipalities in the province,” said Sawatzky.

Okanagan Land constructed a sewer line along Eastside Road to the Outback resort in 2004.

It insisted the city should have charged a fee to all 53 benefitting properties along the sewer route, whether they connect to the line or not, so it could be reimbursed the cost of the project.

Instead, the city’s bylaws allow for payment towards the developer when someone connects to sewer.

In a unanimous decision, three judges with the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the city.

“The bylaw imposing the latecomer charge is not invalid,” states the decision.

“Vernon acted within its statutory authority and reasonably exercised its discretion in apportioning the cost of the excess service on a per unit basis payable at the earlier of subdivision, application for a building permit or connection. The bylaw is not void for vagueness or uncertainty and is not invalid on the ground that it is discriminatory.”

A spokesperson says there won’t be an appeal of the B.C. Court of Appeal decision because the next step would be the Supreme Court of Canada.

“It’s pretty unlikely they would hear it,” said Reinhard Burke, a Kamloops lawyer.

But he insists his client is not giving up.

“The lawsuit isn’t over,” said Burke, who questions the city’s move towards hillside guidelines which restrict the possibility of development.

“None of the land on the hillside can be developed. As a result, there hasn’t been one single hook-up to the sewer line.”