B.C. city prevents owners from moving into new homes after realizing area’s sewage system is at capacity

Several new homeowners in Campbell River, B.C., got a shock earlier this week when the city put a freeze on issuing new occupancy permits, after staff discovered the municipal sewage system in the Maryland neighborhood was already at capacity.

The city said this affects 20 properties in various states of construction in the area — including one belonging to Aleda and Chris Staffanson, who said they were planning to move into their new home this coming weekend.

Instead, they were told on Tuesday that they would not be given an occupancy permit, leaving the couple with nowhere to stay but the camper van in their backyard.

Chris Staffanson said they bought a lot in the neighbourhood last year and had spent upwards of three-quarters of a million dollars on the property, including building their dream home.

“It’s utter incompetence,” he said.

“Surely to god the engineers could figure out how much sewage comes out of one house and how many houses are here and would have known this before they gave a building permit out. An eight-year-old kid could do that math.”

Unable to move into their home, the Staffansons will be living in a camper in their backyard. (Aleda Staffanson)

City officials said it’s not clear how the oversight happened. Deputy city manager Ron Neufeld said the municipality regularly upgrades their infrastructure, but there is only so much work they can do every year.

“This area, which is at the southern extreme of our community, services one neighbourhood and so it was placed as a lower priority,” he said.

‘A ton of lost opportunity’

The uncertainty over when homeowners can move in is also causing problems for those working on the properties, even though the city has given the green light for construction to continue as it tries to address the sewer issue.

“If we have a lot that isn’t already sold, who is going to buy it if we can’t promise them occupancy?” said Bruce Calendar, who runs Big Island Construction and is working on several projects in the area.

They include a planned 19-lot development whose future is now unclear, Calendar said.

“There is a ton of lost opportunity up here. There is a 19-lot strata that has stopped development now,” he said.

The city is now working with an engineering firm to come up with possible solutions.

But Neufeld said they won’t know until next week what their options are, or a potential timeline for people like the Staffansons to move into their homes.

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