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Woolwich adopts encroachment policy

Woolwich’s new get-tough approach to dealing with encroachments on public land now has a written policy. And a number of requests for exemptions.

Earlier this summer, the township identified more than 100 cases where homeowners had taken over use of abutting township property. In about 20 instances, that involved erecting structures such as fences, sheds and gazebos. Other violations included expansion of gardens and walkways.

Meeting Tuesday night, councillors approved a policy that outlines cases where the township might enter into an encroachment agreement rather than forcing the property owner to move off of the public land.

That includes structures in place before 1986, the time of the township’s first comprehensive zoning bylaw review; structures built at a time when a survey was not available; and structures that do not negatively affect the use of township property.

The document was drafted in response to council’s request bylaw enforcement staff move quickly to deal with outstanding encroachments, said clerk Christine Broughton.

In discussing the new policy, councillors were immediately asked to make exceptions, as two delegations appeared before them.

The first involves a shed on a property at 8 Victoria Glen in Elmira, where the structure occupies township land.

“We bought a house with a shed, and now it turns out the shed is mostly not on our property. We didn’t build the shed. It’s not a shed we can pick up and move; if we could, we would have done that,” explained homeowner Bert Menkveld. “We would just like to be permitted to leave that shed until it’s not serviceable. We understand it’s not our property.”

Though no decision was made, councillors appeared sympathetic to the request given the pre-existing status of the structure.

The second request is likely to prove more difficult, especially as others are expected to follow.
In this case, Karen Koebel-Mendlicott of 312 Townsend Dr. in Breslau asked that the township sell to her and a neighbour a large parcel of land at the rear of their yards.

The township land represents about a third of the property she maintains, and about half of that cared for by the neighbour.

Told that much of the yard was not in fact theirs, the neighbours had a survey done.

“When we saw the amount of land that wasn’t ours, it was appalling,” she said, explaining that she fears the land will become unkempt unless sold to the adjacent homeowners.

“Purchasing it would … give us a sense of control.”

Coun. Ruby Weber called for a report on the request, including the purpose of so much land uphill from the nearby trail, but was not particularly open to the idea.

“I’m not inclined to sell off any of our parkland property to anyone,” she said.

While encroaching structures are the most problematic, so-called soft encroachment – cases where people maintain township property as if it were their own land, often planting gardens or flowers – are also covered in the policy.

Broughton recommended existing instances be grandfathered, but that no new encroachments be allowed.

This drew criticism from Coun. Sandy Shantz, who said the practice typically benefits the township. Residents are already expected to tend to municipal property such as boulevards and rights-of-way, so there should be some leeway in letting them beautify the area.

But Coun. Murray Martin pointed out the potential for problems with maintenance, especially where plantings abut roadways or service corridors. If the landscaped areas are damaged by snowploughs or by maintenance vehicles, people seem to feel it’s up to the municipality to restore the area to how it was. That doesn’t fly, he said, because the land belongs to the municipality.

“The public should understand that they don’t any longer own the plants they put on our property,” added Weber.

A report on the two requests and similar ones that have also been received is expected back at a later date.

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