Massive, illegal underground construction links houses into super-estate

Council allows for owners' building violations under bylaw

Town Hall will allow for a massive subterranean development linking two properties on Treetop Lane, despite the secrecy of its construction and the violation of municipal bylaws.

A neighbour of the two houses tipped off the Town Building Department in June, 2011. An inspection found a "considerable" expansion not part of the approved design plans, including an extra bedroom, en suite bathroom, massage room, den, wine room, weight room and tunnel. Their discovery forced the properties' single owners, Donald and Caroline Roussy, to find a way of bringing the properties into compliance.

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Following a building-code analysis that ruled construction standards of the site to be acceptable, mayor and council approved the Roussys' Development Variance Application at the regular council meeting Aug. 20. The move effectively put the two houses into compliance with building bylaws.

"This tunnel business is completely unique," Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said. "But building space that is contrary to the building bylaw is not unique in Whistler."

The RMOW estimates there are hundreds, if not thousands, of illegal basements and crawlspaces in Whistler. There is a strict, maximum amount of floor area permitted for new developments. Homebuilders and renovators wanting to increase their floor space did so by secretly expanding underground.

"We had gone through the whole enforcement procedure (in the past) and it just didn't work. So rather than have all this space out there that was illegal and being used, we took the other approach."

Concerned for people's safety, Town Council in 2012 adopted bylaw No. 1992, at the recommendation of the newly-formed Illegal Space Task Force, which excluded basements from the maximum floor area. The bylaw allowed homeowners to report their modifications retroactively and bring the homes into compliance. But never has the town seen an unauthorized development of such scale, linking two homes together. The properties now essentially function as one estate, with roughly 3,900 more square feet of living space for the sole occupants.

Morden said forgiving homeowners of illegal builds in the past, more than satisfies safety concerns, but also benefits the tax role.

"We want it to be safe, and we want to be sure taxes are being paid on it. Because effectively, what people who owned property who didn't have illegal space in it, they were paying proportionately more than what people were paying with illegal space. So let's make this fair, and let's make this safe."

In a July letter to council, neighbour Leslie Darc, who previously filed litigation against the Roussys for the construction of an unauthorized gate across their strata driveway, wrote that the approval of this variance permit would be a direct affront to the rights of other property owners.

"We have never liked the fact that our legitimate expectation of living in a strata of three single family homes has never been achieved [If] the municipality wishes to declare its indifference to its own by-laws and set a precedent for its home owners, then this is the opportunity to do it."

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