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West Van tweaks fire bylaw over condo owners storing 'stuff' in parkade areas

The amended regulations won’t change what’s allowed, but make it clear building and fire code rules fall under provincial jurisdiction
Grosvenor building web
The Grosvenor Ambleside building in West Vancouver.

Residents of West Vancouver condo towers who want to store their Christmas decorations, kayaks and snow tires in underground parking garages will have to answer to the province if local fire officials determine those items aren’t allowed.

West Vancouver council voted Nov. 6 to strip many of the specific references about what can and can’t be stored in underground parking garages and the kinds of storage unit allowed there from the local fire bylaw.

That won’t change what’s allowed, said Acting Fire Chief Gordon Howard.

But it’ll make it clear whose regulations are responsible and which government residents can appeal to if they don’t like what they are told.

The issue came to light in recent years after residents in some West Vancouver strata buildings – including Ambleside’s Grosvenor building – objected to being told they weren’t allowed to store household possessions in enclosed storage units in the building’s parking garage.

A number of those building residents felt West Vancouver’s fire bylaw had created additional restrictions that went beyond provincial regulations, according to a recent staff report on the issue.

Immediately after the election in November 2022, the new council asked staff to change the wording of the fire bylaw to allow storage of household goods in parking storage areas. Since that time several senior staffers, including the former fire chief, have left their jobs with the municipality.

The latest fire bylaw doesn’t stipulate what is allowed, but makes it clear the rules stem from provincial Fire Code and Building Code laws.

Howard said while nothing has really changed in terms of what is and isn’t allowed to be stored in parkade areas, residents who disagree with any decision can appeal directly to the provincial B.C. Building Code appeals board, which has already ruled on several similar cases.

Howard said the issue can be complicated and involve whether storage units were properly engineered to fire code and inspected as well as the overall size and design of the parkade and volume of potentially flammable material stored.

“If you had a kayak and you had it on your roof rack that would be permitted.… But if we go in and there’s 100 kayaks, because everybody has two kayaks, that now becomes a problem,” he said.

“There’s a grey area, and there has to be some discretion around the amount of things that can be stored and how they’re stored and where they’re stored,” he said.

But when a larger quantity of household materials is being stored, “generally our perspective is that needs to be in a properly built and rated room that’s designed for that purpose,” he said. “And those are different than just a parking garage and putting the stuff in a corner and building a little boxed-in area and putting the stuff in there.”

“Our goal is to have safe buildings,” he said.

Howard said he has seen photos of storage areas in some strata buildings where “people have built walls around their parking stalls and covered them in plywood and have got them filled with all sorts of things.”

In response to questions from the North Shore News, the Ministry of Housing provided a statement saying, “The matter of combustible items in addition to motor vehicles in a parking garage is complex and requires analysis of the original building design and its compliance with the BC Building Code, as well as analysis of the BC Fire Code and applicable local fire bylaws.”

At the Nov. 6 council meeting Mayor Mark Sager said he was confident the fire department will take “a commonsense approach” to the issue.