Illegal reno threatens West Van townhouse structure: lawsuit

The District of West Vancouver and a pair of residents are headed for court over alleged illegal renovation work that may be threatening the structural integrity of a townhouse complex at West Royal Towers.
In a court petition filed in October, Philip and Raven Garrow accuse the district of unlawfully putting a stop-work order on their townhouse renovation at 348 Taylor Way. The district, however, says the work would never have been granted a permit.

According to court documents, the Garrows received a building permit in April 2020. But, less than two weeks later, the strata complained the Garrows were drilling into the building’s concrete slab without permission and district staff slapped a stop-work order on the site.

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In their petition filed in October, the Garrows admit they drilled three holes into the concrete slab – but they say the holes were included in the plans approved by the district before getting their building permit.

The application included a letter from the strata manager, approving the renovations, but the letter specified that any modification of the concrete slab is “strictly prohibited.”

“The structure of concrete floors is post-tensioned and any damage to the cables embedded in the concrete floors could cause catastrophic damages to the structural integrity of the building,” the letter stated.

A structural engineer hired by the strata investigated and found that, in addition to several steel rebars, three post-tensioned cables had been cut “in a manner that, while not resulting in an immediate safety concern, has compromised the integrity of the structure,” the court documents state.

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Images from a court affidavit show holes drilled into the concrete slab without permission. photo District of West Vancouver

That engineer recommended the work be halted so a repair strategy could be developed. The documents go on to say the strata is attempting to prepare a report that details what those repairs should be and how much they will cost, but it has been “delayed by the petitioners’ obstruction of access to the unit.”

The Garrows’ own engineers submitted affidavits in which they conclude the building remains safe despite the cables having been cut.

“I confirmed that drilling the three holes and the resultant damage of the three PT cables in the second-floor concrete slab did not create an unsafe situation with regard to the structure of the building,” Anthony El-Araj wrote.

In their response to the petition, the district asserts building permits in strata units are valid only if the work has the continued approval of the strata, and the Garrows’ submitted plans “do not, either explicitly or by necessary implication, depict any proposed new openings into the slab.”

In May, the district suspended and cancelled the business licences of two of Philip Garrows’ companies – ADC Projects Ltd. and ADC Holdings Ltd. (also known as ADC Homes) “due to findings of repeated and serious issues with work being undertaken without permits, contrary to explicit stop-work orders and the creation of safety hazards on properties” under their control, the court documents show.

A letter from district staff to the couple, which included the district’s sworn affidavits, lists stop-work orders issued at eight West Vancouver addresses due to incidents of unpermitted blasting, construction, and tree removal, encroachments on district-owned rights-of-way, failure to pay permit fees or have inspections done, structural and safety concerns, environmental damage and risks to neighbouring properties. One of the properties listed is a home at 733 West 20th St., which the district is currently seeking a court order to have demolished.

Because the Garrows' engineering reports related to the Taylor Way townhouse came via their company with its business licence pulled, the district says it cannot accept them.

Meanwhile, the unit has been uninhabitable because work had already begun but the Garrows say they continue to make mortgage, strata and municipal tax payments.

“The work did not create any unsafe structural conditions, was not unauthorized and did not involve any infractions,” their petition states.

The Garrows are asking the courts to have the stop-work order declared unlawful. They are also asking for an order that would prohib the district from issuing any further ones or doing anything that amounts to “hindering, delaying or otherwise interfering” with their property rights. They are also seeking a declaration that the original building permit is valid. The district is opposing all of those requests.

The land on which the leasehold condo towers and townhouses were built is owned by the District of West Vancouver.

The matter has not yet been scheduled for trial.

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