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‘Sympathetic to the plight’: Sechelt outlines position on Seawatch suits

The District of Sechelt 'is sympathetic to the plight of the Seawatch owners and expects that the owners will continue to pursue their claims against the developer, engineers and others,' a statement provided to Coast Reporter read.  

District of Sechelt has filed two suits against homeowners in the Sunshine Coast’s infamous abandoned neighbourhood. 

The District of Sechelt “is sympathetic to the plight of the Seawatch owners and expects that the owners will continue to pursue their claims against the developer, engineers and others,” a statement provided to Coast Reporter Oct. 20 read.  

It also stated, “The owners’ legal claims against the District have been decided by the courts.” In September 2021, the BC Court of Appeal upheld a lower court decision that a covenant and release attached to the titles of the Seawatch properties released the District from claims made against it in actions brought by the Seawatch owners in 2019. 

"If the owners intend to continue to sue the District, the District has reached the point where it will exercise its own rights under the covenant and require the owner to reimburse the District for the expense of such lawsuits."

Sechelt launched BC Supreme Court actions against owners of seven Seawatch properties on July 13. Both seek judgments against the owners of seven properties in the West Porpoise Bay neighbourhood that has been essentially closed since Feb. 2019, due to risks posed by sinkholes. Those actions remain before the court.

Owners dispute District’s position

Lawyer for those property owners, Jeff Scouten, disputed the District’s statement that his clients are “su[ing] on the same issue once again.” In an Oct. 25 email, Scouten confirmed that his clients filed another legal action against the district in April of this year: a claim for nuisance for failing to remove the permanent fence installed around the subdivision while its state of local emergency (SOLE) was still in effect. 

What Sechelt is seeking in court

One filing asks that the owners be found responsible for costs to repair damage to district infrastructure that occurred as a result of the owners making improvements on and using their properties. Sechelt cites clause 8 in the covenant placed on the properties at the time of purchase that requires owners remove, restore, replace or stabilize any improvements on their properties which have “damaged, adversely affected or rendered hazardous” the local government’s infrastructure. 

The other asks the court to make the owners responsible for Sechelt’s “past and potential future” legal costs related to the matter. Sechelt is asking for that ruling based on clause 7 of the covenant. It put forward a position in that clause, the property owners agreed to indemnify and cover District costs  “for any damage, loss claim, demand, cost (including legal cost), whether as a result of injury or death to any person, or damage to property of any kind, including any claims by third parties, arising from or in connection with the construction of any structures on the [development] or use of the [development].”

In its statement, Sechelt also pointed out, “It is notable that the District could have pursued these claims at any point, but chose not to, until the plaintiffs tried to sue on the same issue once again.”

Reaction from a property owner

Impacted property owner Ed Pednaud expressed frustration over that portion of the statement Sechelt released. In an Oct. 18 interview with Coast Reporter he said the District’s July 13 actions are “clearly to coerce us or bully us into stopping any action that we have against them.”  

“The fact that they want us to repair roads that they themselves do not know are repairable, don’t have a dollar value in mind and would just want us to repair them to a level that they are comfortable with is ridiculous.”  

In Pednaud’s view, “If they were to be successful (in its actions), it means that anybody in British Columbia, particularly in Sechelt, should be getting nervous, because they could potentially be on the hook to repair the road in front of their homes.”

Homes rendered uninhabitable

Equally as distressing as the extended court actions and appeals that have extended the saga, is the damage the homes in the subdivision have sustained. 

When the state of local emergency order was put in place in Feb. 2019, Sechelt had fencing erected around the subdivision and committed to provide monitoring of the area to ensure security. With residents barred from their homes and police officers unable to enter the area due to the “life-safety risks” on the site, the development became a target for thefts, squatting and vandalism. The fencing proved no match for those determined to enter. At one point, it contained what Pednaud described as “a hole big enough to drive a truck through.” Some residents of the adjoining neighbourhood of The Shores had front row seats to ongoing illegal entry into the area and expressed concerns about the security of their homes to both Sechelt  and the local RCMP.  

In February of this year, the province denied Sechelt’s request to renew the SOLE, and the order was lifted. The fencing remains in place, as the municipality has kept sections of Seawatch Lane and Gale Avenue North accessing the subdivision closed. It maintains that the area remains at risk of subsurface instability. Property owners were offered keys to the fence gate, so that they could access their properties. They were advised that entry would be “at their own risk” and signs posted at the site provide a similar warning to the general public.  

Pednaud supplied Coast Reporter with photographs he took in mid-October which show the state of several of the homes. “To be honest it would take hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix each house. Every home has been broken into. If we were told tomorrow that we could move back in, we can’t, it’s impossible,” Pednaud said, noting that vandals have damaged walls, doors, piping and windows, removed lighting and plumbing fixtures, water heaters and left the garbage inside to rot. 

“That’s what happens when you leave a subdivision alone for almost four years without any security whatsoever. People have come to understand nothing will happen to them if they come and go with items out of those houses. People have been living in there.”  

A photo showed a collection of household items assembled near a door of one structure.  “There’s been somebody in there, quite organized and preparing to take out all of the furniture that is left,” Pednaud stated. 

Pending decisions and other options

From Oct. 25 to 27, the BC Supreme Court is set to hear the province’s appeal of a decision that the B.C. government compensate two other Seawatch property owners in relation to the extended state of local emergency that barred them from their homes. The appeal relates to a Jan. 10 ruling, where Justice Gomery found that the province’s weekly renewal of the SOLE which began in February 2019 and continued for three years “ceased to be reasonable after May 17, 2019”.

The province was unsuccessful in seeking a BC Court of Appeal stay of that order before Justice Dickson on May 25. 

The group of seven owners that are the defendants on the district’s July 13 actions and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have both been granted status in that action. 

Pednaud holds onto hope that the recent local government elections may present an option to what has become almost a decade of litigation among the various parties. “With the new mayor, perhaps there is an opportunity to sit down and discuss how we can all resolve this in a manner that could have been achieved years ago,” he stated.

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