The District of Sechelt is now facing eight new lawsuits over the ongoing sinkhole issues in the Seawatch subdivision and the Feb. 15 declaration of a state of emergency and evacuation that has left the neighbourhood abandoned for the past six months.
The lawsuits also name various other defendants including the developer, Condcordia Seawatch, the province and local realtors involved in the sale of some of the properties.
The property owners accuse both Sechelt and Concordia of knowing about the geotechnical issues, but failing to address them properly, and not informing, or misleading, property owners and potential buyers about the risks.
They also question the legality of “serially extending the state of emergency and evacuation order.”
Vancouver lawyer Jeff Scouten represents the owners of all eight properties at the centre of the actions filed in BC Supreme Court on Aug. 13.
“It’s the position of the owners that I represent that this isn’t an emergency,” Scouten said Tuesday. “If what they want to do is close down an area because it’s not safe anymore, or close the roads because it’s not safe for public access, there are other and more appropriate legal means – essentially expropriation. It’s our group’s position that it’s [been] a misuse of the emergency power.”
Scouten said although the circumstances of his clients are very similar, they aren’t similar enough to pursue the case as a class action.
“There are a number of allegations having to do with the way this development was approved and proceeded. It’s the position of my clients that this was an area of Sechelt that, because of the known geotechnical issues associated with it, should have been examined much more closely… It’s the position of the owners that I represent that there were a number of corners that were cut, steps that were mandated under the subdivision and development bylaw that were either not taken or insufficiently done,” Scouten said.
In a statement released by the property owners after Coast Reporter’s print deadline, Rod Goy, who’s acting as spokesperson for the group filing the suits, said, “In our view, this site should never have been approved for development in the first place. From what we can tell, the District fumbled the ball in assessing the geotechnical risks and failed to follow even the requirements of its own Official Community Plan and Subdivision and Development Control Bylaw in granting a development permit and approving the subdivision”.
The suits also allege the district was negligent by entering into an agreement with Concordia when problems began to appear in 2012 that allowed work on the development to continue.
In one of the court petitions, the owners of a Gale Avenue North home purchased in 2013 claim that had they known “the full details of geotechnical problems and of the true nature and full extend of geotechnical hazards … they would not have purchased the property.”
Their suit alleges Concordia and real estate sales people representing it gave false or misleading “sales representations” despite the fact that “Concordia and its agents knew that the Seawatch Lands had a long history of recurring geotechnical problems, that the causes of such problems and likelihood of them recurring were unknown, and that it was unknown whether, or by whom, remedial work to prevent recurrence of events would be done or whether such work, if done, would be effective.”
Scouten said his clients also maintain the district had a duty, given the situation, to “do more than just stand by” and it should have publicized the extent of the problems and taken measures to inform and protect potential buyers.
All eight of the lawsuits also claim the province is liable because it did not properly act on recommendations made after a fatal 2005 landslide in North Vancouver.
“Had [the province] promptly implemented the more stringent seismic hazard probability level for residential development … the subdivision would not have been approved,” one suit said.
The homeowners are asking the court to impose punitive damages against the defendants because they have “suffered, and continue to suffer, loss and damage” and “mental distress and anguish” and “substantial and unreasonable” interference with the “use and enjoyment” of their homes.
“The fact that the residents of Seawatch now own homes we can’t use and that are essentially worthless appears to be the result of a series of errors made at multiple levels over many years. We hope to get to the bottom of what those errors were in our legal actions,” Goy said.
The homeowners also claim damages to cover costs of “a financial loss equal to the full present value” of the properties, and costs stemming from the evacuation order and the need to find alternate housing.
“I’m hoping the province, the district, and the other parties will be open to dialogue about how to resolve this situation – there’s been a very large human cost for all of the owners,” Scouten said, adding that one possible avenue is to buy out the homeowners “and re-wild the neighbourhood as parkland so that is has some public use… There’s a creative solution waiting to be brought out and it only requires the will of the people involved.”
Representatives of Concordia Seawatch said they were not able to comment because the claims are still being reviewed by company lawyers.
Sechelt communications manager Julie Rogers told Coast Reporter this week that the district would not be making any comments about the litigation at this time.
With the lawsuits filed Aug. 13, the owners of 12 of the 14 homes that have been evacuated are now involved in legal action.
Two other property owners, represented by a different law firm, filed petitions in BC Supreme Court in July, naming only the District of Sechelt and the province as defendants.
Suits filed in 2015 by the owners of a home that had to be evacuated earlier that year and a neighbouring property are expected to go to court in 2020.
None of the defendants named in the new lawsuits has filed a response, and none of the claims made by the plaintiffs in those cases, or the earlier lawsuits, has been proven in court.