Carleton North’s tiny home community facing legal action

by | Mar 14, 2024

WVRSC orders four families to remove structures from Riverbank property

When Kristin Wood and her family purchased a piece of land in Riverbank, a rural community outside Florenceville-Bristol, in 2020, they envisioned creating a better life for their children by following what is known as the “Tiny Home” movement.

“We wanted to live here in peace and create a better life for our children and not drown under a mountain of debt,” said Wood.

Wood and three other families moved onto the 1.2-acre piece of land in 2022.

Initially, the residents, which included eight adults, seven children, and an assortment of animals, lived in campers. Eventually, they moved three tiny homes onto the property in August 2023.

Wood shared that they did their homework before moving the homes onto the property to ensure they met any requirements.

However, she said that after searching multiple government websites, they could not find any specific requirements for homes under 625 square feet, so they went ahead with installing the homes.

Still wanting to ensure compliance, Wood contacted the Western Valley Regional Service Commission on Aug. 9, 2023, to inquire about a development permit so they could get water and sewer installed.

“That’s when the trouble started,” said Wood.

According to Wood, Building and Development Inspection Manager Brent DesRoches inspected the property on Aug. 11, 2023.

On Sept. 8, 2023, they received a Notice to Comply stating that the families were in violation of three provincial building statutes, including being in a no-build zone. They were informed that they would have to remove their homes from the property.

Wood said she was shocked to receive the letter.

“There was nothing in the legal paperwork from the purchase stating there was a no-build clause,” Wood said.

Wood immediately started investigating and found that GeoNB no longer shows their property as being in a flood plain and that there was no evidence of a no-build clause.

Wood said they contacted an associate at Langdon Law who, she said, could find no restrictions on the property. Their lawyer shared those findings with the District of Carleton North on Feb. 26, 2024.

On Oct. 26, 2023, when served a second Notice to Comply, Wood said they tried inquiring as to what other options might be available besides removing the homes from the property.

“We would have been more than happy to work with them,” said Woods.

Since part of the problem is that the property is allegedly in a flood zone, Wood says they asked if they could do trenching work or install culverts to help protect the property. However, they did not receive a clear answer.

The other issue is that the no-build clause pertains to permanent structures.

“So, we asked if we could put wheels on the homes to make them mobile,” said Woods, “But no one would answer me. No one seemed to be able to define what constitutes a permanent structure.”

Wood expressed frustration with the lack of answers and communication, noting she contacted the District of Carleton North, the Western Valley Regional Service Commission, Bruce Hansen (the area’s septic inspector), and even Carleton-Viictoria MLA Margaret Johnson.

“Nobody answers my questions; I just keep getting passed around,” vented Wood.

The family received a final notice to comply on Nov. 10, 2023. Wood said that was the last they heard from the District or the Western Valley Regional Service Commission.

“We had no idea anything was happening until my husband saw our name in the council notes on Nov. 23, discussing legal action,” said Wood.

She said the families have lived under an “umbrella of stress and anxiety” since then.

“What really frustrates me is that we lived there for a year in campers, and no one had a problem with it,” Woods said.

On Feb. 27, Wood and other residents of the property attended the District of Carleton North council meeting, petitioning the District to retract the order to comply or to remove any existing no-build clauses.

“We did this for our children, their futures,” pleaded Wood.

Mayor Andrew Harvey said the residents moved forward with their plans without ensuring they could.

“The concept of what you’re doing is good, but you jumped the gun,” he told them.

While the District may consider the concept of tiny homes in the future, under existing regulations, what they are doing violates multiple laws.

“We don’t make the rules,” Harvey told the River Valley Sun.

He explained that properties located outside former municipalities are subject to provincial building regulations enforced by the Western Valley Regional Service Commission.

He said that the Riverbend property violates three rules. It is in a no-build zone due to being in a flood plain, has too many dwellings on one lot, and doesn’t have a septic system, which he noted they can’t get because they violate the other two regulations.

“Unfortunately, when you’re in violation of three provincial statutes, the Western Valley Regional Service Commission has to enforce the rules and those are the rules,” said Harvey. “You have to follow the rules.”

WVRSC Development Officer Christie Dickinson confirmed that despite the amalgamation, provincial regulations still apply in former LSD areas. She explained property owners must comply with those regulations to receive a building permit.

“I would note we issue permits on a regular basis for dwellings under 625 feet,” said Dickinson. “The issue here isn’t the size of the structure; it’s complying with existing regulations.”

Dickinson shared that as of Feb. 28, the commission referred the issue to lawyers at the District of Carleton North’s request.

“It’s been a long-term attempt to rectify or assist [the family], but to date, there hasn’t been any movement. We weren’t left with any other options,” said Dickinson.

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