Float home owners elated with licence agreement

Years of conflict resolved by new head of Greater Victoria Harbour Authority

A new agreement with the Greater Victoria Habour Authority has put an end to years of resentment and frustration among float-home owners.

This fall, the two parties were marching off to court when a call ended a potentially bitter and costly legal settlement.

“We got this phone call from the new CEO of the GVHA, Curtis Grad,” said Kim Young, chair of the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Association. “He said, ‘why don’t we just down and talk?’ and it was incredibly refreshing … His whole attitude seemed so different than what we’d experienced.”

Unpredictable moorage-rate increases have been at the heart of the disagreement.

The GVHA’s previous CEO implemented a policy of bringing rates in line with the market. The result was an annual increase in the neighbourhood of 10 per cent, leaving residents either priced out of the wharf, or plagued with uncertainty about future increases. Through the courts, the residents hoped to achieve some of the same rights afforded to rental tenants.

Grad, was open to making changes to give residents predictability and transparency.

“When I arrived on the scene, I decided I would like to take one shot at trying to resolve this before the court resolved it for us,” said Grad, who started in March. “We were far apart, and we were because we weren’t  talking.”

Grad extended the float-home owners’ licence from one year to three years.

He set a new formula to determine moorage increases, with input from the float-home owners. Rates will be set in line with market in the first year of every new licence signed, and will rise two per cent in both the second and third year.

“We looked at float-home communities throughout the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, agreed on a comparable communities, and that’s become the basis for (setting the market rate).” said Grad.

He also, for the first time, acknowledged the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Association as a body representing the 33 float home owners. The two parties signed a 10-year memorandum of agreement outlining the terms of their relationship.

The new agreement, however, does more than establish policies deemed fair by the residents. They represent a change in philosophy for the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.

Servos’ argued against offering any long-term stability for the float-home owners on a principle of fairness. He deemed them an acceptable use of the harbour only insofar as no competing uses offered greater benefit to the wider community. He called the float homes philosophically difficult because they offer exclusive use of a public amenity to a few private citizens.

Grad comes at it from a different perspective.

“A licence by its very nature is a use of a common-use property, it is not exclusive possession,” he said.

In 2012, Grad will come before Victoria city council to rezone Fisherman’s Wharf. While float homes are now legal non-conforming, he aims to change the zoning designation to bring them into conformity.

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