A couple building a home in Salmo say the village is evicting them from their own land.
Cody Puckett and Ashley Nelson have been told they have until Dec. 15 to vacate their 17-acre property at 3 Woodland Dr. after the village cancelled their building permit and cited various violations of Salmo’s building bylaw.
Those infractions, chief among them that the couple has done no construction work on the property since the permit was issued, are being disputed by Puckett.
“The village wants to see progress, but we can’t make progress if we’re not here doing the work,” he said.
The property was purchased by Puckett’s parents in October 2017, with Puckett and Nelson named 25 per cent shareholders. Puckett says they moved an RV onto the property in October 2018, then received a building permit from the village on May 7, 2020. That permit also allows Puckett and Nelson to live in the RV during construction.
Salmo’s building bylaw stipulates a permit can be terminated if “work authorized by the permit is not commenced within six months from the date of issuance of the permit.”
What constitutes work is a source of dispute between both parties.
Puckett said they have spent months clearing the forested area while also milling timber for the home. But in a letter from Salmo’s bylaw enforcement office dated Dec. 1, the village said preparing lumber isn’t the same as building.
Mayor Diana Lockwood told the Nelson Star that distinction isn’t unique to Salmo.
“You don’t have to have a building permit to clear land to get the land ready to build,” she said. “You can own land anywhere and go and prepare it. Take down the trees, remove shrubbery, whatever. And then you would go in and get your building permit.”
Puckett said his family isn’t asking for an extension to the permit. They just want the year already agreed on to finish the home.
“They approved our … permit for one year, and we’re six months into that. We just want them to give us that year that we’ve paid for.”
Who owns the property is also a matter of debate.
The names on the property’s title are Puckett’s parents, Tom Puckett and Karen Johnson. Tom Puckett, an experienced builder, lives in 100 Mile House but hasn’t been able to help out due to pandemic travel restrictions and a heart attack he says he suffered Oct. 17.
That matters because the village has told the family only the owner may live in the onsite RV during construction, but that stipulation also doesn’t exist in the bylaw.
The village also accuses Cody Puckett and Nelson of:
• Not having the RV connected to the village’s water and sewer system, which is required by the bylaw and also impossible given the location of the property.
Puckett said he didn’t understand why they were initially given the permit for the RV if that was an issue.
Up to this point, the pair have been using a pit to catch grey water and a privy for sewage, neither of which the village says are allowed by provincial health regulations. Puckett added they plan to install a well and septic system in the spring.
Lockwood said two other homes near the Puckett property have built their own water and septic systems. Extending the village system to that location, she said, would be too expensive for just three properties.
• Building roads on the property. Puckett said pre-existing logging roads on the property have been cleaned for wildfire mitigation, but that they have not built any new roads.
A provision in the bylaw allows for a permit’s extension “where construction has not commenced or where construction has been discontinued due to adverse weather, strikes, material or labour shortages, or similar hardship beyond the owner’s control.”
Puckett says the pandemic, and his father’s condition, should be fall within that provision.
“If these aren’t times of hardship, I don’t know what are.”
But Lockwood said the family never applied for an extension, and that an extension wouldn’t satisfy the village’s current concerns.
“Everybody has to play by the same rules,” she said.
Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.