Langford Mayor Stew Young says a lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court by the Architectural Institue of B.C. against the city underscores the need for the provincial government to reexamine regulations governing small projects.
At issue is a five-unit townhouse project on Hoffman Avenue that the institute says is in violation of the B.C. Architects Act because it was not designed by an architect.
“I’m very disappointed that they are suing Langford over this,” Young said. “The province is in the middle of an affordable housing crisis and this will only add more cost, red tape and timing to getting small affordable housing projects completed. Our responsibility is to make sure the provisions in the building code are met and the building is safe. We have fully qualified, very experienced staff for that, whether the project is designed by an architect, a designer or off of a computer. Who’s to say the architect’s design is safe? They’re saying they have a monopoly on this on smaller projects. They’re suing the city because we gave out a permit that meets all building code and safety requirements without having an architect involved. We shouldn’t be spending our time and money on this, especially during an affordable housing crisis.”
The Architectural Institute of B.C. is not a government body, but a private body regulated by the provincial government. It provides financial benefits of about three per cent to architects on small projects for work the city is already conducting. “We are all concerned projects are built to code and safe, we’re not there to add costs. They say it’s not about money, but requiring an architect on a small development is burdensome and adds more money to the cost,” Young stressed. “I’m going to speak to the provincial government about reviewing this. The province needs to look at the definition of small projects that require an architect.”
Thomas Lutes, general counsel for the Architectural Institue of B.C., said the decision on whether an architect is involved is based on whether the project has five or more units, the floor size, aggregate size and other occupancy uses.
“A building that requires an architect in Prince George or Langford should have one, no less than a building in Richmond or Vancouver,” Lutes said. “We think the protection of the Architect’s Act should apply across British Columbia, this is not about money, this is about public protection.”
The project at 689 Hoffman Ave. originally involved four dwellings and a commercial component when it was approved in 2011. Completion of the project was on and off for six years before it was reactivated in 2016 with approval for five dwelling units and a commercial component.
Regarding a question about the number of complaints the AIBC receives in a typical year, Lutes said that concerns about local governments approving unlawful building applications were more prevalent years ago, particularly in the Okanagan and in a few areas on Vancouver Island. “The number has dropped off significantly as local governments have come to understand the public protection mandate of the Architects Act and the risks to government and the public by allowing illegal practices in their back yard.”
While the AIBC still receives a few complaints every year involving local governments, they most often occur at the early stages of a project, when they can be readily resolved, Lutes noted. The building in Langford was designed, approved, constructed, and occupied without an architect, and the regulator only found out much later, he said. “This is an unusual case the regulator could not ignore, but the AIBC would take the same approach with any local government. Langford is not being singled out. The city failed to comply with the law when they issued the permit, and that decision must be reviewed.”
A spokesperson for AIBC confirmed the initial complaint was lodged by a member of the public, but could not confirm if it was an occupant of the building before the News Gazette’s deadline.