GATINEAU, Que. — Quebec Superior Court has ordered the demolition of a sumptuous Gatineau, Que., home that was built too close to the road, with the city required to foot the bill.
In a ruling this week, the court quashed a July 2014 city council resolution that had granted the homeowner an exemption for the home valued at nearly $3 million. The ruling is the latest twist in an eight-year battle over the property in the city’s Aylmer borough.
The ruling describes how the home’s owner, Patrick Molla, had thought everything was in order when he was granted permits to build in May 2013. That September, the city discovered the permits had been issued in error, but it never ordered the owner to cease construction. Instead, the ruling says, Molla was told the issue would be resolved with an exemption, and in February 2014 the family moved into the house.
Neighbours, however, complained about the property, saying it didn’t fit with the rest of the neighbourhood and contravened a bylaw because it was not far enough from the street. The bylaw at issue states homes must be at least 15.67 metres from the street, instead of the seven metres for the home in question.
Gatineau city council tried to fix the mistake by adopting a resolution in July 2014 ordering a “minor” exemption, but that was nullified in this week’s court ruling. In a 51-page decision Tuesday, Justice Michel Déziel sided with the neighbours who sought to have the exemption declared illegal, alleging it was an abuse of power and a disguised zoning change.
They wanted the house demolished if it could not be made compliant with bylaws. Déziel said that even if it was a good faith error on the part of the city, the infringements detailed by the neighbours were too serious to let stand.
The judge placed the blame squarely on the city, saying Molla was given no reason to believe his project would face problems.
“Had he known the risk of eventual demolition, he would not have continued construction on Sept. 25, 2013,” the judgment reads. “Reassuring him about this technical error which will be corrected by a minor exemption at the expense of the city, he continues to invest his ‘retirement fund’ in his house to the tune of approximately $3 million.”
The judge wrote there appeared to be no other option than demolition, and the ruling noted that while the city asked the court not to order the house’s demolition, it didn’t propose any other solution to the matter.
A message sent to Molla’s lawyer was not immediately returned. Molla is suing the city for $3.6 million, alleging its planning department acted dishonestly in allowing construction to continue, despite knowing the consequences of such a decision. Damages sought include $2.95 million in construction costs and six-figure sums for damage to reputation, loss of use of the premises and troubles and inconvenience for the family. That action is still pending.
The city has countered that professionals hired by Molla were responsible for the breach of the zoning bylaw. It has said that if damages are awarded to the homeowner, the land surveyor and the architect should also be liable.
Sébastien Gélineau, a lawyer representing the neighbours who went to court, said Thursday his clients were satisfied. “They are happy with the decision,” Gélineau said in an email. “They ask that their privacy be respected.”
The latest case was heard over six days last month. The city has 30 days to decide whether to appeal.
“Our legal department is in the process of analyzing everything, therefore no comments will be made on the file,” the city said in an emailed statement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2021.
— By Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal