Local bylaws an obstacle course

The laws with the greatest effect on our daily lives are made not by the federal and provincial governments, but by local governments. The inspector who decides your building is too close to your neighbours will cause you more sleepless nights than whether the Canadian navy buys the right kind of ship.

Bylaws passed by the municipal council have a real effect on how we live and whether a business will decide to move to the Town of Brome Lake. Sign laws, zoning restrictions, and worries about the environment are now more strenuous than they ever were, which almost everyone would agree is a good thing.

But put five or six locals together, and soon the talk will turn to the rules and regulations. There are many in this town. If you live in the older part of town, you have to have to get permission if you want to put on a new roof or change your windows. The committee only meets once a month, so if you miss it, you have to wait.

Start a new business, like a restaurant, and you have to have the right sign and be in the right part of town. Of course, zoning rules are there to protect the neighbours who probably don’t want a commercial property next door. But the hapless business owner might have to wait months to get approval for a sign. No sign, and who knows what the business does?

One local activist joked that the only growth business in the Town of Brome Lake is the inspection business. Witty, but not totally true. There are two town employees who are full-time inspectors: one for buildings, another for the environment. There is a person who is in charge of them, and then there is the Urbanism Committee, a group that rules on things such as architectural purity and signs. It would certainly be worthwhile to have an independent navigator that could help citizens sort through the red tape and give a realistic time frame as to when and how a project could become a reality.

Even the mayor and councillors realize things are a bit out of hand. The good news is the Town Council is going to do a review of bylaws this year. “We are looking at changing or modifying a lot of the bylaws this year to make it less restrictive,” says Mayor Richard Burcombe. Co-incidentally, West Bolton has already hired an independent consultant to review its bylaws.

Many of the actions taken by the town come once a citizen com- plains. Once that happens the town has to act. Bylaws are bylaws, and when they are enforced without flexibility, people feel hard done by. Let’s hope that relaxing some of the more onerous bylaws will make our lives easier and less like an obstacle course