The staircase to nowhere

New fence blocks community’s access to trail

A newly installed fence sits at the top of a staircase in The Cottages. Photo SPIN

The same no trespassing sign which once warned trail users not to enter the Fairway Cottages neighbourhood now hangs on a newly-installed chain link fence, warning those leaving the development not to access the trail along the east side of the property.

The tall fence is at the center of a dispute between the strata council of Fairway Cottages, residents, Sun Peaks Resort LLP (SPR) and owners who pushed for access to the trail to be revoked.

The no trespassing sign is one of many placed by the strata years ago in an effort to remind other walkers their common property wasn’t a part of the trail network that connects the resort. The specific section of trail, from a bridge crossing McGillivray Creek to the complex, isn’t marked as part of the network on official maps but has been used by residents for years and is lighted.

The no trespassing sign originally installed by the strata has been flipped around and sits on the new fence. Photo SPIN

The recent installation of the barricade has upset council, who had been working on a solution internally, and residents who are now faced with the choice to trespass onto neighbours’ lots to access the trail or walk around the property on Fairways Dr.

Strata president Robert Prins said council first surveyed homeowners in 2015 after complaints about noise and disruption from non-residents walking across the property.

Results from the initial survey indicated 40 per cent supported keeping stairs open year round, 40 per cent wanted them removed and 20 per cent wanted limited access in the winter.

In the summer of 2016 SPMRM received funding to expand the valley trail network along Sun Peaks Rd. Prins said they waited to see the impact of the new trail and complete another survey in a few years.

A second survey was sent to owners this year. Results tallied in early October supported keeping the stairs. Of 37 homes, 25 responded, 92 per cent of respondents (62 per cent of owners) supported keeping the staircase open year round and adding a handrail.

On Oct. 25 SPR began construction on a fence; it was complete by Oct. 29.

The now-blocked trail is marked in red. Fences have been installed at either end of the trail.

Many residents expressed shock SPR added the fencing with no communication to the strata.

SPR general manager Darcy Alexander confirmed no notice was given but added the issue has been ongoing.

“There’s an internal disagreement in that strata about access through their property and our golf course property there is not their property. I’m not the arbitrator of their internal dispute in their strata but I do have responsibilities to the company to protect their interests across that piece of property.

“That is not the property of people on the strata and it is my responsibility as management of the company that I work with to protect our property rights…but if putting a fence up leads to a resolution maybe that’s part of the process.”

Alexander pointed to liability concerns on the land but couldn’t point to a specific event or complaints that led to the decision being made.

“All I will say is I have received varying opinions,” he said. “In the opinions that have been raised there are liability concerns for our company over access over our property and we must resolve those.”

However since 2014 at least one resident of The Cottages has been vocal in her support of removing access.

Katheryn Coleman has pressed SPMRM and SPR to find a solution to a perceived trespass and liability issue created by the staircase.

Coleman declined requests for further comment but emails shared with SPIN from August to September described her concerns with the access point.

In November 2015, Coleman wrote to SPR that she believed the stairs posed a problem and were used by staff, tourists and others every day.

“It is my best intention to have the council remove the staircase for the risk and liability it presents to all owners in The Cottages but I believe a stronger message from Sun Peaks Corporation will ensure the ongoing issues of trespass cease,” she wrote.

In an Aug. 5 email to SPIN, SPR and SPMRM, Coleman explained concern with trespass and the peaceable enjoyment of her property.

“Sun Peaks Corporation needs to block off the trail access in such a way that access to our property is inconvenient and has consequences tied to it.

“I should think barricading an access road that leads directly off and onto my property would be a simple one,” Coleman wrote in a Sept. 17 email to SPIN.

But, Prins said, since the new valley trail was completed trespassers and complaints have decreased significantly.

“Less than 10 complaints from fewer than three people,” he said.

A number of residents emailed their concerns to SPIN and SPR, including decreased real estate value, lack of consultation and increased vehicle traffic to the village core as people chose to drive. Residents next to the fence now have trail users crossing private lots to bypass the fence.

Homeowner Jenny Hawes said she purchased last year because the trail made her children’s walk to school easy. Now, she said, they want to drive or will face strata fines from trespassing around the fence.

More than the impact on herself and her neighbours, she said, she’s concerned about the message sent to the rest of the community.

“Fences give the impression that there are safety or security concerns…I want to be clear that that’s not the case for our community.

Prins explained they carry insurance which would cover them in place of an incident on the common property.

SPR also installed a fence at the other end of the trail. Photo SPIN

During a strata meeting on Nov. 1 council unanimously passed three motions; to talk with SPR regarding their concerns and survey results and to speak at an SPMRM council meeting. The final motion stated council should tell owners that by-passing internal strata process to address issues with common property would be disrespectful to other owners and condemned by council.

Moving forward Prins said ideally council would like to see the fence removed but he has yet to hear from SPR.

“Council wants to be constructive and solve it and work with the corp (SPR) to address presumably their liability concerns and risk concerns,” he said. “We’re somewhat amazed that Darcy (Alexander) and the resort would erect a fence without actually notifying the strata corporation…that seems very odd as a good neighbour…What is so unique about that little piece of the valley trail that you feel you have to fence that off to minimize your liability?”

Prins couldn’t comment on Coleman’s complaints as the strata wasn’t included in her communication with the resort but he repeated the council’s condemnation of residents speaking on behalf of the strata.

A survey completed by the strata asked if residents would like to see the stairs improved. Photo SPIN

“The only people who are really authorized to talk to the corp (SPR) about risk and liability on the strata (common) property is the strata council,” he said. “If an owner went and bypassed that process…council thinks that’s disrespectful. It’s disrespectful to the rest of the owners especially if the rest of the owners have said I want access to the valley trail.

Alexander told SPIN SPR is open to working with the strata to find a solution that works for all parties.

“They have to make up their mind what they want, there are some people in that strata who want one thing and some people who want something that’s inconsistent with what other people want …we’ll deal with the issue with them if we can but it has to be a reasonable and responsible resolution.

“There are some other conditions on access and liability that we’re going to have to deal with as well as maintenance of a trail for them and I don’t know what that would mean. We’d have to sit down and negotiate and figure out those points and the details of it and also whether other people would be allowed to come through their strata and use it or if they just want it for their strata…and the strata would have to come with the legal authority to negotiate that kind of agreement and that’s something they have to settle between themselves.”

In the meantime residents like Hawes will choose between trespassing on neighbours’ lots and facing strata fines, or walking around the complex to access a trail they can see from their front door.

“I can walk around and that’s fine but what perception does that fence give for our strata…it’s a great neighbourhood,” Hawes said.

“I don’t want this to be an adversarial situation,” Alexander stated. “I just want this to be a responsible resolution that everybody is onboard with…I’m sorry for the inconvenience of a fence at this point in time but it’s part of the resolution.”