VICTORIA -- A Saanich couple is no longer facing a crushing $300,000 bill to connect to municipal storm drains in order to build their dream home.

In a close, five-to-four vote on Jan. 11, Saanich council voted to allow Michelle and Simon Gowing to use an alternate system to handle storm water runoff from their Mount Tolmie neighbourhood property.

“We are incredibly happy,” said Michelle Gowing. “If we had to pay $300,000, we would not have a house at all.”

The couple purchased their property in 2019 with plans to renovate the existing house. Though they had completed a home inspection prior to the purchase, they discovered structural issues with the house, forcing them to have it demolished.

“When we found that a number of the structural points of the house had been compromised, we were left with no other choice but to do a new build,” said Michelle Gowing. “We got all our drawings ready to submit (to the District of Saanich) and that’s when this whole storm pipe issue came to light.”

A Saanich bylaw requires new-build homes be connected to the municipal storm drain system to handle storm water. Located at the end of a cul-de-sac, the site for the Gowings new home is located approximately 250 metres from the closest storm drain line.

“Most of the houses on our street are serviced by a ditch or naturally percolate in to the ground,” said Michelle Gowing. “I just about fell out of my chair when I found out it was going to cost $300,00 to connect to the storm pipe.”

It was a cost that the couple felt was beyond what they could afford. In October 2020, they approached Saanich to see if there was an alternate method to handle the storm water from the property.

“It was a very difficult situation that would possibly have meant bankruptcy,” said Simon Gowing. “It would also have forced this plot of land to become multiple homes because our only option would be to sell to a developer.”

Saanich councillor Karen Harper learned of the couple’s troubles from one of her neighbours. She says she felt that, had the family been able to renovate the existing home as they intended, there would be no need to apply the storm drain bylaw.

“When I looked at the bylaw and for anyone who lives in any one of these anomalous areas in Saanich that represent five to ten per cent of the homes, and your home was damaged or destroyed by fire or some other natural disaster, Saanich could require you to build the infrastructure,” said Saanich Councillor Karen Harper. “I just had a real difficulty with that concept.”

When the matter came before Saanich council on Jan. 11, Harper brought forth a motion that would exempt the Gowings from paying to connect to the municipal storm drain system. As an alternative, the couple will include a 20-metre infiltration trench in the construction plans for the new homes at a cost of approximately $30,000.

“Essentially, it is a trench filled with rock and the water goes into it and it filters through slowly,” said Simon Gowing. “The ground has been tested and it has very good infiltration rates, which is different from other areas in the local that have clay or rock.”

Harper says that bringing forth the motion that will allow the couple to finally move forward and begin plans for their dream home was the right thing to do.

“It’s a win, win, win,” said Harper. “It’s a win for the couple, it’s a win for Saanich because all of the protections that they need are clearly articulated and it’s a win for the environment.”

The Gowings have already submitted an application for a building permit to the District of Saanich. They say if they don’t encounter anymore roadblocks, they are planning to begin construction in the summer of 2021.

Michelle Gowing says the couple’s 18-month-old son, Matthew, loves to explore the property and is fascinated with the nature that will be right outside their door. She says they hope to move in to their new home sometime in 2022.

“As long as my son isn’t in university when we enter the house, I’m happy,” Michelle Gowing said with a chuckle.