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Let down over letdowns

In the fall of 2009, Larry Pye and his wife looked around Burke Mountain and liked what they saw. They studied the single-family housing plans on Gislason Avenue in the Hyde Park subdivision and agreed to buy, forking over $40,000 as a down payment.

In the fall of 2009, Larry Pye and his wife looked around Burke Mountain and liked what they saw. They studied the single-family housing plans on Gislason Avenue in the Hyde Park subdivision and agreed to buy, forking over $40,000 as a down payment.

But before they signed on the dotted line, Pye asked several times about the driveway letdowns - the concrete ramp from the driveway to the street. He said the salesperson for the builder, Foxridge/Qualico, said the company wasn't happy with the narrow 3.5-metre-wide slopes built by the developer, Wesbild, but negotiations were happening between it and the city.

Pye said he was reassured the issue would be resolved by the time they moved in. Still, when construction started last January, Pye watched the development of his new home and there was no change to the letdown. And on move-in day - April 1, 2010 - it was the same.

Last summer, Pye and his neighbours got angry when they saw wider 4.5 m letdowns being built nearby in new developments.

Pye picked up the phone and complained to city hall and council. "I got the same old, same old," he remembered. "I could see there was a pattern developing. They said, 'We are aware of it' but did nothing about it."

Pye isn't alone.

About 200 Burke Mountain homeowners in the Upper Hyde and Smiling Creek neighbourhoods have 3.5 m letdowns - a standard introduced by council in 2003 tailored for northeast Coquitlam, where the city plans to add 24,000 residents over the next 15 years.

The aim of the 3.5 m wide letdown is to increase on-street parking in densely populated areas. On Burke, some lots are half the size as in other parts of the city, said Coun. Brent Asmundson, a Burke homeowner and chair of the city's engineering committee, which discussed the topic last month.

In the city's subdivision and development servicing bylaw, No. 3558, 2003, the 3.5 m dimension is the general rule, although developers have the option to vary their letdowns up to 6 m. "Some did, a lot didn't," Asmundson said.

Mark Zaborniak, Coquitlam's manager of design and construction, said the 3.5 m letdowns have worked well at some Burke homes with single- or double-wide garages.

The problem with about 150 others, he said, is that the letdowns don't match the driveways, resulting in homeowners driving over their grass and curbs as the slopes are off centre.

Last summer, city planners decided they had heard enough complaints about the 3.5 m letdowns and set a new standard - 4.5 m or higher - for Burke; since then, there have been no complaints, Zaborniak said. Meanwhile, city staff are also paying closer attention "to having the letdown in a logical place in terms of where it's anticipated the house is going to be put on the lot," he said.

Zaborniak said the city has spoken with builders involved and, last fall, Morningstar Homes installed concrete triangles in about 80 locations to ease the transition between the driveway and letdown (a call to Morningstar was not returned).

As well, the city sent out letters last month to homeowners in Foxridge/Qualico homes, asking if they wanted the same retrofit. Zaborniak said half of the owners have responded and 90% want the triangle (a final letter will be mailed out later this month).

Qualico's Jake Friesen declined to comment on the driveway/letdown controversy, saying, "It's a city issue. It's on city property. The city sets standards and tells the developer where to put them."

As for the concrete triangles, "Unfortunately, it's at our expense."

Calls to Wesbild were not returned but, Asmundson said the builder is to blame for the poor alignment as it is responsible for tying in the driveway with the letdown.

"When the developer built the letdowns, they knew these were narrower letdowns," he said, "but it's the builder's responsibility to line up the driveway of the garage with the letdown. You have to centre it."

Asmundson also cited the buyer-beware principle. "People should have realized, when they bought, it was a single-wide letdown," he said. "When you buy a house, you can ask for a change to be made or you don't buy that property. You have to get those things in writing."

Zaborniak was cautious with his words about liability. "I would say there was a bunch of factors that happened: It wasn't just the developer. It wasn't just the builder. I think 4.5 m is a better width as a minimum than 3.5 and we've recognized that."

Pye said he's tired of everyone pointing fingers and wants the city to pay to rebuild his curb and letdown, estimated at $5,000. The city has refused, citing the prohibitive cost: $5,000 times 150 homes equals $750,000.

"The triangles do nothing but make it look prettier," Pye said. "There's no practicality to them when you have a 3.5 m letdown because you're still going over the curb.

"To me, it's a safety concern," he said.