A BC Supreme Court judge has ruled the City of Rossland was wrong to deny a local man’s request to cut down trees on his properties.
Justice Lindsay Lyster ruled council acted in bad faith when it denied Warren Hamm’s development applications in 2021.
“I do not mean that members of council acted nefariously or underhandedly,” she wrote. “Their motivations and reasons are quite apparent on the face of the record. But they acted contrary to the OCP, and knew or ought to have known that their decisions to reject the applications were unlawful.”
Lyster ruled they imposed obligations on Hamm to prevent logging they found “distasteful,” which amounted to an “improper purpose.”
In 2021, Hamm filed four development permit applications to remove trees from his land. He said a professional forester advised him much of the timber was dead or dying.
However, council took a dim view of the request, concerned that no specific development plan had been presented for any of the lands beyond removing the trees.
Council initially denied one application and delayed a decision on the other three while it sought legal advice. While that opinion was never publicly disclosed, council subsequently denied all of the remaining applications. Shortly afterward the city adopted a more stringent tree management bylaw.
Hamm filed for judicial review claiming the decisions were “substantively unreasonably, procedurally unfair and in bad faith.”
The case was heard last March followed by additional written submissions. Lyster issued her ruling this month.
She has given Hamm two years to reapply for the permits under the old tree management bylaw.
Rossland mayor Andy Morel, who was a councillor when the matter was discussed, said the city is studying the decision but otherwise has no comment.
In an email, Hamm said that he is pleased with the ruling, which will allow his various companies to manage land according to the laws in place at the time they applied.
He noted many councils now record meetings and make them available online to the public and that the online recordings of Rossland council meetings from the summer of 2021 were “a critical factor that supported our application.”
At the time, council was holding its meetings online. However, since they resumed in-person meetings they are no longer being recorded. Hamm said he thinks video recordings should be mandatory and publicly available as an accountability measure.
“As a long term citizen, and taxpayer, in Rossland [I am] very disappointed that mayor and council wasted taxpayers dollars knowingly and laughed about doing it,” he added.
“This kind of behaviour is unacceptable by any elected official at any level of government. These actions combined with their total disregard for the law will likely make this case a precedent setting decision in British Columbia and across Canada.”
Hamm said he has received “numerous” emails, phone calls, and letters of support.
“This decision is a win for all citizens across the country. We will continue to support our local community and city staff who work very hard to provide for all of us.”