The battle against homeowners who illegally expand into public parkland

From trees being chopped down to fences being put up, Bill Karsten and his Halifax regional council colleagues can point to numerous examples of private properties being expanded into public areas, especially around lakes.

From trees being chopped down to fences being put up, Halifax regional councillors can point to many examples

Some homeowners, especially those around lakes, have expanded their yards onto public land, say municipal councillors. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

A municipal councillor wants to draw a proverbial line in the sand and is calling for tougher rules to discourage homeowners in the Halifax region from encroaching on public green space.

From trees being chopped down to fences being put up, Bill Karsten and his council colleagues can point to numerous examples of private properties being expanded into public areas, especially around lakes.

"It's common sense isn't it?" said Karsten, the councillor for Dartmouth South-Eastern Passage. "You're not going to abut onto your neighbour's property. Just because we're a municipality and it belongs to all of us, that's no reason for one person to take a little bit more."

Common sense, maybe. But Karsten isn't the only councillor fielding complaints.

Bill Karsten represents Dartmouth South-Eastern Passage. (Steve Lawerence/CBC)

Sam Austin, who represents Dartmouth Centre, spent months trying to get a homeowner to take down a fence that encroached into the public buffer zone around Oat Hill Lake. Trees had even been chopped down.

"We had a lot of complaints from area residents here about it," he said.

A number of private backyards along Oat Hill Lake meander into the green space, with lawns and gardens extending onto public land.

"This one attracted attention because it was actually fencing off a section of parkland, which upped the ante," said Austin.

The fence was taken down in early December.

Sam Austin represents Dartmouth Centre. (Steve Berry/CBC)

The issue of private encroachment into public parkland is familiar to Karsten, who wants a new bylaw.

"We had a case on Bell Lake where someone cut down a 100-foot wide, 50-feet deep swath of trees," said Karsten.

Karsten said there are also a dozen properties on Russell Lake where people have set up sheds, put in gardens or expanded their lawns.

He's asked staff to look into updating the bylaw and make it clear who should enforce it. Karsten also wants financial penalties, including the ability to charge property owners for new survey costs, if required.

Sheds are one of the structures some residents have built on municipal property next to their land. (Steve Lawerence/CBC)

This isn't just a Dartmouth problem. The councillor for Halifax-Bedford Basin West, Russell Walker, said in an email that "it happens at every green space unless there's a fence."

Cole Harbour-Westphal councillor Lorelei Nicoll has also heard it's a widespread problem. She pointed out in an email that the municipality "doesn't go looking for these situations but would respond to those brought to its attention."

Russell Lake is just one of many areas around the Halifax region where private landowners are using public land as if it was their own. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

About the Author

Pam Berman

Reporter

Pam Berman is CBC Nova Scotia's municipal affairs reporter. She's been a journalist for almost 35 years and has covered Halifax regional council since 1997. That includes four municipal elections, 19 budgets and countless meetings. Story ideas can be sent to pam.berman@cbc.ca

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