British Columbia

Central Saanich employs private detective over 'dream' ALR property dust-up

Rajen Mahal and his wife bought a Saanichton property on Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) land with plans to build their dream home.

'I’m not going to be driven out,' says owner who feels picked on

Some neighbours do not want to live beside this estate-in-progress in Saanichton, B.C. (Rajen Mahal)

Rajen Mahal, 41, and his wife bought a Vancouver Island property in 2014 on Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) land with plans to start a nursery and build their dream house, including an elaborate pool, tennis court and massive stone hot tub.

Mahal, who owns a landscaping company, says he needs to park heavy equipment for construction on the Saanichton, B.C., property, just north of Victoria.

But neighbours complained to the municipality that Mahal was storing equipment and running a small office on the former farmer's field.

The municipality sent warnings to Mahal about bylaw infractions, hired a private detective to watch Mahal's activities and later filed an injunction in B.C. Supreme Court.

Then, last month, a court decision thwarted his plans to continue building the estate for his wife and school-aged son and daughter.

This Central Saanich 'dream' home has irked neighbours and sparked a series of bylaw complaints that ended up with the owner rapped in B.C. Supreme court. The rock structure is a 12,700-kilogram hot tub. (Rajen Mahal)

In late June, B.C. Supreme Court Justice John Steeves sided with the District of Central Saanich, saying Mahal wasn't permitted to park trucks and run an office on agricultural land.

Mahal is furious and blames nosy neighbours for complaining to the district.

He argues that officials knew all along he intended to build over time and park trucks near his home during construction.

Estate envy?

The dispute is an example of tensions mounting in many parts of the Lower Mainland as more agricultural land is used for luxury home builds.

In Richmond, debate rages over transitioning ALR land into mega-home properties.

Councillors voted in a moratorium on building permit applications on ALR land, after anger erupted over this issue.

A clay-based tennis court that Rajen Mahal says he built with his own team on his land for his 'aspiring tennis star' children. (Rajen Mahal)

For Mahal, complaints came first from neighbours, then, in a series of official warnings from Central Saanich, which hired an investigator to watch the site.

'Strains credibility'

Last month, a Vancouver judge rapped the property owners, Mahal's wife Kirandeep Johal and Line Level Landscaping and Development Corp., for ignoring bylaws and ordered the removal of work equipment and the small office that was operating without a business licence.

"The office appears to be a busy one," said Justice Steeves in his ruling.

"It frankly strains credibility that such large equipment in significant numbers would be used for the improvement of this property, merely for the purpose of drainage and construction of a swimming pool."

The property owner says he plans to build a living pool, with plants and fish, not unlike a pond in this spot so his children can have their own swimming hole. (Rajen Mahal)

"It is so ridiculous," said Mahal who argues he's being singled out when parking heavy machinery is common on other rural properties nearby.

"My friends tell me this is simple jealousy."

Meanwhile, Central Saanich officials say the owners of the Ridgedown Place property simply ignored rules.

Patrick Robins, chief administrative officer of Central Saanich, said municipalities have many legal tools to investigate alleged bylaw breakers, and while not "common," a private investigator is one of them.

"They've been invading my privacy. Where does this stop?" said Mahal, who says he can't build his planned nursery until he's granted a small business licence.

"They are trying to drive me out of the municipality," said Mahal, who is not done fighting.

"I want my kids to grow up on an acreage.That's why I chose this land. I'm not going to get driven out. If it costs me every dollar I'll fight it. It's not right what they are doing."

Raj Mahal planned to use his landscaping skills and equipment to build his dream estate on the cheap, but his neighbours complained about his use of property in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). (Rajen Mahal)