Second of three parts
Although her Johnsons Landing home wasn’t directly affected by the landslide that cut through the community in 2012, it changed Gail Spitler’s future.
Spitler, 73, owns ten acres with a house and outbuildings. Before the slide, she didn’t see herself staying in the community much longer.
“The plan was of course to sell this place and move into something more urban and smaller,” she says. “Those plans are definitely on hold.”
Spitler’s property assessment fell 15 per cent a year ago and she was surprised when it was reduced a further 17 per cent on her most recent notice, bringing it close to the original price she paid in 1991.
“You would think if we’re going to get stigmatized, it’s going to happen once and that would be enough,” she says. “The kicker is that nobody knows what the selling price would be.”
Johnsons Landing is made up of two benches, only one of which was affected by the slide, although that distinction isn’t always clear to those not from the area — hence the stigma the BC Assessment Authority recognized when it reduced values outside the evacuation zone by up to 50 per cent.
Whether the decrease is good, bad, or indifferent, Spitler isn’t sure. She has heard of a young couple privately trying to sell a small piece of land, but there haven’t been any takers. “Properties move very slowly here. It’s a matter of finding the exact person who wants to live here.”
‘Tarred and feathered’
Clint Carlson has six acres of waterfront with a house, close to but outside the evacuation zone, which he bought six weeks before the slide. He has since watched his assessment drop by about half, which he considers fair, though he’s troubled by the stigma which he blames on the regional district and media.
“To pay half the taxes while the area recovers I think is sensible. My feeling is that the whole community has been tarred and feathered badly with the evacuation order,” he says. “They haven’t come out and said ‘A good portion of Johnsons Landing is as it was.‘ Everybody’s wearing the same brush.”
Carlson’s family has long roots in the community: his father was a relative of its namesake, Algot Johnson, and inherited his farm in the 1960s. Carlson grew up there and his family has owned different portions over the years.
He doesn’t feel at risk. “I wouldn’t suggest plunking a house in the middle of the slide zone, but they’ve modelled [the slide] with volumes significantly higher than what came down, and it doesn’t change anything as far as my house,” he says. “It’s as good a place as it ever was, except visual aesthetics, which are already improving like crazy.”
Carlson noted the downside to reduced assessments is for those borrowing money.
‘Value is zip’
Greg Utzig has a cabin on 7½ acres adjacent to the slide, the lower corner of which falls in the evacuation zone. His assessment initially dropped about 15 per cent last year and a bit further on appeal.
This year it fell another 40 per cent, and he’s hoping to have it reduced even more, based on the fact the regional district recently extended its evacuation order.
“In my view it means nothing’s worth anything because who’s going to buy a property with that kind of uncertainty?” he asks. “I’ve talked with various appraisers. They said it’s basically zero. Assessed value is supposed to reflect market value, but if there are no purchasers, the value is zip.”
Utzig and partner Donna Macdonald, a Nelson city councillor, still use the cabin, although they park in and walk through the evacuation zone to access it.
As a soil scientist, Utzig acknowledges the risk, which may range from negligible to substantial depending on the time of year, but he isn’t worried.
“The risk driving to Johnsons Landing is probably higher than being in Johnsons Landing,” he says. “There’s either a slide or avalanche north of Lardeau twice a year. You have to put these risks in perspective.”
Utzig called the slide a climate-change related event, one of many that will likely occur over the coming decades, and hoped it would serve as a “learning opportunity.”
However, he doesn’t feel government is approaching it that way, pointing to the lack of formal monitoring to collect additional data (an informal program exists, spearheaded by the Ministry of Forests with help from volunteers).
While the province provided financial compensation to residents whose primary homes were lost, it has stated there is no mechanism to buy out entire neighborhoods affected by disaster. The government maintains the slide was an act of god for which it bears no liability.
Utzig said he and others with second residences aren’t in as dire straights as those whose assets were tied up in now-worthless properties where they can’t rebuild.
He’s optimistic the assessment authority may drop his assessment further. “I think they‘re operating in good faith and trying to take a good approach,” he said. “It’s an unprecedented situation.”
Next: A realtor’s view