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East Sooke yurt wins temporary OK after tussle over code compliance

Times Colonist staff

September 19, 2005

The big yurt in East Sooke doesn’t meet building code requirements for fire safety, handicapped access and washrooms but it can stay at scenic Glenairley as a temporary structure.

yurt in East Sooke
Children explore the yurt, an increasingly popular Mongolian-style cabin, on the grounds of the Glenairley Centre for Earth and Spirit that will be used for eco-programs and gatherings. Darren Stone/Times Colonist

Nine metres across, it was put up this summer on the 10-hectare waterfront property, owned by the Sisters of St. Ann since the 1950s and leased to Glenairley Centre for Earth and Spirit.

“The yurt is beautiful, absolutely beautiful,” said Maureen Wild, one of the founding directors of the centre. The round structure is sand-colored with a mocha top, she said.

Douglas fir beams hold up the roof.
Building inspectors from the Capital Regional District ordered a stop to the work on the yurt in June, and it was completed later in the summer after Glenairley met with building inspectors.

She said the yurt is a place for people in programs at Glenairley to come indoors out of the weather. The property on which the Centre for Earth and Spirit is only a tenant “is a place to have quiet gatherings.”

A report from Seamus McDonnell, the CRD manager of engineering services, said the cottage-sized building contains about 58 square metres of floor space.

“It is apparent that the yurt, as constructed, is not in compliance with a number of requirements of the code, the most significant of which are the fire safety requirements.”

For such “unusual structures,” the report said that building inspection requires a code compliance analysis carried out by a qualified professional.

It would consider fire safety, number of washrooms, accessibility to persons with disabilities and other requirements in the building code.

Members of the CRD’s electoral area services committee voted to deem the building a temporary structure, allowing it to stay until the end of the centre’s fiveyear lease with the Sisters of St. Ann.

No one lives in the yurt or stays overnight, Wild said. “We’re not a motel, we’re just not in that business.

Darin Gradin, one of the owners of Yurtco in Burnaby, said the company has sold several hundred yurts, all over B.C., to Hawaii and elsewhere in the U.S. Yurts are now in B.C. provincial parks, available for sleeping overnight.

“They’re a Mongolian cabin and the classification is semi-portable,” said Gradin.
Yurtco Inc. has never before had to deal with the kinds of issues raised by the CRD about the softsided structure, which is covered in the same kind of fabric as the roof of B.C. Place stadium in Vancouver.

“If you go to most of the (Gulf) Islands, they’re all over,” he said. “We’ve got them everywhere. They’re getting more common.”

They’re catching on as bunkhouses in the north in place of the boxy trailers and can be insulated for temperatures down to 50 below zero.

A yurt can be fitted with plumbing, kitchen and bathroom as well as a wood or gas stove for heating. The biggest ones, like the yurt at Glenairley, sell for between $16,000 and $18,000, depending on the features, Gradin said.

The centre puts on environmental education programs and rents its facility to like-minded groups, said Wild. Its website says it “welcomes children, youth and adults into educational and contemplative experiences.”

It’s a “nonprofit ecological learning centre committed to the protection and healing of Earth through a mutually enhancing human-Earth relationship.”

copyright 2005 Times Colonist

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