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Time to clean up eyesores: City of Powell River council

City looks to crack down on derelict buildings
derelict buildings

For some time, efforts to clean up Powell River’s highest profile derelict building, the Inn at Westview, have been in the spotlight, but it is not the only property causing city council grief.

Two of those problem properties are in the 4400 block of Joyce Avenue, one of Powell River’s busiest streets, in full view of passing residents and visitors. One house, with a sign indicating that the house is private property, is boarded up and condemned. The other, next door, has a number of health and safety complaints against it.

At the Tuesday, November 15, committee of the whole meeting, councillor Russell Brewer said properties like those are giving Powell River a bad name.

“That’s the kind of impact those properties are having on visitors to town,” said Brewer. “We need to deal with that.”

Brewer said the city needs to step up efforts to address the problem of eyesore properties.

Councillor Rob Southcott, who added the item of discussion on the agenda, said the house that is not condemned needs to be cleaned up and is cause for health concerns.

“Clearly this is a violation of our unsightly building bylaw,” said Southcott, referring to the property maintenance bylaw.

Southcott said neighbours of the property contacted him to see if something could be done with cleaning the property up. There is evidence of rats on the property, he said.

Mayor Dave Formosa told Southcott that after the city receives two complaints, city bylaw enforcement is dispatched to investigate. Chief administrative officer Mac Fraser said the condition of the two properties is well known to the city and that “we have been dealing with this for some time.”

While there has been some discussion about creating a new bylaw to help the city deal more directly with properties that have fallen into disrepair due to being abandoned, the city has three sets of rules to use already, such as city building and property maintenance bylaws and provisions within the BC Community Charter that endow local governments with the power to step in and remove private property.

City clerk Chris Jackson, who oversees bylaw enforcement, said that if the city wants to pursue demolition the issue will have to be brought to council and a resolution passed giving the city the authority to go in, clean up or remove buildings and then charge the owner through taxes.

Cities such as Penticton, Maple Ridge and Campbell River have cracked down on nuisance properties through tougher vacant-building bylaws due to increasing numbers of residents complaining about the buildings.

Earlier this year, Campbell River passed its bylaw, which includes a vacant premise registry and city inspections. Under the bylaw, owners have to ensure all doors, windows and other openings on the ground or main floor are covered and secured and the exterior of the building remains graffiti-free and is periodically painted to prevent building deterioration. Bylaw enforcement officers conduct inspections to ensure the vacant buildings meet city standards.

When a complaint comes in, Campbell River’s bylaw officers conduct an additional inspection. If the building does not meet the requirements it is placed on the registry. The owner is notified in writing and has 30 days to bring the property into compliance or be subject to a fine or a remedial action.

Powell River council has asked staff for a report on developing a local vacant-building bylaw.

Jackson acknowledged it has taken time for the city to deal with unsightly properties. He added that both the city’s bylaw enforcement officers work part-time and many properties require the city’s attention.

“We are giving too much leeway with bylaw enforcement,” said Jackson. “The only way we’re going to achieve compliance is through some kind of enforcement action.”

He added that the city is developing procedures with deadlines for compliance.

Meanwhile, council decided to apply a little more pressure on Inn at Westview property manager Jack Barr.

Formosa reported to council that Barr has received two of three estimates for taking down the inn and has received advice that it may be more cost effective to hire individuals and form his own qualified crew than to contract the job to a remediation company.

“Looking at this thing very seriously, I won’t be surprised if it ends up with them dismantling the building on their own,” said Formosa.

In recent weeks, a barrier fence has been erected around the north side of the building.

Council voted in favour of having city staff bring a report back to them outlining the steps necessary to impose a remedial action and a timeline. Formosa voted against the motion.

Before council can intervene in taking the building down it would first have to declare the building a nuisance; so far that has yet to happen.

Fraser told council that he has already largely reported on the issue, but paused this summer to work with the mayor and Barr to find a solution that would not cost taxpayers. Fraser said he is concerned the city will be left with a bill for $500,000 after the property owner walks away.

“Staff is clearly hearing a consensus that [council has] lost [its] patience with the property owner to resolve this on their own and I will bring back a report,” said Fraser.

Brewer said the report would be useful for city to send an official notice to the property owner that the inn has become a problem.

“I don’t think we’ve had a report to an open meeting on this yet, or sent any official correspondence to the property owner,” said Brewer.

Formosa questioned why such a move was necessary. He said the city has Barr’s attention and the situation could be handled better by working with him, instead of putting the city at financial risk for the action.

Councillor CaroleAnn Leishman responded to the mayor and said council has become impatient because the city has been waiting for Barr to come forward with a plan.

“We’ve just asked for a report,” said Leishman, “so you can absolutely go and talk to him.”

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