City of Powell River issued a stop-work order after receiving reports that renovations at the former Olive Devaud Residence were underway without the building’s owner acquiring a permit.
Previously owned by Powell River Sunset Homes Society and used by Vancouver Coastal Health as an assisted-care facility for seniors, the 51-year-old building was sold to Starium Development in the fall of 2016.
Starium owner Shih-tao Lu, owner of Vancouver travel-tourism career institute Eton College, bought the historic Powell River building and plans to convert it into a student dormitory.
City building inspector Graeme Stewart said the city issued the stop-work order on April 19.
“It came to our attention through a complaint that renovations were being done,” said Stewart. “No one is supposed to be working in there or staying overnight.”
WorkSafeBC was also notified, though not by the city, that possibly hazardous work due to unknown asbestos contamination was underway without a permit, he added. WorkSafeBC has also issued a stop-work order.
Cancer-causing asbestos was a common additive to drywall mud and tape during construction in the 1960s. If left undisturbed it does not pose a threat to health, according to WorkSafeBC.
Stewart confirmed that the city had an active permit for asbestos removal at the building.
Stewart responded to the complaint from the building’s neighbours and found that work was being done.
“They were trying to install shower stalls and turn rooms into little individual dwelling units,” he said. “We’ve always told them exactly what they have to do in order to occupy the building and they just tried to get around it.”
Eton College director of operations Nicole Beaulieu stated in an email that she was unaware of the status of work being done on the building and did not have an update.
Since the stop-work order was issued, the city has informed the new owner that an architect needs to be hired to review the building to see what work is necessary to bring it up to current BC Building Code standards, and that it will probably need seismic upgrades.
“They are thinking about using the building as a dormitory for students,” said Stewart. “We’re not going to let anything go. We want that building safe.”
City director of planning Thomas Knight said signs indicating that the stop-work order had been issued were posted to the building’s exterior doors.
Knight said the city has better uses for its resources than actively monitoring the building for order violations. The city relies on neighbours making reports on activity, he added.
“When someone comes in with a contractor’s truck, we hope someone will report it,” said Knight.
Stewart said city bylaws allow for progressive fines and bringing the owner to court if compliance is not reached.
The city issued occupancy conditions for the building to Sunset Homes in December 2015 after it and Powell River Educational Services Society started using it as a temporary shelter for people at risk of homelessness.
Conditions placed at that time, which continue to stand with the new owner, include limited access to the building with only a security guard and minimal staff.