Enough is enough — fine derelict-property owners, says Prince Rupert councillor

Cunningham questions a maintenance bylaw with teeth but no bite

Clean up your act or pay the price.

City councillor Barry Cunningham has a few terse words for the home and business owners he feels drag down Prince Rupert’s appeal.

Whether derelict buildings, inadequate snow removal, or unsightly front yards, at Monday’s regular council meeting, on Aug. 21, Cunningham said the city needs to pull the trigger on its Property Maintenance Bylaw and start issuing all qualifying fines.

“We have a bylaw with some real teeth but nothing is being done with it,” he said. “If letters aren’t going to work then we need to start fining these people.”

Cunningham was referring to a recent city managers’ tour of Prince Rupert that identified buildings not in compliance with the far-reaching bylaw No. 3297. Letters were issued to property owners outlining infractions, but when most failed to comply, Cunningham suggests city hall’s lack of followup makes it complicit in the deteriorating condition of private real estate.

The bylaw covers everything from the removal of garbage, graffiti and insect infestations, to more subjective requirements for property owners to uphold an “aesthetic quality.” There are also 11 definitions for “unsightly” infractions, including the accumulation of everything from motor vehicles to dead animals to ash. If property owners do not comply with a letter outlining violations, the city may enter the premises under reasonable circumstances and fix the offence themselves, at the owner’s expense. A fine of up to $2,000 for each day the violation persists may also be levied.

Budget permitting, Cunningham suggested a second person be hired to help the city’s sole, overworked bylaw enforcement officer.

In addition to his own observations, Cunningham has received a half-dozen letters from residents frustrated with the ongoing decrepitude of certain homes and downtown businesses.

During the writing of this article, The Northern View was copied also on an unsolicited email to city hall with a subject line reading “Needs attention now.” The resident attached a small photo a weathered house with tarps over the roof and a makeshift tent in the front yard.

Cunningham meanwhile has singled out the former Dairy Queen building and a house adjacent to the golf course as “prime examples” of residents’ irritation.

“The people I’ve heard from are just the vocal people, but how about the people who aren’t saying anything?” he asked council.

“When you come into Prince Rupert as a tourist, what do you see? You see a boarded-up old Dairy Queen and a theatre that should be torn down. And then you go to the golf course and the first thing you see is a house with two old wrecked cars, some parts laying around and everything else.”

Cunningham also pointed a finger at absentee landlords who he felt lack the will to upkeep their properties, saying if these “speculators” want to enter this community they must be respectful of the privilege.

M&M Ventures Ltd. out of Terrace owns several vacant lots in Prince Rupert, in addition to the complex on Third Avenue West and McBride that once housed A&W.

Co-owner Mike Scott told The Northern View it doesn’t make economic sense to enhance the appearance of the structure as it will be demolished. That’s on hold, however, because he plans to reuse foundational elements, which will need protection from the weather. He said it will likely be one to two years before the site is redeveloped.

“I understand how people might feel about that building, but believe me we have nothing but admiration for Prince Rupert,” Scott said. “My wife [business partner] and I spend a lot of time there, and we hope to spend more time there as time goes by. One of the big reasons we have these properties is because we have a lot of confidence in Prince Rupert’s future.”

In council chambers, Mayor Lee Brain said he speaks regularly with Scott and he’s confident M&M Ventures is a good fit with the community’s interests. “They want it [the building] to be a cornerstone of the community, and for the long term,” he said.

“Things are happening with a lot of businesses. It’s just not moving as quickly as some would like.” In lieu of fines, Mayor Lee Brain stressed a collaborative approach with property owners, particularly businesses. “It’s not just up to the city to punish people to fix their buildings. It’s a community effort,” he said.

Brain noted the repaving of Third Avenue and sidewalk replacement projects as examples of how the city can encourage downtown beautification in the private sector. City staff, he added, are also looking into a community-level, city-wide cleanup, potentially for this spring.

In what was a cordial exchange, however, Cunningham argued the mayor’s next assertion that business owners are finding a solution amongst themselves, in collaboration with the Small Business Advisory Committee.

“It’s great to have new sidewalks you can walk on, but you still have to look at that piece of crap beside it,” Cunningham said. “And the business owners who are getting together are the ones that already have nice buildings … with nice displays in their windows.” He repeated these are not the property owners at issue.

“The city has to step up to the plate and say enough is enough.”

 

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