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REPORTING · 2nd November 2011
Walter McFarlane
Wendy Kraft stepped up to speak at the City Council meeting on October 17th addressing the topic of Unsightly Premises around the community.

“We’re here to make our concerns known to Council and are requesting your assistance,” said Kraft.

Kraft explained they have been meeting since the end of winter with Mayor Joanne Monaghan. The task force have been discussing what can be done to improve unsightly premises in the community.

“We have discovered that based on the present bylaws, Kitimat is doing everything they can to address these issues. In other words, our administrators have been doing what they can within the constraints of the current bylaws. We would like to recognize the District of this but we feel that it is time to revisit those bylaws,” said Kraft.

She presented four concerns to Council. The first was safety. She stated there were kids breaking into houses and using them. She expressed concern for the stability of these structures and stated the weather could tear pieces off of these buildings creating a hazard.

Fire was the second concern. She said there are reports of youth were lighting fires in these buildings and the Kitimat Fire Department has been called out to them.

The third concern was rats and mice, as these buildings were being broken into, an infestation of rats and mice could pose a health risk.

The forth concern was a visual concern. “We are very proud of our community. Our community is expanding and there are new people coming into town. We regularly, on our committee, and people I know, we hear comments about the condition of some of our houses and commercial buildings. We are also concerned with the state of existing houses that are vacant and the people who live around them. It is very disheartening to look after your home and your yard and have to look out your window and see an eyesore every time you look out the window,” said Kraft.

She said the visual concern is what drew a lot of the people onto this committee.

She stated this problem is not unique to Kitimat. These kinds of buildings are all over the place and other municipalities are dealing with this issue. She asked Council to direct administration to look into strengthening the bylaws.

Councillor Mario Feldhoff expressed he was under the impression they could not do any more then they already had. Kraft told Feldhoff there was a community in the Kootenays which was taken to court. However, there is a building in the North which was successfully demolished by their city.

She told Council the community could issue a notice in the case of a safety or fire issue. They are told they could either fix it or the community would fix it for them and bill them through the taxes.

“We’re looking for more then that. There are some houses on certain streets that are vacant, that are just ready to fall down. Kids are breaking into. There are houses that have several vehicles which are not licensed. One right by my house, been there forever. It’s those types of things. When you have four vehicles that aren’t going anywhere and a house that looks really badly, I can tell you what the perception is. When your grass gets that high, man the District is right there and that’s because they can. They have the ability to go there, mow your grass, and put the $200 on your taxes. But really, you haven’t got what it takes to address the health, safety and fire concerns. There isn’t an easy way for this Mario, there really isn’t, but the bylaw is a start,” said Kraft.

Feldhoff explained they can not just bylaw what they want, they have to look at Canadian Case Law. He wanted to find out what worked in other communities. Kraft said there are bylaws in other communities with stronger wording.

Councillor Randy Halyk said he has been looking at this for some time. He said Council has the power to do something but it could cost the community if they go too far. The community has to pay to tear down a building that is unsafe or unhealthy. Then they could find themselves taken to Court. He was eager to hear any recommendations the group could come up with. He added Victoria has had some success.

Kraft agreed. She stated the communities strengthened their bylaws. She added it was not their place to investigate bylaws. They do not want the lawsuits or the taxpayer burdens. However, with the stronger bylaw, they could find home and business owners might be more encouraged to maintain their structures.

Councillor Bob Corless asked if they have met with property owners. Kraft said it is a delicate situation. They have no clout, they are people who pay taxes.

Councillor Corinne Scott said she had talked with Monaghan about unsightly premises when she first moved to Kitimat. She said they were able to demolish buildings in Alberta for health and safety reasons. When she was told they did not have the power, she read the Municipal Charter and compared it to Alberta. She found the BC Charter was not as strong as the one in Alberta. She suggested taking this to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.

On a final note, Kraft said she found they could forward information about cars sitting on properties, un-driven and un-licensed to the District to have them do something about them. They want to start small and work up to the bigger items.

Under communications, Councillor Rob Goffinet made a motion to direct administration to look into strengthening the current bylaws to address unsightly or dangerous premises and report back to Council.

Feldhoff asked the Chief Administrative Officer, Ron Poole, as to how much room they have to strengthen the bylaw. Poole said he would have to look into it because he is not familiar with the bylaw. He said they would return as soon as possible with a report.

Halyk wanted to know if policing the bylaws was a part of the issue. If health and safety are key points for approaching owners, it has not been done.

Corless suggested killing two birds with one stone: “Perhaps we should think out of the box and every time we have a celebration, we’ll burn one of them down.” The motion to strengthen the bylaws was carried.