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City warns derelict building owners

Once the Red Cross Hospital, attached buildings on 4520 Little Ave. are in a state of disrepair. The photo above was taken in April 2012. The left-hand side of the structure above has a municipal demolition permit taken out early this year, but as of last week most of the structure was still standing.  - Lauren Benn
Once the Red Cross Hospital, attached buildings on 4520 Little Ave. are in a state of disrepair. The photo above was taken in April 2012. The left-hand side of the structure above has a municipal demolition permit taken out early this year, but as of last week most of the structure was still standing.
— image credit: Lauren Benn

The City of Terrace is putting its foot down on three local building owners with properties deemed dangerous and unsightly.

Owners of three properties on Little Ave. —  4450, 4440, and Terrace’s first hospital at 4520 — have each recently received a letter from the city demanding they make plans to shape up their buildings and properties.

After public complaints, some of which have accumulated over the years, it is not the first time the city has intervened over safety and appearance issues — the letters received by owners last week mean the city is closer to reaching grounds to begin a demolition order process if action isn’t taken soon, said staff.

“These last letters that were sent are really an ultimatum,” said city planner David Block, noting that applies more to 4450 and 4440 Little Ave.

“The one farther west (4520) hasn’t had quite as bad a history.”

But there are issues with the three nonetheless, he said.

“They’re falling apart,” said Block. “At least some of the portions of the buildings on each property are sitting vacant and unused.”

Over the years, neighbouring residents to the properties have made valid complaints to the city, he added.

“They’re unsightly, the yard areas aren’t getting maintained ... they’ve been boarded up, but some of that boarding has been removed,” said Block. “It’s almost a surprise that with evidence of people breaking in and sheltering or hanging out in the properties that they haven’t had fires in them.”

Stray animals taking residence in the buildings is also an issue.

Letters were received by owners last week.

“As your property may be adversely influencing the property values of other properties in the vicinity, it is perceived your building is a nuisance,” said a letter sent to owners of the three properties.

“Buildings appear to be degenerating with no apparent plans in place to reconstruct or demolish the structures.”

The letter further encouraged demolition to happen as soon as possible if that’s the intent —  owners of 4520 Little Ave. demolished part of their building after taking out a permit earlier this year.

“At this time the City of Terrace requests that you present a proposal of your intended use of the property and the structures currently there with a timeline for that development,” said the letter.

The deadline for such a response is August 30.

Block explained that if action isn’t taken, there may be grounds for the city to begin the demolition order process on certain buildings — which would require a vote by council to proceed.

“It’s private property,” said Block, noting the difficulty of starting such a process.  “(Building or property issues) have to run a long course and show a long history of the property owners not being responsible ... citizens to the point where it’s become a long-time nuisance.”

This round of letters was sent under the city’s nuisance bylaw with a section that deals with untidy and unsightly properties.

“That’s definitely one that there’s little or no compliance with,” said Block, adding a vacant property doesn’t necessarily mean a concerning one.

Buildings that are secure, kept up, don’t pose hazards and are maintained or supervised are okay, he said.

The buildings were each subject to a walk-through inspection prior to letters being sent to owners.

Terrace’s Fire Chief John Klie was in attendance, along with city building inspectors, electrical inspectors and senior city staff.

“They need work,” said Klie after the walk through. “There are some fire hazards there and I guess the question is: Could they be fixed?”

Now, the city is awaiting a response from property owners.

Block said options for owners include refurbishing and getting buildings

back in to usable condition, demolishing the buildings, or maintaining and securing them as empty.

“But the question I think on one or two (of the buildings)

is: Is there even any point in them being maintained as an empty building?” said Block, noting it would also take a great deal of time and money to bring things up to code at a level that’s suitable for occupation.

But the owner of 4450 Little Ave., George Vogel, has a different perspective about the buildings.

“Every single one of them is heritage,” said Vogel.

Vogel said he has put a substantial amount of money and time into renovating his building’s interior.

It has a new roof, he said, renovations indoors are underway, and too much money has been invested at this point to think of tearing it down.

“Every day I wake up and work on something,” he said, adding he wants to talk more with the city before making a decision.

Lloyd Wittkowski, owner of 4440 Little Ave., said he does not favour selling or tearing down his building.

“I paid too much to have it torn down,” he said, adding he is waiting for money to become available to continue apartment complex plans he submitted to the city years ago for a permit that has since expired.

He said he also has other property he is working on too.

“I can only do so much,” he said. “I don’t have that deep of pockets.

“What’s up with the city?”

“How can they give you a permit to fix it up and then turn around and threaten you with demolition?”

Co-owner of 4520 Little Ave., Wayne Kirby, said he plans to tear the building down on his property.

“Part of it’s coming down and I’m going to try and sell the property,” he said. “The building itself, there’s not much left of the old buildings.”

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