The city of Port Alberni will be taking steps to address concerns about poorly managed properties with an outreach program.
Mayor Mike Ruttan brought up the concept of outreach to property owners during a Monday, Feb. 27 meeting of city council, and council held what he described as a “mini commitee of the whole” to discuss this issue.
“One of the concerns that we have had for the entire life of this council, and councils before us, is that some of our properties are frankly in terrible shape,” Ruttan said. “And it causes great concern for council and it causes great concern for members of public. And of course it sends the message to people in the city and beyond the city about how we view ourselves and the importance of our properties.
“Some of our properties are in such terrible shape that they’re actually health concerns, fire concerns, public safety concerns,” he went on.
“So what I’m asking council is, let’s consider a program where we actually actively reach out to the owners of these properties and send them a formal notice from the city.”
Ruttan suggested a letter, possibly under his signature, where they express their concerns and let property owners know what some of their options are in order to address the issues with their property.
He clarified that the program would target commercial properties, rather than private residences, and that they can direct owners to the Facade Improvement Program that has created a lot of opportunities for business owners in town.
Councillor Jack McLeman agreed that the first letter should offer opportunities.
“I think the letter to the empty buildings and some of them that are decrepit should be a bit more pointed,” he said. “We do have some penalties that we are able to put on for vacant buildings and so on. I think we should increase those.”
Councillor Ron Paulson agreed with this viewpoint.
“I think the first step that we need to do for most of the businesses is sell the programs that we have and take that selling point of view,” he said. “But there’s a number of absentee landlords or absentee owners. I don’t know why they’re sitting on the property, but they are, and they really don’t care about what the property looks like.
“I don’t know what kind of teeth we may have as a council to get through that frontage, but if there’s a way that we can do it to encourage people to move forward that would be great.”
Councillor Sharie Minions said her first priority would be to inform the building owners of what council’s concerns are.
“Just hearing about the Facade Improvement Program could stir them to address the problems on their own,” she said.
“That said, I feel a little bit hesitant about encouraging the really bad building owners to take advantage of the facade improvement program when we will have limited funds,” she admitted. “I know that there’s specific buildings we want to address and this is one step to get there, but I also want to make sure that we have access to the funds for the businesses in our community who are keeping themselves up and have more work to do.”
She also questioned whether or not council will have the ability to implement what they put in a letter. “I definitely have a concern about how much capacity we have in our bylaw enforcement department,” she said.
“I think that’s something we should certainly be talking about more this year at budget. If we do want to make this a priority, and I think that we should, then we need to make sure we have the ability to enforce what we say we’re going to enforce.”
After listening to council’s comments, Ruttan said he will write up a draft of a letter, and council will read over this draft before it is sent out to property owners in town.