City Council briefs – Wests’ owners respond to broken windows letter

Briefs from the December 3rd, 2012 Castlegar City Council meeting.

At  Castlegar's city council meeting on Monday

At Castlegar's city council meeting on Monday

Communities in Bloom

Several members of the Castlegar Communities in Bloom committee were on hand Monday at Castlegar city council and presented the city with a couple of plaques and an award commemorating the recent national win.

“It’s absolutely huge,” said mayor Lawrence Chernoff. “When you look at the volunteers and what they do in the community. This puts you on the national market. When I see 3,000 hours of volunteer time, that’s unbelievable. They do it rain or shine. After four years, they finally won the big award, so you have to give them credit. I tell you, I love Communities in Bloom – it makes the city look so nice. When you see the flowers and you see the grass. We had lots of comments on how things turned out. It was exceptional. With volunteers like that, we’re a great community.”

Bear Aware

Jenny Wallace, community coordinator for Castlegar Bear Aware, was on hand at council Monday night to give the 2012 year end report on the program.

Wallace said they had 275 reports of bear encounters, including 212 within city limits. She could not give a precise number of bears that had to be put down, but said it was more than last year’s six, but less than the 27 in 2010.

“Despite our best efforts, human-bear conflict continues, usually due to complacency and careless attractant management,” she said. “Unsecured garbage and fruit trees continue to be major bear attractants in Castlegar and area. Many residents are receptive to Bear Aware’s message and have made efforts to bear-proof their properties, but it only takes one residence with unsecured attractants to create conflict.”

Wallace says that to keep garbage inaccessible, it must be stored either in a bear-resistant bin or in an enclosure such as a garage or shed.

She said that for those without access to a garage or shed, managing attractants can be a challenge.

“Bear-resistant bins are a very effective solution in this sort of situation, but are expensive to purchase in the Kootenays due to high shipping fees from the closest manufacturer in Burnaby,” she said.

Council discussed purchasing bulk orders of bear-resistant bins for the city.

“We’ve had an ongoing bear problem here,” said councillor Dan Rye. “2011 was probably one of our better years. From what Jenny said tonight, it looks like we slipped back in 2012. She had some good reasoning for it: all the rain we had earlier and, of course, the bears coming down to get the fruit. So, yes, I think it’s an ongoing problem that we need to continue to resolve. I think if a person is a repeat offender (for leaving garbage out early), and you can identify that person who has been talked to before and they’ve had their garbage tagged. I think you might have to put something in place and say, ‘you guys haven’t been playing be the rules, so we’re going to make you get a proper container.’ Once bears find the garbage, they’ll keep coming back to it. So, if you’ve got an ongoing problem we need to resolve it.”

Wests Department Store

The owners of Wests Department store, Basil and Susan McLaren, appeared in front of council Monday after receiving a letter from the city about penalties for not fixing broken windows in one of their buildings.

The letter stated, “This is your official notification that the Properties are in contravention of Section 2 of City of Castlegar Property Maintenance Bylaw No. 1120,…This conclusion is based on the unsightly nature of the building on the Properties, which has been caused by the building’s windows being boarded up for a period of two months or more.”

The letter gives the owners 14 days to replace the windows and repair the stucco.

Basil McLaren, who spoke to council for approximately 20 minutes, said they’ve had to repeatedly replace the windows and were fed up with the costs incurred. He blamed the nearby nightclub the Element, stating that over-served individuals were creating the problem.

“We’re not the bully here, we’re the victim,” he said to council.

In an interview with the Castlegar News, Basil McLaren said he and his wife had no choice in whether to appear in front of council regarding the broken window issue.

“We had no option, really,” he said. “We received a letter from the city solicitor that said they were going to repair the windows and charge us back on our taxes, or get a court order from the Supreme Court, or tear our buildings down. Now, I don’t know if those were just threats or they’re just trying to play games to get us here to this meeting. But that’s why we came here.”

McLaren says they hope to be able to come up with a solution and work with the city.

“They know that we’re very willing to do whatever we can,” he said. “But there comes a point after 28 windows broken that enough is enough. This is a $1,300 to $1,500 (charge) per window.”

McLaren says the Element has been negligent on the Good Neighbour Agreement the club signed when opening in Castlegar.

“If they just kept the agreement, everything would be fine,” he said. “I’m not looking for any fines or sanctions against them. I’m not against them. What I’m against is people that are drunk damaging and destroying our property and causing us all this extra money. It’s in the absolute thousands. I’d like to see the Good Neighbour Agreement upheld.”

Element owner Florio Vassilakakis was not at the council meeting, but spoke to the Castlegar News afterwards.

“To express my frustration with the situation is an understatement,” he said. “We try the best we can as a business downtown to make sure we are the best, good neighbour possible and the best corporate citizen possible. We constantly monitor the sidewalks. Our janitorial contractor cleans the sidewalks after every night on the weekend. She walks all the way down to Wests to make sure there isn’t anything out of the ordinary. It’s just disappointing that he doesn’t bring his issues up with me directly. He’s never once come and said, ‘Hey Florio, we need to work on this.’ I’ve been more than cooperative with the city, the RCMP and the Liquor Control Branch. Whenever an issue arises in regards to the establishment, I’ve always met with them. I’ve always sat down to find a solution to whatever problem exists.”

Vassilakakis admits that being a night club does attract a certain element of late night partiers.

“We’re not a book store that’s open during the day,” he said. “Of course, there’s going to be some (negative) implications from serving people alcohol. We don’t break any laws. We do the best we can to make sure no one is over-served; that no one is loitering around after the bar hours. We want to make sure our business is a positive for the community and not a negative. It’s really important to us that we uphold the reputation that we’ve tried so hard to build over the seven years that we’ve been here.”

Vassilakakis says that none of the other businesses in the area have the same complaints.

“Businesses aren’t getting their windows broken like at his place,” he said. “Part of that, I believe, is that if you don’t take the time and effort to fix your own establishment than it attracts more and more destruction. That’s nothing new. It’s been happening for years.”

Mayor Lawrence Chernoff said that it was clear from McLaren’s presentation to council that he and his wife wouldn’t do anything about the broken windows.

“It’s an ugly part of the building and we’re just trying to clean it up,” said Chernoff. “What we need to do now between the Planning and Development and Public Safety committees is to sit down again with everybody and have a discussion and sort out what we need to do and how we need to do it. That is a long-term (problem) and we need to correct it. We’re trying to give him the opportunity to voice his concerns. If we can sit down and find a solution, it’s a whole lot easier than going the other way.”