Opinion: Ending the neglect

Vacant buildings leave a hole in our neighbourhoods and become little more than beacons of decline.

Former Safeway building occupies an entire city block in downtown Chilliwack.

Measures introduced by the City of Chilliwack Tuesday to dissuade property owners from allowing their buildings to sit vacant indefinitely are long overdue.

Had they been in place years ago, buildings like the Irwin Block at Five Corners may have had a brighter future.

Instead, years of neglect and a decade of abandonment has earned it a date with the wrecking ball.

Chilliwack’s proposed bylaw hopes to change that. If approved, it will force property owners to purchase permits for buildings that are sitting vacant. In addition, owners have to maintain them at a certain standard so they are not unsightly or pose a risk to the neighbourhood.

It’s a good first step, councillors agreed. But few believe it will provide a panacea to the problem of vacant and decrepit buildings that form such a blight in so many urban areas.

To be fair, Chilliwack can only do so much. The fees it charges for the permits, or the mandatory inspections it orders, must be on a cost-recovery basis. Municipal governments lack the legislative clout to make them more punitive.

Still, if the city can make it a bit more costly for off-shore or out-of-town property owners to neglect their Chilliwack properties, so be it.

As Mayor Sharon Gaetz pointed out, vacant buildings leave a hole in our neighbourhoods. They deprive us of cohesive planning potential and become little more than beacons of decline.

Take the former Safeway site on Main Street. It occupies an entire city block. And while there are apparently environmental issues with the soil, it is too important a piece of Chilliwack’s downtown to sit as a vacant, boarded up shell indefinitely.

Chilliwack council and business groups like the Chamber of Commerce are looking for ways to thaw this stagnation.

The proposed bylaw is a move in the right direction, but more needs to be done.