City of Chilliwack is moving ahead with land assembly in the downtown after issuing a notice of intent to expropriate property at 9282 Young Road.
The building known as the Irwin Block is at Five Corners, in a block of land flagged for “revitalization and redevelopment” under the Chilliwack Downtown Plan.
The expropriation is seen as a catalyst to eventually assembling all the properties bounded by Young Road, Yale Road, Nowell Street and Princess Avenue.
The lot consolidation is all part of a long-term approach to fixing what ails the downtown core, according to Mayor Sharon Gaetz.
“This is an important step forward in assembling the land required to create an attractive development opportunity in our downtown.”
The aim is to create a massive single property measuring 1.5 hectares that will appeal to future investors. The concept features commercial and mixed residential uses in three mid-rise buildings surrounding an urban park.
The city already owns 10 lots in this block and wants to acquire the majority of the remaining properties over time.
“The estimate of six to seven years for this process is what they’re tossing around,” said Gaetz. “But we want to stand the dominoes up so we’re ready.”
The Irwin Block’s history goes back more than 100 years. Built by Burrowes Alex Irwin , it originally housed the B.A. Irwin General Merchant store, a real estate office, and a dental office.
Subsequently, the building has also housed C.H. Cowen Drug Company, the B.C. Katalla Oil Company and Hipwell Drugs. There were plans six years ago to renovate the building and convert it into a retail and residential development.
But it has sat vacant ever since.
The property was up for sale in the past year with a sign that said it would be the future site of condo development.
The registered owner of the property is Xing Chen, who does not live in Chilliwack.
“This is a ‘notice of intent’ to expropriate, so there is still some time to reach a sale agreement without expropriation,” said the mayor.
Chilliwack officials are ready to pay “fair market value” for the property and have been in contact with the owner.
“But whenever the city makes known its intention to buy a property, acquisition prices can escalate,” she said. “People have this perception that the city has very deep pockets, but in fact we always want to squeeze out the most value for the taxpayer.”
There are some existing structural problems with the Irwin Block.
“It is our understanding that the building has significant issues, some of which are structural, making remediation cost-prohibitive and precluding any interim use,” Gaetz told The Progress. “Therefore, we anticipate that this building will need to be demolished at some point, but it’s not as if we’re going to do it tomorrow.”
The expropriation process is a “fair” one used in many communities to effect change on the development horizon for a “municipal purpose,” she said.
City of Chilliwack has expropriated property on two other occasions in the past decade. The last time was the southeast corner of Watson, where a bank now sits, and the expropriation was required in order to widen the street. The second expropriation example was also for street widening, for an RV dealership by the Vibe development on Yale Road.
For more details on the DT plan and the concept for the Downtown Block check out www.chilliwackdowntownplan.ca.