Council candidates weigh in on downtown Chilliwack

Candidates were asked: "Citizens often like to complain about the boarded-up buildings downtown. What are the impediments to redevelopment in the downtown core, and what would you do to mitigate them?"

  • Oct. 26, 2011 7:00 a.m.

The Progress sent the following question about Chilliwack’s downtown to all 20 candidates running for a seat on city council.

“Citizens often like to complain about the boarded-up buildings downtown. What are the impediments to redevelopment in the downtown core, and what would you do to mitigate them?”

Responses were received from 11 of 20 candidates. Here are their answers:

 

Ron Wedel:

It’s my understanding that different situations could be the underlying cause of holding up redevelopment. In one instance the owner of a piece of property is trying to resolve the issue of contaminated land and is trying to get the former owner to participate in cleaning the ground before either selling or leasing the building out. That takes time to resolve.  In the case of another building, there is a huge cost in trying to renovate and then trying to find an appropriate use for the building.  There is no clear cut solution other than council and city staff trying their best to work with owners to work through the different hurdles facing them.

 

Gord Kornelsen:

I have heard there is yet another impending plan to revitalize the downtown? I believe it’s time for the city and the BIA to stop and listen to the complaining. As owner of Fraser Valley Custom Printers we occupied a building on Young Street two blocks south of the downtown core for 20 years from 1979.

I believe the concern is more that there has been enough time, money and studies spent on this issue. If the building owners, business’ cannot come up with a plan then leave them to the mess, and crime. If there is no wiliness to develop a plan by the owners and downtown business people, you will not have ownership and compliance with “The Plan” and it will end up the same as it is now. If the business downtown is worth growing they, the business’ will have to figure it out or move to the malls.

There is a general atmosphere of uneasiness and insecurity for most people who consider the downtown stores.

The vagrants, prostitutes and drug dealers do most of there business in the dark in the downtown core.

Regain control of Downtown.

Some things that I believe can be done to begin the process:

– Increasing lighting to an uncomfortable level after dusk would deter these activities significantly.

– Commitment by the RCMP to be a significant presence would add additional support to insure an atmosphere of safety.

– Invest in well light parking

– Encourage a walking zone on Wellington – no traffic.

 

Roger Myers:

There is always talk on how to attract new business to the downtown core. We have a capable Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation working on this problem as we speak. However, it seems clear to me that we need to do our very best as a Council to keep current businesses in the downtown. There are several healthy components already existing in the downtown. Many citizens believe that Five Corners ‘is’ the downtown core, when in fact the core consists of a real diverse complement of businesses, whether it be retail sales, restaurants and specialty shops. The problem is that through years of neglect, some of these structures are only given a Band-Aid solution and when they do become available, high lease rates and a slow economy are just unappealing to a fledgling business. We must act according to necessity. With major developments such as the new Eagle Landing, some businesses are more inclined to pay extra for exposure to the proximity of ‘big box’ stores such as Wal-Mart and The Home Depot. Since I my beginnings in Chilliwack circa 1996, the downtown has indeed diminished from what was a busy, vibrant hub to a landscape where drug use and prostitution runs rampant. The bottom line is that the downtown doesn’t need redevelopment, there are enough shops sitting empty already. We need to offer social services to our less fortunate and take back our downtown. The revitalizing will come when merchants feel it will make sense to spend money wisely and now is not that time.

 

Dick Harrington:

I understand that the concerns about the downtown core have been around for several years. I know that it was asked at the first all-candidates’ meeting with the Chamber of Commerce.

I also noted that some of the council candidates were quite “negative” in their approach to the downtown. Well, as possibly the only candidate who lives downtown, I take exception with the negativity.

I was a part of an exact concern in Niagara Falls, Ontario, where the old downtown was crime ridden, with many boarded-up stores. We spent over 10 years in mitigating this problem. You would barely recognize their downtown now. How did we do it?

Like Chilliwack, Niagara Falls had an active BIA ( Business Improvement Agency). We also had a very active down-town redevelopment committee, of which I was a part. We worked hard to involve all property owners, many whom were from out of town. We involved Provincial and Federal agencies.

We instituted a complete “façade” change, where the whole streetscape was changed for the better. We installed old-fashioned style gas-lights, cobblestone sidewalks – we in fact brought forth an image of a beautiful, intriguing downtown – a place that seemed to welcome shoppers, if nothing more than out of curiosity.

The main street down-down – called Queen Street was a good distance from the busy tourist shopping area. We built a completely new entrance to Queen street, which began to draw more and more tourists. Over time, the stores began to hold more and more tenants. Today, the image of Queen Street has changed for the better.

All this can be done for Chilliwack and I want to be a part of this transition. I suggest that the first role of all new councillors be to learn just what the existing committee on the downtown is recommending. It is so easy to criticize when you know not of what you are talking about.

I then suggest that every single property owner in this area be strongly encouraged to be a part of the downtown committee. We need to come to a consensus on what should be done. Should some areas be bulldozed in order to build new apartment complexes (to draw people to shop downtown)? A new public relations campaign on “Shop Down-town” needs to be implemented. The committee needs to decide on how this public relations is to be funded.

Perhaps it is long overdue that the province be asked to fund a new ” street-scape”. Have Jon Les and Barry Penner been asked to be members of the existing committee? If not, then why not? Should we have a “theme” approach? I think that we should- perhaps one titled ” Historic Downtown Chilliwack”.

There are many other ideas that could work. As the ONLY “Downtown” candidate, I volunteer to be a part of this new downtown committee. Give us time and we will change Chilliwack for the better.

 

Sue Attrill:

I am looking forward to implementing some of the findings of the Downtown Revitilization Task Force.  There has been some good progress in the core of our city with 57 new businesses coming into Chilliwack in the last year.  There is so much to do and many challenges to overcome but the one thing that I will commit to – I will never give up!  I shopped there with my grandparents when I was young and I continue to shop there.

 

Garth Glassel:

My goal for the downtown is to start relaxing the bylaws to make it easier for new businesses to start building new buildings and condo units. Council must also bring the business tax rate down to be closer to the residential tax rate, to give the business community some relief in this recession. We must stop the insane ideology about having to save every building over 50 years old, as “historic”.  Take for example the Paramont theatre building that the city now owns. Demolish it and sell it off the land, instead of trying to see if it can be renovated and let a new owner build a 3 to 4 story (or more)  condo building with shopping on the ground level. Where the old Safeway centre is, get Safeway to build or tear down, letting owners abandon their buildings is not acceptable. We want a Yaletown look not the Vancouver Downtown Eastside look.

The city also has to get out of the business of buying buildings with taxpayer money. This CEPCO maybe working for some projects but not for all. The taxpayer should not be funding real estate development and to be a competitor to the private business developer’s. For a healthy downtown, we must also stop this insane ideology about the need to have low-cost housing in the downtown area, provided by the city or provincial goverments. Let the churches and charities take care of the downtrodden, that’s their job, not the taxpayers’. New buildings bring new business and therefore more jobs. I feel that council needs a whole new approch to the way to do business in today’s world and the voters need to elect business people to council. Not dreamers but doers, and that is what I stand for.

 

Ken Popove:

The City has been a part of the ongoing improvements since the inception of the BIA. Many will try and throw the baby out with the bath water or try and shoot the magic bullet to solve the issues in the downtown. City Councils’ role is already well defined and continuing to support all the initiatives would be the best practice. Supporting social developments like the Contact Center and Ruth & Naomi’s Mission are unprecedented and necessary. The encouragement of unique and distinctive, trendy hands-on, boutique style shops such as those on Wellington Avenue and Mill Street with incentives is a decretive council members could put their weight behind. This will create a unique shopping experience and in turn promote a live/work environment cultivating shopper looking for items the big box store don’t offer. Working from the Downtown Task Force recommendations council will formulate a ground work that incorporates the needs of small business, the community and the social and security concerns. Growing the downtown with respect for how we development in other areas will affect makeup is crucial for a sustained economy.

 

Chad Eros:

Chiliwack’s Downtown Core should be renamed “Ground Zero” from when the $49 million nuclear bomb called the “Evans Road Connector” project was dropped on it. The idea of “revitalizing” The Downtown should be abandoned. The new buzz word should be “transformation” with a historical remnant of it remaining. Given that City of Chilliwack made decisions to use tax dollars, even from downtown businesses, to invest in pushing business away from downtown, I think the municipality should table a theme based downtown around film and arts production. Even further, Chilliwack should offer to expropriate properties, not accept properties as donations from dismayed owners and/or give property owners a chance to comply with the theme. I personally would like to see Chilliwack be the Hollywood of Canada. This would complement our UFV Theatre Department with stage, Cultural Centre, Old Downtown, and open up development opportunity for all the buildings needed for set design, and even set aside some land for outdoor set design. Can you imagine building and destroying sets over and over and over again? It’s a construction industry dream. UFV set design students could learn on the job right in Chilliwack. We could design a larger park and green space big enough for stages and amphitheaters, crowds and beer gardens, and hold larger outdoor festivals, generating revenue from licences and permits.

 

Ian B. Carmichael:

That our Downtown faces enormous challenges is news to no one in our City. The trend of decline began decades ago and in the words of financial analyst Jim Dines “A trend will stay in place until it STOPS.”

Clearly the time to stop the trend is NOW.

Recent developments in the downtown (the closure of the Paramount and announcement of Bank of Montreal’s relocation) clearly demonstrate the core challenge can be summed up in a single phrase, “Lack of Confidence”.

In response to their relocation a spokesperson for BMO stated “the demographics and traffic flows did not support a continued operation in that location”.

Let’s be perfectly clear what that statement is in fact saying. A major international financial institution, (one that does its homework), has looked at our Downtown and decided they likely couldn’t make money there going forward.

The Paramount after 6 decades in operation, came to a similar conclusion and rather than sell their property decided it was more advantageous to hand the keys to the City.

These are extreme business responses with long term implications.

Given the problem, “Lack of Confidence”, the question then becomes, what role does the civic government play in rebuilding and restoring confidence in the long term viability of an area?

The business, investment and development communities look for a number of elements that provide confidence. Those elements include certainty, predictability and the reasonable prospect of return on investment.

It’s my belief that those elements can best be achieved with a comprehensive Official Community Plan review.

The Official Community Plan (OCP) is a process legislated by Provincial authority that communities undertake on a regular basis usually 10 years. Our current OCP was adopted in 1998 and is in need of renewal.

The OCP process can be an effective and efficient tool to provide a number of solutions to challenges facing our community. Properly implemented and actioned, the OCP process can build community, providing the forum for Reasonable, Rational and Realistic (the 3 R’s approach), engagement, education and ownership of the plan by the public.

A well defined, comprehensive and generally accepted OCP provides the foundation for the business, investment and development sectors to understand the community’s direction and priorities. Doing so ensures the certainty and predictability phases of the equation, leaving the element of reasonable prospect of return on investment up to the business to evaluate for itself as their business model relates to the OCP.

The preamble to your question, I believe does a disservice to the reactions of individuals and organizations in the community. It infers a gruff and disinterested response, which on the surface is easy to solicit. My experience talking to residents, community and business leaders is that there are concerns, but just below the surface, are vibrant, dynamic and unique ideas, just looking for an opportunity to engage and find Reasonable, Rational and Realistic solutions to the challenges of our Downtown.

The challenge faced by City Hall will be harnessing the passion and commitment in the city for all our communities to create a dynamic, vibrant and comprehensive model for the future of Chilliwack, that will build on the success of our economic, social and spiritual components going forward.

As a member of Council, perhaps my greatest priority will be ensuring an informed, engaged and empowered populous that will take an active and ownership role in the creation of those solutions. And my task will be complete, when those solutions are actively deployed, rather than left to languish on the shelf or web site.

My experience tells me the people of this city, truly care and desire an active role in the development of the “communities within the community”. As a member of council I see my role in that process as a mentor and trustee of the greater good. I look forward to being able to support our community now and in the future.

 

Ron Browne:

As a Councillor I will provide strong support to further improving our downtown. As a member of Rotary I know from a recent presentation that the Business Improvement Association is working hard and has made many improvements.

Party in the Park won the Business Improvement Association of BC’s award for Marketing, Promotions and Special Events. Theft and vandalism in the downtown has been reduced by 64%. Fifty seven new businesses have opened in the downtown in the past year.

There is still “fear of crime” in the downtown and more volunteer Citizens on Patrol and more use of Crime Free Multi-Housing rental agreements would make the streets safer. As a former hospital CEO I know that the planned Health Contact Centre in the downtown will help people turn their lives around.

Reopening all of the remaining boarded up buildings requires longer term solutions such as continuing to increase the population density so there are more shoppers. This is key to having thriving businesses downtown as they do have in some other communities.

The report of the Downtown Task Force should be released soon and I expect the recommendations will require strong support from Council to see that they are implemented.

 

Jason Lum:

There is no “silver-bullet” solution to the Downtown. It is not a popular sentiment, but I believe that to suggest that City Hall has the power to solve all the problems downtown is both an unrealistic, and expensive proposition.

Top three impediments to downtown development:

Environmental – Expensive clean-up work is required to restore areas of the downtown back to a condition where they can be built upon. The City cannot force private landowners to cleanup historical environmental problems.

Economic – The dollar per acre cost downtown, in comparison with other ‘clean’ land currently available, makes the downtown unattractive when marketing to developers.

Social – Concerns around safety and social issues create a stigma. Perception that downtown is not a desirable place to be keeps residents and businesses away.

The Solutions include:

Environmental – Set aside a targeted development fund, available specifically for cleanup of contaminated land.  Immediately coordinate lobbying efforts to convince senior levels of gov. that the cost to municipalities to cleanup ‘brownfield sites’ is unmanageable and is resulting in a situation where nobody wants to take responsibility or action.

Economic – Consider special zoning changes. Development Cost Charges (paid by developers) can be exempted or credited on targeted areas, driving the initial development fees down and making downtown parcels more marketable. The City will experience a loss of initial DCC revenue, the loss is made up over time through property taxes.

Social – Increase resources for Community Policing. Coordinate downtown marketing, programs and events under one agency. Ensure adequate long-term funding, set immediate strategic and measurable goals in consultation with residents, land-owners, and merchants.

Too often people look to Government to solve problems that they can immediately work to solve themselves. If you believe, as I do, that downtown can use some help to improve its image, don’t wait for government to spend your tax dollars. You can include downtown as a destination next time you are shopping, dining out, or looking for an event, and you can do it today.

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