The old Safeway building on Main Street has been an eyesore for a long time in Chilliwack.
Action could finally be taken as early as next week.
The boarded-up storefront, on a property that takes up an entire city block of prime real estate, is seen as pivotal in the revitalization of the downtown core.
City of Chilliwack and CEPCO officials tried to work with the former Safeway ownership for years, and also with the current owners, Sobeys, to take accountability for the inexorable decline of the property — to no avail.
The wrecking ball is likely next.
The word “eyesore” comes up repeatedly when talking about this property, and the feeling around town is that it should be properly maintained — or sold.
The storefront has been boarded up for years. There are broken windows, and peeling paint.
Graffiti tags show up out front and are painted over quickly. There have been numerous vandalism and mischief incidents.
City officials confirmed they are ready to take the next step, and a council resolution is expected as early as next week to require owners to fence the structures, with plans to demolish the buildings within 90 days, under section 74 of the Community Charter.
“It would be very difficult for council to support in any way the ongoing neglect of this property,” said Mayor Sharon Gaetz.
“Other communities are watching too, as this is a situation many struggle with in terms of downtown redevelopment.”
Part of why it is significant and urgent, is that any redevelopment of the downtown is thought to hinge on this centralized site being transformed, which city officials have been told by consultants.
And the property has become a nuisance, a fire hazard and an increasingly urgent problem.
Sobeys officials confirmed in an email to the Progress last month, that they had received a bylaw package from City of Chilliwack to apply for the vacant building permit, and said they are “working with city officials.”
But that was all. Asked if in fact the property was for sale, the spokesperson wouldn’t confirm either way.
“We have nothing further to share publicly on this piece of property at this time,” said Keri Scobie, communications manager for Sobeys West.
Even if the property was listed for sale, the owners would still be subject to the minimum standards bylaw, said city staff.
The company listed as the property owner, SDL Snocap Ltd., was issued two fines of $500 each, with an outstanding amount of $1000 for failing to obtain vacant building permits, staff said.
New vacant buildings legislation has minimum maintenance standards, geared to bringing buildings that are unsightly, run down and not suitable for occupancy into compliance.
The city tried to get voluntary compliance, but in the absence of it, they moved ahead with fines and now ready to consider a demolition order.
At the scene recently, a bank employee who works nearby, commented that many people he spoke to said they were tired of inaction on the old Safeway site.
“It’s become an eyesore,” he noted echoing the mayor’s description.
City sent a bylaw package to Sobeys officials with the requirement they obtain a “vacant building regulation permit,” for the two vacant buildings on the site, as per the minimum maintenance standards bylaw that council originally passed in 2014.
The legislation the city drafted in part was to deal with precisely these sorts of situations: absentee property owners or landlords with properties falling into disrepair. These are properties that fail to contribute to the downtown plan to transform downtown Chilliwack into an “attractive and vibrant” neighbourhood.
City officials at press time had still been unsuccessful in getting Sobeys to apply for a Vacant Building Regulation Permit.
“Although there are no fast or simple solutions to renewing a city centre, we believe redevelopment of this property, in accordance with the downtown plan, would have a positive impact on the area,” added Gaetz.
It should either be redeveloped by the current owners, or sold.
“It’s what everyone sees downtown. It’s an eyesore,” Gaetz said. “Worse is that it is robbing people of hope for any real redevelopment, and it needs to be dealt with.”
Once it comes before council, the demolition order is expected to sail through because the whole situation has been stuck in low-gear for years.
“We’re left with a sense of frustration. But if the resolution passes, then the people of this community will know that council intends to have this building gone,” Gaetz said.