The Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce has called on the City of Langley to take a harder line on derelict properties, saying they discourage investment and devalue surrounding property.
The proposal is meant to be a proactive approach, Langley Chamber president Kristine Simpson told Langley City council Nov. 2, as she asked them to consider taking “two actions” with respect to derelict buildings.
First, she said, the GLCC is seeking the City’s support for the BC Chamber’s proposal to amend the province’s Community Charter. The proposed amendment would provide municipalities with more options to address the issue of derelict buildings in the community.
The Chamber’s second request is that the City take a more aggressive approach in utilizing the existing tools available to them within local bylaws.
Vacant properties which aren’t properly maintained create health and safety concerns, discourage investment in the community, and drag down the value of surrounding properties, Simpson told council.
Currently, the Community Charter limits municipalities to providing incentives for building owners to maintain empty properties but does not provide for any punitive recourse when they don’t, she added.
“The charter allows for incentives, such as revitalizations and tax exemptions but does not allow municipalities to penalize owners of derelict properties, except when there are concerns of health, safety or protection of people.
A harder line does not necessarily equal a heavy-handed approach, said Simpson.
“This is not a recommendation focused on unnecessary penalties when a property has become temporarily vacant, but rather to give municipalities the necessary tools to encourage action where an owner chooses to let a property remain derelict for their own benefit at the expense of neighbouring properties and the community.”
Rather than simply endorse the Chamber’s proposal, however, council members asked Simpson to explain more clearly what she meant by derelict.
“I’d like some clarification,” said Councillor Dave Hall. “You would like the provincial government to define derelict? Do you have a definition? If something isn’t a health and safety concern, it comes down to aesthetics.”
If a mall has five vacant premises and two in operation, but it’s not a health and safety concern, does that constitute a derelict commercial building, asked Hall.
Simpson said the bylaw would have to be applied within the context of the surrounding properties. If all the buildings in the area are of a similar age and appearance it is different than if there is one building that stands out as an eyesore, she said.
“The definition necessarily has to be grey,” she said.
“We have to determine what is derelict and where do we draw the line,” said Councillor Jack Arnold.
“We need to figure out where the line is before saying ‘You can’t do this and you can’t do that.’”
She said the measure is meant to be proactive rather than reactive, so that if it becomes an issue, the City is ready and able to take action as quickly as possible.
Council decided to refer the matter to staff for further information.
It’s better to have a policy in place ahead of time, Simpson replied. Then, if a problem arises, it’s not personal, it’s policy.
“Defining derelict is a challenge,” agreed Councillor Teri James.
A building with smashed windows, overgrown property or covered in graffiti would qualify, she added.
Simpson acknowledged that she couldn’t think of a derelict commercial building in Langley City at the moment.
Simpson acknowledged that derelict homes — which have been an issue for the City in areas slated for, but not yet under, redevelopment — also have an effect on a community’s overall appearance and its property values.
Simpson gave a similar presentation to Langley Township council at its Oct. 28 meeting.Township council voted 8-1 to endorse the B.C. Chamber of Commerce call for an amendment to the Community Charter, to give municipalities the power to pass get-tough regulations to deal with owners of derelict properties.
Councillor Bob Long voted against the measure because he wanted council to refer the chamber proposal to Township staff, who are currently preparing a report on the problem of abandoned houses.