The Town of Lake Cowichan will go ahead with demolishing the building at 226 Neva Rd. and billing the owners for the job, if the owners don’t do it themselves by the end of September.
The problem structure, located right at the bend of Neva Road, near Highway 18, has slipped off its foundation and has been derelict for years. Council has discussed the problem of the eyesore several times over the years but movement on this sort of thing takes time, as they have learned on every occasion.
However, in the past 12 months, there has been concerted action by two successive councils to deal with derelict houses.
Council had ordered a call for tenders to demolish it, but then the property recently sold, adding another aspect to the ongoing saga.
Town of Lake Cowichan CAO Joe Fernandez gave council the latest update on Aug. 27.
“We’ve been dealing with this particular issue on this particular property for a number of years now and Mr. [Jai] Lakshmanan has been the go-between between the current owners and the previous property owners. He was well aware of the issue of the remedial action.
“So, when the property changed hands they indicated there would just be one property demolished and they would get on with it. What happened is they talked to one of the remedial people, and they came to us and wanted to know if there was an assessment done on that building. We said no, that’s something you’ll have to deal with with the current owners. So, that got solved.”
Lakshmanan came to the office and picked up the forms required to deal with the situation.
“Since then him and I have been emailing each other and I said that to show good faith, he should get an application with it, and we’ll work on the timeline. I said that if we didn’t get a response from him, we’ll bring the matter to council and you can see there’s a response. On Aug. 25, Mr. Lakshmanan sent me a WorkSafe report which had no relevance to the issue at hand. I responded with: ‘The report clearly states ‘The Town of Lake Cowichan may have additional requirements for their permitting process. I will bring this matter to council’s attention tomorrow.’”
Then Fernandez got an email from Goldie Smitlener, a partner in the property, saying it was acquired on Aug. 7, 2019, which he quoted verbatim to the mayor and councillors.
“I am very shocked at the treatment and what I perceive bullying, regarding this property,” she said. “We are trying to work in an orderly manner and look at all angles of what can be done or should be done with the property, and I feel I am getting no cooperation at all….We will continue working in cooperation with other bodies, like WorkSafe, and you go ahead and tell the council what horrible investors we are. We will also be there.”
The CAO recommended to council that the new owner must apply for a demolition permit immediately for the premises at 226 Neva Rd., together with the required fees.
In addition, “prior to the demolition the town must be in receipt of a Hazardous Material Declaration completed by a qualified professional. The demolition must occur no later than Sept. 30, 2019 or the Town will, without further notice to and at the expense of the owner award the contract to a qualified contractor to complete the remedial action for the one structure.”
Council decided to approve the recommendation.
Mayor Rod Peters said, “I have talked to them as well about this. I told him exactly the same thing as Joe told him. I even met with Goldie Smitlener and she said: ‘Yes, we’re going to do this, no problem.’ And I said the same thing to Jai Lakshmanan: if you are going to go ahead with this and do what you want to do, show good faith by filling out the permit and the demolition permits and we can carry on from there. Just taking your word for it doesn’t really count. We have to have something signed and we can negotiate from there. And they didn’t want to do that. So, I think this recommendation, as far as I’m concerned, has to be carried out.”
Coun. Lorna Vomacka asked, “Have they provided you any documentation to show it was actually legally sold?”
Fernandez replied, “Yes, we have the paperwork.”
Vomacka wasn’t done, though.
“I know a lot of this has been done through verbal comments but maybe we should start documenting everything,” she said.
Fernandez said he had emails documenting the conversation, and Peters added, “I have the same emails.”
Coun. Tim McGonigle said, “I think it’s unfortunate that this has been going on for almost half the time I’ve been on council. Unfortunately, the new owners have inherited this mess, which is to be rectified as per the previous owner.
“The new owner doesn’t start fresh. It’s been an ongoing problem. I’m hoping they were quite aware of the history behind that property prior to the sale. If we start at scratch again, it’ll be another four years before anything gets done within that property. I think our trying to clean up the property we own there is a small gesture of trying to rectify the situation.”
Coun. Carolyne Austin added, “Wouldn’t the realtor be telling them the property had these problems before they sold it?”
Fernandez said, “They are well aware of it. They are not claiming that they didn’t know.”