Owner told to pay for demolition

Until this summer, Susan Faulkner had faith that the situation revolving around the Red Balloon building in downtown Duncan would be resolved happily for both sides.

That changed in late August, however, when she was told by city council that she would have to demolish the building — which was initially damaged by a city-owned snowplow in 2009 — and pay for it all herself.

“For five and a half years, I sat in the bush on this thing and said nothing,” Faulkner said. “I was a team player because I knew they would deal with me fairly and effectively. And that hasn’t happened.”

Faulkner and her lawyer, Brian McDaniel, pleaded with council to reconsider the order at a special meeting on Tuesday, but to no avail. On Wednesday, she was served with an order to demolish the building, requiring her to get a permit for the job within 10 days.

“I was aghast,” she said. “I was completely shocked that the City upheld the resolution. I didn’t expect that outcome. I felt that reason would prevail.”

According to Mayor Phil Kent, there was nothing in the presentation by Faulkner and McDaniel that gave council reason to reconsider.

“After hearing from the property owner, council felt that there was no new information that would suggest action should be delayed,” he said.

Faulkner is currently engaged in lawsuits against both the City and her own insurance company, and the case against the City will go to court in February. McDaniel suggested that the City should wait for the outcome of the lawsuit before requiring Faulkner to demolish her building.

“It is most unusual that a defendant in a lawsuit would suggest that the plaintiff bring down the subject of that lawsuit,” he said.

“A good settlement is always preferable to an uncertain judgment,” he added later.

The issue at hand for council, Kent said, revolves around the hazard the building poses to the public.

“[The question of liability] doesn’t diminish the fact that we still have to ensure public safety,” he said. “It’s important to act on that, and that’s what’s being done.”

The building at the corner of Station and Craig streets was built in 1907 and housed a variety of businesses over the next century.

“It wasn’t particularly well-built, but it stood the test of time,” McDaniel pointed out to council.

Faulkner started the Red Balloon toy store in 2001, and bought the building in 2006 as a retirement investment. It was fully occupied by tenants in 2009, when, on Jan. 4, a City snowplow struck a support pillar, causing significant damage that didn’t manifest immediately.

The building gradually began to shift, and sustained further damage in the summer of 2009 because of construction work on Craig Street. In one instance, a jackhammer caused wires in the building to rub together, producing flames that were prevented from causing significant damage because they burned through a water pipe and extinguished themselves.

Despite many attempts to fix and stabilize the structure, WorkSafeBC eventually shut down the building, forcing Faulkner to evict her tenants. She says she ended up selling the toy business before she was prepared to, and has since had to start a new business, a Kumon learning centre, at the age of 65.

“The personal loss to me over the last five and a half years has been huge,” Faulkner told council.

Faulkner recalls running into Kent on the street the day after the incident with the snowplow, when he tried to reassure her.

According to McDaniel, both the City and the insurer have admitted liability in the incident.

“Liability is half the battle, and we won that battle,” he said.

Kent counters that liability has not been determined, and that will be sorted out in court.