A new bylaw that contains provisions to fine homeowners within city heritage zones who allow their homes to deteriorate got its first two readings at city council on Oct. 4. It will now proceed to a public hearing on Nov. 8 at 3 p.m. in council chambers. At least one city councillor believes there could be opposition to the bylaw at that hearing.
The new Heritage Maintenance Standards bylaw provides fines of up to $2,000 per day for a series of infractions such as broken windows, graffiti, bug infestations, structural integrity problems, paint issues and leaky roofs. It also requires homeowners to board up and protect windows if they are going to leave the building unoccupied for more than 45 days. It will also require them to post a sign in front of the home if the building is unoccupied for more than two weeks. The sign will warn against vandalism and removal of materials.
“Without sufficient maintenance the contributing qualities and character of these buildings are at risk of being lost,” writes city planning director John Guenther in a staff report on the bylaw. “The proposed Heritage Maintenance Bylaw enables a significant tool of enforcement of minimum maintenance standards.”
Revelstoke city councillor Chris Johnston oversees the planning portfolio. “It’s there as a tool, it’s a reminder, but seldom will it be used as a stick tool,” Johnston told council of the new rules.
“We don’t see this as being an enforcement kind of bylaw,” Guenther said. “This is bylaw language, so it looks extreme, but the idea is to actually work with people.”
Guenther said the city would work with owners of abandoned or rundown homes to bring then into compliance. The idea is to prevent heritage homes from degrading to a point where they are not repairable.
Coun. Antoinette Halberstadt said she’d heard concerns from residents about cost implications. “What if they simply can’t afford to fix it up?” Halberstadt asked. “How do we deal with that? What could happen in that situation?” She proposed softening up the language. Halberstadt said she could think of examples of seniors on fixed incomes who just couldn’t afford upkeep to the standard of the bylaw.
Coun. Johnston reiterated that he didn’t think that was the intent of the bylaw, but conceded: “I guess it poses some difficulty if someone has no money.”
Coun. Steve Bender echoed other councillors’ views that watering down the wording of the bylaw would defeat its purpose. “I think it is an excellent concern,” Bender said. “If you add something to soften the enforcement, you may wind up with no enforcement at all.”
“I don’t think there is any intent for it being Draconian,” Mayor David Raven said, adding he had faith that building inspectors would interpret the bylaw appropriately. He added that some of the deteriorating homes in question were owned by people who have the resources to fix them.
The bylaw covers designated heritage buildings as well as any buildings located within a heritage conservation area.
In the end, council voted to proceed to a public hearing, take any public input and then make possible revisions.
The public hearing on the bylaw is on Nov. 8 at 3 p.m. in council chambers. Residents can also write to city hall to express their views prior to that date.